Tag Archives: geoweb

The State of the Map 2016

Recently graduated Geothink student Julia Conzon (McGill University) has recently returned from the State of the Map conference in Brussels, on a travel grant. Julia was able to meet individuals interested in different social, political, and technical components of OpenStreetMap, which solidified her beliefs that the success of volunteered geographic information relies on both social and technical fields. Julia’s interests in mapping include: increasing diversity to reduce the digital divide and harnessing government support.

SOTM group photo (photo by Tatiana Van Campenhout)

SOTM group photo (photo by Tatiana Van Campenhout)

By Julia Conzon

I recently attended the State of the Map (SOTM) in Brussels, Belgium. SOTM is a conference that discusses various social, political, and technical components of OpenStreetMap (OSM), a mapping website that aims to map all of Earth’s landscapes, such as social and physical infrastructures. You may wonder, doesn’t Google already do this? In short, yes, Google has done an efficient job producing Google Maps and its associated routing/navigation software; but it still has its limitations. First, Google Maps has several unmapped locations. As addressed by SOTM’s keynote speaker Allan Mustard, US Ambassador to Turkmenistan, if you compare the map of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, between Google Maps and OSM, you will certainly see a difference (Figure 1). Secondly, Google’s spatial data is not open, which hampers equality and empowerment. Thanks to Ambassador Mustard’s initiative to use OSM, he and several Ashgabat locals have mapped out the remote city and now the citizens can use this open spatial data for various socio-economic purposes. For example, prior to the OSM maps, Ashgabat taxi drivers did not know where all the gas stations were located. Now, with a local map openly accessible to all citizens, Ambassador Mustard says taxi drivers are more efficient at navigation. In short, OSM provides an open-source platform that allows worldwide internet users to contribute geographic features of anywhere from anywhere, which then can be freely downloaded by anyone to use.

Figure 1. Differences in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan between OSM (left) and Google Maps (right) (screenshots from OSM and Google Maps)

Figure 1. Differences in Ashgabat between OSM (left) and Google Maps (right) (screenshots from OSM and Google Maps)

Government Support
As seen with Ambassador Mustard, there are some within government who do support crowdsourced mapping initiatives. With Federal funding, Statistics Canada has announced a pilot crowdsourcing project starting in October 2016 to use OSM’s platform to crowdsource building data. It was also exciting to see the government presence at the conference (such as a member of Statistics Canada) and government partnerships such as between Etalab (a French government organisation) and OSM France.

Through one of the Birds of a Feather (BoF) discussions I participated in, it is apparent that OSM’s platform is positively reshaping certain government’s perceptions on how to produce open data. However, a presentation from Usman Latif, a journalist from Pakistan and the founder of Open Humanitarians (formerly DigitalHumanitarians.pk), reminded the SOTM audience that not all governments are democratizing their data. In Pakistan, broad laws have made unauthorised mapping activities by locals illegal. Usman risks penalties if he encourages local mapping, but he explained that to follow the law, he encourages students and youth to map parts of the world outside Pakistan and “to be a part of a global humanitarian society.” Usman’s goal is to proliferate a vibrant community of humanitarian mappers in Pakistan who can eventually use their mapping skills to participate in the global humanitarian society, particularly in disaster response. With Pakistan prone to earthquakes and floods, Usman hopes these educated Pakistanis will contribute to domestic disaster responses once Pakistan opens up local mapping. With this mindset, Usman now educates university students in Pakistan on using OSM. Although not all governments are supportive of open spatial data, Usman’s goals illustrate how educating locals about OSM and encouraging them to contribute to global (digital) humanitarian society can promote local empowerment, something I believe is a worthwhile alternative.

Smart Cities
Apart from social and political components of OSM, many presentations also addressed technical components; more specifically, new automated tools for OSM users. Some of these tools can be used to promote smart cities. Christian Quest and Michel Blancard from Etalab presented OpenSolarMap (view Figure 2). This presentation discussed using machine learning to identify which rooftops throughout France are most suitable for solar panel instalment based on rooftop aspect direction (north, south, west, east, or flat). Although there are still some variables that are excluded (e.g., solar intensity or rooftop angle), the software does highlight a more efficient methodology.


Figure 2. Etalab’s map visualization of rooftop directions (photo by Julia Conzon).

There were also three presentations proposing different methods to map indoor areas. Indoor data can be used for a series of smart city applications, such as geomarketing. For instance, a mobile app could link indoor routing with a store’s product information to direct a customer to the product they want in the store while also encouraging them to pass by other similar products. Although each presentation proposed slightly different methodologies to map out indoor areas, all three shared similar concerns on mapping certain features, such as whether a stairway takes you up or down a floor. There were also different stances on opening up the indoor data to the public. For example, French National Railway Company (SNCF) have mapped the interiors of all popular stations in Paris; but, instead of this data being openly accessible to the public, they combined their data with OSM data to create an app that provides maps of these stations’ interiors. Unfortunately, this app is not available for free, which disappointed myself and my neighbouring audience members. On the other hand, Roland Olbricht’s and Roland Wagner’s workshop taught the audience how to map building interiors with OpenStationMap, which is an OSM project that aims to incorporate indoor mapping onto OSM’s station polygons. As Google Maps has also introduced indoor mapping, Carto Cité’s presentation on indoor mapping reminded the audience, ‘We can’t leave it all to Google’ (Figure 3). If we leave indoor mapping to a few corporations, data accessibility may be restricted for commercial interests.

