This week I'm at Innovation Lab Pakistan, helping train journalists and media activists from Pakistan and Afghanistan on how to better leverage technology in their stories and media advocacy. We've blogged before about how maps can quickly tell the story behind complex issues like the famine in the Horn of Africa and violence against journalists in Afghanistan, and it's thrilling to be working with media folks directly and helping them learn how to do this themselves.
Specifically, I'm teaching folks how to use our open-source map-making tool TileMill, an easy-to-use toolkit for designing custom online maps with any available dataset. On Tuesday, I worked with Hameed Tasal, a member of the Jalalagood Geek Squad who works in technology development in the Nangarhar providence of Afghanistan, to take data he had collected on schools, hospitals, bus stops, gas stations, and other points of interest in Jalalabad and released publicly on OpenStreetMap, and turn that into an interactive online map. (Hat tip to Todd Huffman for building so much energy around OpenStreetMap on the ground in Afghanistan -- he and Hameed go back years.)
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what's possible in local mapping efforts in this region. Folks here are collecting data on everything ranging from flood victims who still haven't been helped to reports of violence against women and local blood shortages -- and they're interested in mapping this data to better communicate about some of the problems their countries are facing.
The timing is fantastic. TileMill as a tool is reaching an incredible maturity point. It's easy enough to use that anyone with basic web development experience can quickly make a map, and this is only improving. This week we added support for uploading tabbed CSV files for easy map rendering, and we continue to write helpful scripts like the one that turns addresses in spreadsheets into ready-to-be-mapped geodata.
The biggest limitation to more people making their own maps with it is that TileMill currently doesn't run in Windows. This is a particular problem in developing countries where Windows machines dominate and people often don't have access to sufficient bandwidth to download workarounds like TileMill's virtual machine bundle (a whopping 3 gigs). This needs to change, and we are currently looking for investment resources to develop a Windows version of TileMill, to hopefully be completed within the next few months. Please reach out to us if Windows support is of interest and you would like to help make it happen.