Case Study: Open Green Map—A Social Mapping Platform
Everyday, more people turn to maps and location-based tools to navigate their way through life. In support of this demand, Green Map System wanted to create a robust interactive mapping resource that would be easy for the diverse Green Map teams around the world to use and become a trusted resource for information.
Online since 1995, we have supported sustainable community development worldwide, using mapmaking as our medium. GreenMap.org was re-launched in May 2007 as a presentation, collaboration and resource center. Over 845 locally-led map projects have successfully published more than 500 local and 325 interactive Green Maps that are used by millions to connect with green living, nature and social and cultural resources near home and while traveling. The website continues to be the collection point for both the makers and users of Green Maps, and it offers inspiration to everyone interested in a sustainable future.
Our original goal was to create a database of spatially organized sustainable maps and introduce residents and visitors to local nature, culture and green living resources such as farmers markets, solar sites, bike lanes and parks. The intent was to help guide citizens toward making better everyday choices. Ultimately, we wanted our system to include map co-development and marketing resources, a multilingual interface and map-sharing capabilities. We also wanted to attract enough support to make continual developments.
As a result, we developed and launched Open Green Map (OGM) in June 2009. Merging local knowledge and our freshly updated iconography with Google Maps and open source Drupal technology, the resulting interactive maps are easy to explore. OGM is now a flexible social mapping platform that increases the potential to engage and garner greater participation from the public. The launch of our Green Map iPhone app in 2010 allows easy access and the ability to explore OGM’s sites (more than 30,000 to date) on any mobile device.
Our initial budget was $200,000. Approximately 50 percent was donated or delivered services at rock-bottom nonprofit rates. Everyone involved was very generous with their time, and several new funders and donors contributed to this project.
Our business model: Each Green Map project contributes an annual fee or service, based on their own organization’s type and their country’s average income. Green Map System opted not to add additional fees to create OGM. We assumed the increase in Green Map projects would provide the income needed for maintenance while grants and campaigns would help fund new features.
In 2013, new types of partnerships, value propositions and income generating services will be derived though OGM.
As part of discovery for OGM, other mapping platforms and social networking sites and their underlying content management tools were assessed, as were third-party reviews of these tools. The design team noted shortcomings and the preferences of the public.
We queried the existing Green Map network about their preferences and those of their local audiences. We took part in tech events during the development, such as the NetSquaredMashup, which helped shape assumptions and trajectory. We also considered our own needs and assessed users in the local NYC communities where we are the Green Mapmakers, as seen at GreenMapNYC.org (our local projects both benefit New Yorkers and pilot new models shared with the global network).
Eventually, it is planned that OGM users will be able to choose among a variety of platforms. Currently, a “data bridge” is being developed so points, lines and areas can be shared via WFS and APIs.
When we re-launched GreenMap.org in 2007, we provided a new presentation, registration and tool center for our mapmakers and the public. This also drastically changed things for our staff. The new content management system radically reduced administrative tasks and gave Green Map staff time to continually develop and refine the mapping platform.
Much of the data collected in GreenMap.org’s profiles now doubled as metadata for the projects on the new OGM system:
- Info tab alongside every map links to the Mapmaker’s profile, website and print map PDFs
- The ability to chart points, routes and areas—everything from farmers’ markets to bike lanes to protected areas—can be included
- Public comments, ratings, images and videos, with a notification and dashboard system for easy management
- A translatable interface, with default language options
- An interactive legend with the ability to toggle Green Map icons and hover for definitions
- Three levels of permissions to manage map teams
- Tools to embed these maps and export the data for use on print maps, GIS or Google Earth
- Education, graphics, promotion and media resources
Several planned features have since been added to the OGM platform. The mobile website and iPhone app easily links users to green and healthy communities. “What's Green Nearby?™” helps locate sustainable sites—a valuable resource in one’s own hometown or while visiting a new city. We’ve also added site cloning capabilities, translation in eight languages, outreach resources and more.
The biggest challenge we face is the continual degradation of the environment and climate. Involving more people is critical, and Green Map’s informative, engaging tools and infrastructure are becoming more important every day. Managing growing demand and need still exists as a major challenge. At the same time, other resources are being updated and expanded, including the iconography and a complete re-build of GreenMap.org and our platform’s interface.
The cost of maintenance, modifications to the system and new feature requests have been higher or more numerous than initially planned. Although the number of Green Map projects has grown specifically as a result of this platform, growth in income has yet to be balanced. Foundations are not keen on funding the continual growth of existing platforms, so we are developing new collaborations, services and sponsorships for the next phases of Open Green Map development.
In many ways, the platform beautifully addressed the brief and has become an inspiration engine—fueling the ability to explore and experience nature, culture, social and green living sites in hundreds of places.
During out first fundraising campaign, which began in early 2008, there were 441 Green Map projects in 50 countries. As a testament to the attractive power of this open platform, we now have:
- 848 Green Map projects registered in 68 countries (see an overview here: opengreenmap.org/greenmap)
- 37 countries represented on OGM
- 29,545 sites on the platform, with 325 individual maps; all are aggregated on the World View Map and in the mobile website and Green Map iPhone app
- Another 300 “private” OGM are in development
- The website’s audience becomes more diverse each year
With only a modest marketing budget, Green Map System engages new users and participation from publicity around the awards we've received, including:
- Victor J Papanek Social Design Award, 2011
- NetSquared Invitational Winner, 2011
- Treehugger Best of Green, Mobile 2011 and Platform 2010
- Living Labs Global Gold Award, 2010
- INDEX Awards Finalist, 2009
- Cause / Affect Third, 2009
- Tele Atlas Maps in Apps, 2008
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.