Figure 3. Indoor mapping efforts should not be undertaken by only a few actors

Figure 3. Indoor mapping efforts should not be undertaken by only a few actors (screenshot from YouTube)

Overall, the State of the Map presented two trends: collaborative learning and machine learning. The latter trend reflects discussions on automation of mapping processes, while the former trend reflects discussions on on-the-ground mapping with locals. Although these trends seem diverging, OSM’s platform is capable of incorporating both. As OSM Foundation’s Mikel Maron mentioned, it is about being “a part of the database.” Whether it be building technical tools to ease mapping complex areas or educating locals to contribute geospatial data, both trends aim to provide open geospatial data for all to use.

This collaborative environment has ultimately encouraged me to sustain the initiative for open spatial data. With the knowledge I have gained from the conference, I will introduce several new activities to Maptime MTL. Feel free to contact me at juliaconzon@gmail.com or maptimemtl@gmail.com if you are interested in participating or collaborating. You can also connect with me on Twitter @julconz and LinkedIn.

Local News Map Will Be First To Highlight Disparities in Coverage Across Canada

The Local News Map launched by Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett and Partner April Lindgren asks Canadian communities to report how news coverage has changed for them.

The Local News Map launched by Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett and Partner April Lindgren asks Canadian communities to report how news coverage has changed for them.

By Drew Bush

The impact of newsroom cutbacks, consolidations, and closures across Canada will be the focus of a new crowdsourced online geoweb map. The public can contribute to it now—with the full map available online this June.

“The idea of the map is it will allow us to gather data that we have not been able to gather on our own just because there is so much data out there,” said Geothink Partner April Lindgren, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and founding director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.

The project stems from a belief that Canadians who live in smaller cities, suburban municipalities, and rural areas typically have fewer media outlets to turn to for media coverage. For that reason, the project’s list of communities includes municipalities that have experienced a major disruption in local news sources (such as the closure of a daily newspaper or television station).

The map will be one part of the project “Election News, local information and community discourse: Is Twitter the new public sphere?” that is headed by Jaigris Hodson, an assistant professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads University. Geothink Co-Applicant Jon Corbett, an associate professor in Community, Culture and Global Studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, helped design it with his graduate students in the Spatial Information for Community Engagement (SPICE Lab) using the GeoLive platform featured in previous Geothink research.

“What we did is we went back to 2008 and we tried to find all the instances where a local news organization had either closed or scaled back service or something new had been launched,” Lindgren said in March while the map was being developed. “And so we populated the map as much as possible with information that we could find. But obviously there is lots and lots of other information out there that has happened since 2008. And there is probably lots of stuff going on right now that we do not know about.”

“So the idea of the crowdsourcing is it will allow us to obviously draw upon the expertise and knowledge of the local news landscape of people who live in communities,” she added. “And they will be able to contribute those pieces of information to the map to make it more robust and comprehensive.”

The map can document gains, losses, service increases, and service reductions at local online, radio, television and newspaper outlets across the country. Now that the map is open to contributions, members of the public can add information about changes to the local news landscape in their own communities. The map’s administrators will verify user submitted content so that the map remains accurate.

For a closer look at this project and the map, check out our video. In it, Corbett walks the user through a step-by-step view of the map and how to contribute while Lindgren discusses the importance of this work.

Making the Map

Many researchers have looked at the critical information needs of communities on topics such as education, health, security and emergency responses, Lindgren said. This in turn led her to think about how we know if there is adequate media provision in Canadian communities and where media have been lost or added. Still another related question is what online local news sites or social media have sprung up to fill any missing gaps.

Through attendance at last year’s Geothink Annual General Meeting in Waterloo, Lindgren was put in touch with Corbett. Eight months later, they had created a beta version of the map that included a couple hundred entries. Some emerging trends in the data include the consolidation and closure of community newspapers in Quebec and British Columbia.

“April had this idea that she wanted to better communicate information about how news media had changed over the period of the last eight years or so in Canada,” Corbett says of his meeting last May with Lindgren that began work by his lab to develop the map. “Because there really has been a lot of activity. Some newspapers have gotten larger. Others have closed down. There is a general move to web based media.”

His group has spent months ironing out the technical details of making this map presentable and ready for launch. Lindgren has provided feedback and advice on it through each stage.

“It has been an awful lot more complicated than we originally intended precisely because there has been so much activity and there is so much difference in this type of activity across Canada,” Corbett added. “For example, we have four major types of media. We have newspaper, we have radio, we have TV, and we have the web. And then within each one of those different types, we have a whole series of other information we need to convey.”

For example, the newspaper category of the map alone contains free dailies, free weeklies, and paid newspapers. It also must contain a measure of how such types have either declined or increased in different localities through time.

“And so we see all of this sort of compounding levels of complexity around the data that we need to present,” he said. “Because of course one of the problems with maps is to present information in an effective way require an awful lot of thought about the types of information being presented and how you actually present that type of information. It needs to be beautiful, it needs to be engaging, but it also needs to be informative.”

Corbett’s group has used color, typography, and more to make the map easily accessible to users. But he notes it is still a challenge to display all the transformations from January 2008 to the present. And the issue of time—as it is portrayed in the map—will only become more important as users begin to use it to display events taking place during specific years.

