Tracks4Africa: Mapping and annotating Africa’s remote eco-destinations

Back in 2005 I made a screencast that showed how the convergence of GPS and online mapping enables us to collectively annotate the planet. The Tracks4Africa folks have been doing that since 2000. On this week’s Innovators show, Johann Groenewald explains how some GPS enthusiasts who are passionate about exploring, documenting, and preserving Africa’s rural and remote “eco-destinations” have created an annotated map that travelers can use and enhance. The GPS maps have evolved into a commercial product. The annotations — including photos and commentary — are available at the Padkos website, and also as a layer in Google Earth.

I found out about T4A when a reader commented on an earlier item about ground truthing and crowdsourced mapping. T4A is a wonderful demonstration of that possibility. It’s also a great story about how open data contributed by a community, and commercial data managed by a business, can thrive in a symbiotic relationship.

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5 thoughts on “Tracks4Africa: Mapping and annotating Africa’s remote eco-destinations

  1. I am seaching for some idea to write in my blog… somehow come to your blog. best of luck. Eugene

  2. I think I was the reader who commented about T4A on your previous post. I’m very happy to be partially responsible for a new connection between yourself and T4A. :-)

  3. Tracks4Africa has made great strides in pulling together data – however like other “Map Making” tools the data itself is then kept proprietary. There isn’t a way for contributors – or the public in general – to get to the vector data.

    By constract, OpenStreetMap is an open repository of track and geodata that anyone can contribute to and also access the underlying vector and topology information. This means there can be real innovation (user-defined routing algorithms, cartography, etc) as well as offline usage, syncronization, and more.

    It would be great if Tracks4Africa adopted a more open strategy and worked in the community.

  4. > the data itself is then kept proprietary

    As Johann points out, the quality assurance provided by T4A is the basis of its commercial existence. And it arrived at that model when the effort required became more than the community wanted to volunteer.

    Of course, nothing prevents an open service from evolving a comparable level of QA based on volunteer effort.

    Here’s a thought. Imagine a service that receives contributions of geodata, and routes them to multiple services as appropriate, including T4A, OpenStreetMap, others. Now it’s a level playing field.

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