Getting Involved

Lindgren and Corbett are both excited for the map’s launch and the public’s participation. Right now the map needs richer input on new online news sites launched in Canada, Lindgren said. This is an issue she plans to keep an eye on when users begin contributing in greater frequency to determine to what extent these organizations are viable and fill gaps left by the closure of local newspapers and television stations.

Lindgren also believes the map has wide appeal to specific communities including local governments, individual community members, and journalists. She points out that in coming weeks there is a number of ways for the public to get involved.

“First of all, when they add a piece of data, they can comment,” Lindgren said. “Or they can comment on any other developments on the map that they want. And we have also incorporated a survey so that people can fill out the survey and tell us a little bit about where they go for their local news. Whether they feel adequately informed about various topics ranging from politics to education to other local issues.”

In case you missed it in the links above, find the map here to contribute your information: https://localnewsmap.geolive.ca/


If you have thoughts or questions about the article, get in touch with Drew Bush, Geothink’s digital journalist, at drew.bush@mail.mcgill.ca.

Geothink in the Okanagan: A Winter Student Exchange

This is a guest post from Geothink Student Tenille Brown, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. She writes about her experiences as the first student in Geothink’s student exchange program.

By Tenille Brown

This past winter, I had the opportunity to be the inaugural ‘student visiting researcher’ through a new Geothink learning initiative focusing on student exchanges. Geothink is a Canada wide, multi-disciplinary grant. In practical terms this means there are university partners in disciplines as diverse as GIScience, urban planning, geography, communication and law. The visiting researcher programme has been established to give students the opportunity to see how other disciplines work. Through this programme, I — a graduate student in law at the University of Ottawa, and member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre — found myself at a lab at UBC Okanagan. Professor Jon Corbett, a Geothink co-applicant, hosted me as I learnt about the lab, university and the city of Kelowna.

The SPICE Lab: Spatial Information for Community Mapping

The SPICE Lab, Spatial Information for Community Mapping, is housed at the Centre for Social, Spatial and Economic Justice (CSSEJ) at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus. Led by Professor Corbett, the Centre looks at digital cartographic processes and tools that can be used by local communities to help express their relationship to, and knowledge of, their land and resources. A mapping tool that we have heard about at Geothink in the past, Geolive, was developed here. I was able to get an inside look at the mechanics of the Geolive system and learned about the process of collecting and coding the mapped information. As well as learning about the huge amount of resources that go into maintaining a system like Geolive (important information for the arm-chair geo-cartographers out there). I was also fortunate to get a preview of a recent collaboration between the Geolive team and Professor April Lindgren, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism and, academic director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, and Geothink partner. Their project map titled, “The Local News Map: Tell us what is happening to local news in your community,” explores the issue of news poverty in Canada at a time of significant disruption in the news industry. The crowdsourced map will be available to the public so people can add information about the closure, launch or merger of local news outlets in their community. This collaboration between journalism and mapping was conceived at the 2015 Geothink AGM and will go live in the coming weeks (read more about it here).

Geolive news poverty map

Other activities I got involved in during my short stay in BC, included, observing community interviews carried out by Ailsa Beischer a student of Professor Corbett as she interviewed public health offices about food security (you can read about her work in a recent publication here). My visit coincided with a graduate programme lecture in Indigenous research methodology hosted by the En’owkin Centre, a First Nations community centre in the Okanagan valley. Of course, I got the chance to visit local Okanagan cultural sites.

Okanagan Vineyards
So, what’s a law student to do in a geo-spatial lab?

One of the core aims of Geothink is interdisciplinary research. This is a logical research objective given how integral multiple perspectives are to citizen-engagement; but from the often-siloed academy, surprisingly difficult to implement. My research is focused on property law and liability issues. I ask questions about ownership and legal adjudication of land and property, but from an interdisciplinary – law and geography – perspective. Adopting insights put into practice by the SpICE lab, I ask how cyber-cartography and the geoweb could be adopted to support individual and community experiences of property and land in ways beyond typical legal adjudication. In particular, the work of Geolive provides an opportunity to look at how community needs can be documented, raising the potential for critical insights about governance of land.

The visiting researcher position provided me with the opportunity to learn about the research processes of another discipline, in ways that I do not get to in my daily research schedule. In practical terms, I am deeply interested in both the utility and accuracy of information contained in the geoweb, and how programmers navigate the pressures of coding information to capture communities’ perspectives. These considerations – of accuracy and perspective – are of course long standing preoccupations of the legal field. But seeing the disciplinary similarities was apparent to me by visiting the SpICE lab and seeing the development process first hand. Having the opportunity to engage directly with the processes of researching and realizing digital-mapping projects, has been an impactful experience for my academic research, collaborations with Geothink researchers and personally.

Thank you to the Geothink team for sending me to UBC Okanagan. A huge thank you to Professor Corbett and his wonderful community of the CSSEJ for their support for my visit.

If you would like more information about my visit, or are a Geothink student thinking about going but still have questions, then please reach out to me.

Tenille E. Brown is a PhD Candidate under Professor Elizabeth F. Judge at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, where she is also a student member of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre. Tenille’s research is in the areas of legal geography, including property, spatial and citizen engagement. Tenille can be reached via email at, tenille.brown@uottawa.ca, and on Twitter, @TenilleEBrown

GIS on Campus: Join Claus Rinner for GIS Day at Ryerson

By Naomi Bloch

This Wednesday, November 18, marks the 16th annual GIS Day. Throughout the week, Geothink will present a series of posts looking at some of the ways in which our collaborators, partners, and friends around the world are critically examining and using GIS as a tool for civic engagement and understanding.
The community snapshots presented this week highlight diverse perspectives and uses for GIS. 

If you’re looking for a way to introduce friends to the wide-ranging sphere of GIS, look no further than Toronto’s Ryerson University campus on Wednesday.

Geothink’s Claus Rinner along with GIS and Map Librarian Dan Jakubek have a full afternoon of events scheduled for GIS Day. They’ve lined up three keynote presentations, each of which will explore very different GIS applications: Senior Landscape Ecologist Dr. Namrata Shrestha will discuss her work with the Toronto & Region Conservation Authority; Andrew Lyszkiewicz from the City of Toronto’s Information & Technology Division brings in the municipal GIS perspective; while the Toronto Star’s Matthew Cole and William Davis are on hand to cover the growing role of GIS, mapping, open data, and data analysis in the media.

Apart from keynotes, there will be a poster session, geovisualization project displays, as well as several practical demonstrations of GIS and geoweb tools in action. Neptis Foundation, a Geothink partner, is one of the participating organizations. According to the Neptis Foundation’s Adrien Friesen, he and colleague Vishan Guyadeen will be demonstrating their soon-to-be-launched geoweb platform, “an integrative web mapping tool for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, created to help residents, researchers and decision makers better understand what shapes our urban and rural environments. It allows users to select different spatial layers that they can overlay and view different infrastructure, political boundaries, and protected areas (among many other things), to visualize the region in which they live.”

A full itinerary of the afternoon’s events can be found on the Geospatial Map & Data Centre website. While you’re on campus, you might want to check out the Geospatial Map & Data Centre itself. Ryerson Library’s communal lab is a dedicated space designed to support collaborative work with GIS, data, and related geospatial and statistical software packages.

Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Time: 1:00 pm–5:00 pm
Location: Library Building, LIB-489, 4th Floor, 350 Victoria Street

For more of Geothink’s GIS Day coverage, see:

If you have thoughts or questions about this story, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.


Spotlight on Recent Publications: Critical Reflections on Outcomes from Three Geoweb Partnerships

ACME_2015By Naomi Bloch

Exploring university–community partnerships

Participatory geospatial technologies have the potential to support and promote citizen engagement. This great promise has led to more collaborations between academics and community partners interested in pursuing this aim. In their recently published paper, “A web of expectations: Evolving relationships in community participatory geoweb projects,” four Geothink researchers and their colleagues cast a reflective eye on the participatory action research processes behind three completed geoweb partnership projects.

Co-author Jon Corbett, an associate professor in Community, Culture and Global Studies at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, sees their ACME journal article as helping to fill a gap in the geoweb literature.  “For me, one of the things I’m most interested in is how—in a truthful and well-positioned way—we can talk about the veracity of the work that we’ve done in regards to its ability to actually bring about impact and social change,” Corbett said.
In the article, the authors compare the different cases in order to consider some of the tangible, empirical challenges that the projects encountered, concentrating on the frictions that can occur where technical and social considerations intersect.

screenshot of local food map interface

Central Okanagan Community Food Map interface

Participatory geoweb initiatives commonly rely on out-of-the-box mapping tools. For these three projects, a central aim was to employ the expertise of the university researchers to co-develop and co-evaluate custom geospatial web tools that could address community partners’ objectives. Ideally, such collaborations can benefit all parties. Researchers can learn about the potential and the limitations of the geoweb as a tool for civic engagement while partners have the opportunity to reflect on their objectives and access a wider tool set for accomplishing them. In reality, collaborations require compromises and negotiations. The question then becomes: when are researchers’ academic objectives and partners’ community objectives truly complementary?

In the first case study, the geoweb was used to create a participatory business promotion website for a rural Quebec community, intended as one component of a larger regional economic development strategy. The second case was a collaboration between two university partners and a cultural heritage organization in Ontario. The partners hoped the customized online tool could “serve as a ‘living’ repository of cultural heritage information that was both accessible to the public and could facilitate the contribution of knowledge from the public.” In the third project, university researchers worked with government and grassroots organizations at local as well as provincial levels. The vision in this case was to enable non-expert community members in the Okanagan region to share their own knowledge and experiences about local food and its availability.

Corbett explained that in reflecting on their work, the researchers realized that as social scientists with very specific domains of expertise in political science, geographic information systems, and community research, “the types of skills we needed to negotiate the relationships were far different from the sorts of traditional disciplinary fields that we work in.”  Their collaborators tended to identify the academics more as technical consultants than scholars. As the authors write, “most academics remain untrained in software development, design, marketing, long-term application management and updating, legal related issues, [and] terms of service.”

Although the three collaborations were quite different in terms of the publics involved as well as the negotiated objectives of the projects and the tools employed to achieve them, the authors identified several key common themes. The authors note, “In all three case studies, we found that the process of technology development had substantial influence on the relationship between university developers and community organization partners. This influence was seen in the initial expectations of community partners, differential in power between researcher and community, sustainability of tools and collaborations, and the change from research collaboration towards ‘deal making.'”

In the end, Corbett said, “All of the projects were extremely precarious in how we could assign value or success to them. The paper was really an academic reflection on the outcomes of those three different projects.”


New forms of participatory online geospatial technology have the potential to support citizen engagement in governance and community development. The mechanisms of this contribution have predominantly been cast in the literature as ‘citizens as sensors’, with individuals acting as a distributed network, feeding academics or government with data. To counter this dominant perspective, we describe our shared experiences with the development of three community-based Geospatial Web 2.0 (Geoweb) projects, where community organizations were engaged as partners, with the general aim to bring about social change in their communities through technology development and implementation. Developing Geoweb tools with community organizations was a process that saw significant evolution of project expectations and relationships. As Geoweb tool development encountered the realities of technological development and implementation in a community context, this served to reduce organizational enthusiasm and support for projects as a whole. We question the power dynamics at play between university researchers and organizations, including project financing, both during development and in the long term. How researchers managed, or perpetuated, many of the popular myths of the Geoweb, namely that it is inexpensive and easy to use (thought not to build, perhaps) impacted the success of each project and the sustainability of relationships between researcher and organization. Ultimately, this research shows the continuing gap between the promise of online geospatial technology, and the realities of its implementation at the community level.

Reference: Johnson, Peter A, Jon Corbett, Christopher Gore, Pamela J Robinson, Patrick Allen, and Renee E Sieber. A web of expectations: Evolving relationships in community participatory geoweb projects. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2015, 14(3), 827-848.

If you have thoughts or questions about this article, get in touch with Naomi Bloch, Geothink’s digital journalist, at naomi.bloch2@gmail.com.
Local News Research Project map of Toronto news coverage

Crosspost: How is your Toronto neighbourhood portrayed in the news? Check it out using these interactive maps

This post is cross-posted with permission from April Lindgren and Christina Wong at Local News Research Project. 

By April Lindgren and Christina Wong

Concerns about how neighbourhoods are portrayed in the news have surfaced regularly in the Toronto area over the years. But are those concerns valid?

Interactive maps produced by the The Local News Research Project (LNRP) at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism are designed to help Toronto residents answer this question. The maps give the public access to data the research project collected on local news coverage by the Toronto Star and the online news website OpenFile.ca. The maps can be used by members of the public and researchers to:

  • get an overall sense of where news in the city is – and isn’t – covered
  • compare patterns of local news coverage by two different news organizations
  • examine the city-wide geographic patterns of reporting on crime, entertainment and other major news topics
  • examine news coverage in each of Toronto’s 44 wards including how often the news stories and photographs reference locations in a ward
  • see what story topics are covered in each ward

The maps are based on the Toronto Star’s local news coverage published on 21 days between January and August, 2011. Researchers have found that a two-week sample of news is generally representative of news coverage over the course of a year (Riffe, Aust & Lacy, 1993). The data for OpenFile.ca, which suspended publishing in 2012, were collected for every day in 2011 between January and August.

Click here to see the maps or continue reading to find out more about news coverage and neighbourhood stereotyping, how the maps work, and the role of open data sources in this project.


Local news and neighbourhood stereotyping
The decision to explore news coverage of Toronto neighbourhoods was prompted by concerns expressed by citizens and local politicians about how certain parts of the city are portrayed in the local media. Residents were furious (Pellettier, Brawley & Yuen, 2013), for instance, when Toronto Star columnist Rosie Dimanno referred to the city’s Scarborough area as “Scarberia” in an article about former mayor Rob Ford’s re-election campaign (DiManno, 2013). Back in 2007, then-mayor David Miller went so far as to contact all of the city’s news media asking them to cite the nearest main intersection rather than reporting more generally that a particular crime occurred in Scarborough (Maloney, 2007). In Toronto’s west end, the local city councillor suggested negative connotations associated with the Jane and Finch neighbourhood could be diffused by renaming it University Heights, but the idea was vehemently rejected by residents (Aveling, 2009).

A study that investigated how Toronto’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods were covered by the Toronto Star concluded that there was very little coverage of news in these communities (Lindgren, 2009). The study, which examined Toronto Star local news reporting in 2008, also found that crime tended to dominate the limited coverage that did take place and suggested the problem could be rectified not by ignoring crime stories, but by increasing coverage of other sorts of issues in those communities.


Exploring the maps
The interactive maps allow users to explore local news coverage in the City of Toronto. A sample of local stories and photographs from the Toronto Star (the local newspaper with the largest circulation in the city) and OpenFile.ca (a community-based news website) were identified and analyzed in 2011 to capture data about story topics and mentions of geographic locations.

These maps make the data available to the public in a way that allows users to explore and compare media coverage in different areas of the city. Users can zoom in on a neighbourhood and discover all of the locations referenced within a neighbourhood. Each point on the map represents a location that was referenced in one or more news items. Users can click on any of these points to see a list of news articles associated with each location (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Users can click each point to find out about the news articles that referenced the location
Figure 1. Users can click each point to find out about the news articles that referenced the location

By clicking within a ward boundary, users can also access a summary chart describing the breakdown by subject of all local news coverage in that ward. Users interested in the Scarborough area, for instance, can zoom into that area on the map and click on each Scarborough ward to see what sorts of stories (crime, transit, entertainment, sports, etc.) were reported on in that ward (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Users can click within a ward to access charts summarizing news coverage by topic
Figure 2. Users can click within a ward to access charts summarizing news coverage by topic

Users interested in how and where a particular news topic is covered can access separate interactive maps for the top five subjects covered by the two news sources. Figure 3, for example, shows all locations mentioned in crime and policing stories published by the Toronto Star during the study’s sample period.

Figure 3. Toronto Star coverage of crime and policing news
Figure 3. Toronto Star coverage of crime and policing news

The role of open data sources in creating these maps
A total of 23 pre-existing datasets were used to support the creation of these interactive maps including relevant open datasets that were publically available online in 2008. The datasets were used to populate a list of geographic locations in the GTA that had the potential to be referenced in local news stories. Each dataset was assigned unique numerical codes and all 23 datasets were appended to a geographic reference table that coders could search. The incorporated reference list of geographic locations and features allowed for a more accurate and efficient coding process: Coders entering information about spatial references in local news items were able to select many of the referenced geographic locations from the pre-populated list rather than entering the information manually. This improved accuracy because it helped prevent human error and also sped up the coding process.

We would have preferred to use more open data sources during the initial development of the database, but this wasn’t possible due to limited availability of datasets with the spatial attributes that make mapping possible. At that time, only two of the 23 datasets used (approximately 8.7% of the total) were available from open data sources in a format that included geography (such as shapefiles). Both files were obtained from the City of Toronto’s Open Data website. These limitations meant that the majority of the database relied on contributions from private data sources.

The situation has improved over time as more open government data become available in geographic file formats that support research with spatial analysis. As of mid-2015, six more of the 23 datasets (two federal, one provincial and three municipal) used in the database have become available. If we were creating the database today, a total of eight datasets or 34.8% of the initial database could be populated using open data sources (Table 1).

Table 1. Availability of open data sources
Available in 2008 when the database was created Currently available
Private sources 21 15
Government open data 2   (8.7% of database) 8 (34.8% of database)
Total # of datasets 23 23


Since 2008, the Government of Canada has launched its own open data portal, joined the Open Government Partnership alongside other countries supporting the release of open government data, and adopted the G8 Open Data Charter (Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, 2014). Provincial and municipal governments have made similar improvements to open data access. The Government of Ontario launched an online open data catalogue in 2012 and is currently developing an Open Data Directive to be implemented later this year (Fraser, 2015). The City of Toronto introduced its open data portal in 2009 and developed an Open Data Policy in 2012 (City of Toronto, n.d.).

As Table 1 suggests, however, further improvements are required to reduce barriers to research and innovation. A report from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, for instance, recommended that the federal government provide data at smaller levels of geography, work together with different levels of government to establish standards and release data, and provide a greater variety of open data to reflect all government departments. The report noted that the release of open data can improve government efficiency, foster citizen engagement, and encourage innovation (Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, 2014). Academic researchers have argued that improvements in the availability of open government data would stimulate valuable research and outcomes with economic and social value (Jetzek, Avital & Bjorn-Andersen, 2014; Kucera, 2015; Zuiderwijk, Janssen & Davis, 2014). Journalists are also pushing for easier and greater access to data (Schoenhoff & Tribe, 2014).


Research conducted by the Local News Research Project was made possible by public funds and as such the data should be widely available. The interactive maps are an attempt to fulfill that obligation.

While the maps capture only a snapshot of news coverage at a fixed point in time, they nonetheless demonstrate the importance of geospatial analysis in local news research (Lindgren & Wong, 2012). They are also a powerful data visualization tool that allows members of the public to independently explore media portrayals of neighbourhoods and the extent to which some parts of a city are represented in the news while others are largely ignored.

Finally, this mapping project also illustrates how open government data can foster research and how much there is still to do in terms of making data available to the public in useful formats.


The Local News Research Project was established in 2007 to explore the role of local news in communities. Funding for this research has been provided by Ryerson University, CERIS-The Ontario Metropolis Centre and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

About the authors: Lindgren is an Associate Professor in Ryerson University’s School of Journalism and Academic Director of the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. Christina Wong is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Geographic Analysis program. Initial work on the maps was done in 2014 by GEO873 students Cory Gasporatto, Lorenzo Haza, Eaton Howitt and Kevin Wink from Ryerson University’s Geographic Analysis program.



Avaling, N. (2009, January 8). Area now being called University Heights, but some call change a rejection of how far we’ve come. Toronto Star, p. A10.

City of Toronto. (n.d.). Open Data Policy. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=7e27e03bb8d1e310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD

DiManno, R. (2013, July 6). Ford fest makes a strategic move. Toronto Star, p. A2.

Jetzek, T., Avital, M. & Bjorn-Andersen, N. (2014). Data-driven innovation through open government data. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, 9(2), 100-120.

Fraser, D. (2015, May 1). Ontario announces more open data, public input. St. Catharines Standard. Retrieved from http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2015/05/01/ontario-announces-more-open-data-public-input

Kucera, J. (2015). Open government data publication methodology. Journal of Systems Integration, 6(2), 52-61.

Lindgren, A. (2009). News, geography and disadvantage: Mapping newspaper coverage of high-needs neighbourhoods in Toronto, Canada. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 18(1), 74-97.

Lindgren, A. & Wong, C. (2012). Want to understand local news? Make a map. 2012 Journalism Interest Group proceedings. Paper presented at Congress 2012 of the Humanities and Social Sciences conference. Retrieved from http://cca.kingsjournalism.com/?p=169

Maloney, P. (2007, January 16). Mayor sticks up for Scarborough. Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/news/2007/01/16/mayor_sticks_up_for_scarborough.html?referrer=

Pellettier, A., Brawley, D. & Yuen, S. (2013, July 11). Don’t call us Scarberia [Letter to the editor]. Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2013/07/11/dont_call_us_scarberia.html

Riffe, D., Aust, C. F. & Lacy, S. R. (1993). The effectiveness of random, consecutive day and constructed week sampling. Journalism Quarterly, 70, 133-139.

Schoenhoff, S. & Tribe, L. (2014). Canada continues to struggle in Newspapers Canada’s annual FOI audit [web log post]. Retrieved from https://cjfe.org/blog/canada-continues-struggle-newspapers-canada%E2%80%99s-annual-foi-audit

Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. (2014). Open data: The way of the future: Report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Retrieved from http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Committee/412/OGGO/Reports/RP6670517/oggorp05/oggorp05-e.pdf

Zuiderwijk, A., Janssen, M. & Davis, C. (2014). Innovation with open data: Essential elements of open data ecosystems. Information Polity, 19(1, 2), 17-33.

Hopping the Geofence: A Quick Look at Geofencing Practices

By Matthew Tenney

As we walk, drive, or skip down the road most of us are actively sharing bits of information about ourselves to anyone who cares to listen. The piece(s) of mobile technology we carry with us, nearly ever place we go, is being bombarded by a field of sensors that hear where and who we are.  Often these sensors can talk back to us through emails, SMS, or many other mediums directly to our smartly connected pockets. What they are looking for and what they do with this information is, however, a complex system of applications that vary depending on the kinds of hardware being used to what purpose someone has for listening in the first place.

Strategies known as geofencing utilizes location based services (LBS) within certain geographic zones and are delineated by sensor networks across real-world geographic areas. These invisible fences act as both partitions and catchment areas, which quiet heavily used in today’s digital world whether you are aware of it or not.

One example of geofencing is for commercial enterprises like consumer centers and dissemination of marketing materials. A shopping center can create a radius of interest (or guesstimated trade area) around their locations and “watch” all of those that enter and exit via different LBS. Sometimes these fences will alert you with an ad about their big fire-sale on paperback books, or, maybe extend an exclusive deal to you for: being in the right place, at the right time.

Another popular use of geofences is for safety and security purposes. Acting in this case, more like their traditional counterpart, as a barrier between different places or people. Digital Childcare services can offer a means to track the real-time whereabouts of children and provide different levels of safeguard measures to send alerts when these borders are crossed. Some high-security facilities can take advantage of geofences both inside and outside of buildings. When sensitive materials are at risk geofences can act as an invisible alarm systems that protects both digital and physical materials from leaving authorized areas.

Civic and community organizations have also been using geofences. School and college campuses offer geofences for secure network access to things like student records and other services. Sporting events can send real-time alerts to fans out in the parking lot about the game. Neighborhoods provide community wide Wi-Fi to residents or visitors and share community events. Residents can also use these geofenced zones as if they were mirroring physically gated-neighborhoods and extend heartfelt welcomes – or stern warnings – to those that enter its perimeter.  The state of Texas in the U.S. also sends out SMS alerts to automobile drivers on the interstate system about accidents, missing persons, or other public-service and emergency announcements.

For social networking, geofences can provide an intranet of connections between people that occupy the same geographic location. Providing a means to share messages to peers and outsiders about events and activities, geofencing, can allow people to form co-located digital cliques based on similarities of interest and location. |=|A|+|B|-|A∩B|
Figure 1: Inclusion-exclusion principle of mathematics. For illustrative purposes only. After all, everyone loves a good equation now and again.

While geofencing carries with it plenty of straightforward advantages, it is by definition a procedure of separating people, places, and things through processes of inclusion and exclusion. These processes, be they engineered or naturally formed, define more than just geographic regions, but also claim people, services, and resources via the quick and ready use of widespread modern technologies.

| A∪B|=|A|+|B|-|A∩B|
Figure 1: Inclusion-exclusion principle of mathematics. For illustrative purposes only. After all, everyone loves a good equation now and again.

Social exclusion refers to processes in which individuals or groups of people are blocked from rights, opportunities and resources (e.g. housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation and due process) that are normally available to members of society and which are key to social integration. Where social inclusion is the opposite processes of offering these things to people and places that they belong.

There is apparent risk of geofencing to be an updated version of redlining, a process of discrimination that isolated certain people by socio-demographic traits like race and class, that dynamically dictate membership of “now you’re in, now you’re not” instantaneously.

A geofencing community can lay claim to another geographic area or alter its boarders as needed to grab a few people here and cut a few over there out. This can both create territorial bounds for community and individual identities and destroy the reputation of others. Social elitists can demarcate the newest hip-scene to be seen in and can at the same time kick to the curb outdated venues or areas as yesterdays hangout spots.

The implications of this rapid construction and destruction of identities has yet to be fully understood, but one can wonder what will the Brooklyn of tomorrow look like? Or, better yet: where will it be tomorrow and who is “in” now and “out” like yesterday?

In order to understand, promote, and prevent the right-and-wrong outcomes of geofencing requires a deeper understanding of what kinds of information is being shared, who is using it, and for what purposes. While technology shows no sign in abating the amount of digital information that can be shared through LBS, geofencing is an inevitable concern for all of us. Whether on onside of the digital divide or another, geofencing will likely define how we understand concepts of the city and ourselves in the future.

Explorations In Geoweb – The Important Relationship Between Geoweb and Open Data

The Geoweb (related to open data) depends on open data to remain functional and accurate. This relationship functions in reverse as well, in that the support, use, and maintenance of open data can depend on Geoweb applications. One of the factors that influence public support is the perception of use and accessibility of the data. Without public support, open data projects will neither be funded nor maintained. Geoweb applications allow for practical application of open data that have high utility and value for citizens.

The City of Edmonton is a good example of the utilization of an open data portal as well as Geoweb applications on their website. The main page allows for you to browse various data sites and includes direct links to interactive maps and apps that make use of the data. While it is still very limited in terms of GIS capabilities (it just has some querying capability), it is still a step forward from simply viewing and downloading data. The City of Edmonton’s data portal development was commissioned to the open data platform company Socrata (the portal can be found here: https://data.edmonton.ca/).

There is statistical data that emphasizes the importance of the relationship between Geoweb and open data in a survey that was conducted in 2010 by Socrata. This company conducted an online survey of a total of 1000 citizens, a number of developers, and also municipal governments in the United States over a three month period in 2010 (http://www.socrata.com/benchmark-study). The results delivered a picture of the state of open data in the United States along with factors influencing success present and future.

The survey confirms that transparency, accountability and public participation in government are important to citizens, and consequently to governments who value public  opinion. Governments  who recognize that open data can affect the daily lives of citizens, and that this motivated them to initiate an open data project were in the majority of those surveyed (see Socrata Benchmark Study). Also, open data projects encouraged a positive attitude towards politicians and government as 61.0% of citizens surveyed, stated that they are more likely to vote for a politician who supports the development of Open Data and 56.3% stated they would trust their governments more if they made most of their data available online. These two factors alone show that citizens have a progressive mindset with regards to open data and that this is something that citizens want from their government. Government employees who were surveyed showed a much greater support for open data than citizens, 92.6% believed that public data should be made accessible online, 91% believed government data is public taxpayer property and should be made available free to all citizens.
The motivation and the support exist internally and externally, all that is missing is a standardization or organization for governments to allocate more resources to developing these projects.
The largest obstacle, according to the study, was lack of leadership from within the government to launch or to organize themselves for development.  The survey showed that the greatest motivation for open data initiatives at the Federal level was compliance to legislation or executive mandate. Mandates and regulation works for getting the ball rolling, overcoming the obstacle of ground up initiative, and so more of it needs to be seen to get smaller departments and organizations up to speed.  Thus the challenge to governments at all levels is to close the gap between the early and late adopters. One solution may be public awareness. The survey recorded that more than 60% of citizens surveyed did not have awareness of open data initiatives from their governments at all, which means that the majority of people don’t even know that open data is available to them. Getting the open data portals more exposure would lead to greater expectations and pressure from members of the public to increase the capacity, quality and development of open data. Citizens must know that there is a value to this data, and public awareness is a more complicated issue when not every citizen understands the benefits of it.

The success of a data portal then, and the success of its exposure to citizens, depends greatly on the ease of use to citizens, beyond being downloadable and readable. According to the information collected:

With respect to accessing data, citizens, by a 3 to 1 margin, prefer exploring and interacting with data online (63%) to downloading it in a spreadsheet (16%). As a matter of fact, downloading data, which is currently the most prevalent consumption method of government data ranked much lower than browsing pre-made visualizations (37%) or data discovery through social interactions and community feedback (29%). (Socrata Benchmark Study 2010).

Synthesized, organized and utilized information is more attractive to users than raw data alone and therefore has greater value and utility. Development of Geoweb applications need to be encouraged by governments or citizen groups through hackathons or other incentives in order to address the problem of both awareness with respect to the existence of the data portals, its utility to citizens and for governments making the budgets, the dollar-for-dollar value to invest in maintenance of the projects and increase funding and/or support.

Another important  issue and obstacle, is that the data that is available is often not deemed to be sufficient by developers to produce Geoweb applications, and thus data quality needs to be addressed in priority. Without voluntary developers for the Geoweb applications, development of Geoweb becomes expensive to governments and is also less efficient. Greater than 50% of developers surveyed do not believe that the data available is sufficient to develop a wide range of functional apps. More specifically, the needs identified by developers surveyed for efficient use of data were the right data (56.7%), open API (50%) and access to meta data, data quality (46.7%).

The Geoweb and open data have evolved to be dependent on one another for success, and the development of Geoweb applications is a key factor in the success of open data projects for governments. Regulation, public awareness, and data quality are amongst many variables that must be addressed by governments, and functional and valuable Geoweb applications can ease this for them.

To view the Socrata Benchmark Survey results, visit https://benchmarkstudy.socrata.com/. The written report is downloadable upon request at http://www.socrata.com/benchmark-study/