LocalWiki at the National Day of Civic Hacking

8 July 2014

On June 1-2, 2013, thousands of people in communities across the country participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking, a series of events held in dozens of cities where coders and citizens collaborated to use open government data for local and national change.

Participants of the Hack for Change Seattle event. (photo by Sol Villarreal)

Many of the participating projects included building and using LocalWikis for civic change.

In Philadelphia, a team that included Chris Alfano, Faye Anderson, and Jim Connor won the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon with an app called “What’s Going On?” which aggregates after school programs across the city. To develop a database of after school programs for their app, the team had participants add programs to Wikidelphia, Philadelphia’s LocalWiki. The list of programs is now available both via the What’s Going On? app and on Wikidelphia.

Developing the What's Going On? app in Philadelphia (photo by Faye Anderson)
Chris Alfano working on the What's Going On? app in Philadelphia (photo by Faye Anderson)

Hack for Change participants worked on adding and editing entries to their LocalWikis in Miami, (the MiamiWiki team added over 370 entries during the weekend!), Seattle, Kansas City, Norfolk, and Tulsa.

MiamiWiki presentation at Hack for Change Miami (photo by Christopher Sopher)
Kansas City neighborhood Write-a-thon (photo by Andrew Hyder)

The Tulsa Central Library organized and hosted a TulsaWiki editathon where over 60 participants added entries and maps to TulsaWiki. Additionally, a team that included Luke Crouch, John Dungan, Blixa Morgan, and Patrick Forringer developed a mobile app called LocalTour which uses map and entry data from Tulsa Wiki to power self-guided tours of Tulsa. The team plans to expand this app to allow any city running a LocalWiki to have their own LocalTour instance.

The National Day of Civic Hacking was the starting gun, but the race continues all summer with the Great American Civic Hack, a summer-long challenge that encourages development and re-use of civic software that culminates in an awards ceremony in August. Help make open source civic software better by contributing to LocalWiki and all the other great civic projects in the Great American Civic Hack.

Open Data Day + LocalWiki = <3

7 July 2014

February 23rd was the International Open Data day. And all over the world, groups gathered to work together on LocalWiki projects.  Here’s a few of their stories:

Seattle, Washington

Seattle LocalWiki met in conjunction with the Code for Seattle Code for America Brigade group and hacked on the LocalWiki platform, creating a ruby gem for the localwiki api, a node module for the localwiki api, a patch method for the node module request and more.  A bunch of LocalWiki editing happened, too, and folks started filling out information about local libraries.

Oakland, California

For Open Data Day, Oakland LocalWiki had an editathon in conjunction with the Open Oakland Code for America Brigade at the 81st Avenue Library. The theme of the editathon was “#oakmtg” which is the hashtag used by those who livetweet Oakland City Council meetings. As part of this theme, they worked on content relating to all things civic -- City Council (people and meetings), city policies, and access to resources and services. Content added included a complete list of past City Council members, free computer access in Oakland, unemployment insurance and job-seeking advice, resources at local libraries, Oakland Fire Department locations, and more.

South Bend, Indiana

Code for America fellows in South Bend, Indiana set up a South Bend LocalWiki for their event which 80 people attended. Populating the South Bend Wiki was one of several activity or project options for the day. It proved to be quite popular-- 15 users created more than 110 pages with more than 300 edits! The initial content focused largely around neighborhoods, biking, and local amenities like restaurants and live music venues. Since the event, a number of users have continued adding to and editing LocalWiki and at a community meeting last night one of the contributors told us that she's recruiting a relative who works with high school students to populate LocalWiki with additional information as part of a class.

Summit County, Ohio

On a Saturday morning, Summit County Councilmembers, lawyers, ecologists, data scientists, designers and developers gathered to celebrate what we love about where we live. We documented the special parts of this community in our culture’s favored medium: open-source software. More specifically, they captured the best of the community’s remarkable parks, its neighborhoods and destinations, and even the “Weird and Wacky” in the new Summit LocalWiki.

Sacramento, California

Photo by Jared Goyette

Sacramento LocalWiki editing was on the menu during Sacramento’s International Open Data Day hackathon. Phoebe Ayers from nearby Davis Wiki gave a demo on editing LocalWiki, and the group settled in to collaboratively redesign and update the main page. Participants also updated and added to several articles, and as a demo, created a new article about the space they were in.

By the end of the event everyone agreed to stay in touch via a new Sac Wiki google group. Participants discussed the possibility of meetups and working with other Sacramento community groups such as local collaborative media and neighborhood associations to breathe more energy into the project.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Grand Raids LocalWiki group, viget.org, held a a writeathon at local Story Cafe.  During the event over 330 changes were made to over 100 pages.  The Viget team even put together this awesome flyer to advertise their event:

Tokyo area, Japan

Folks in the Tokyo area of Japan worked on LocalWiki Japan.  They worked to share the beautiful and unique things about the regions of Chiyoda and Fujisawa.

Oakland hosts first in a series of Local History Editathons!

18 January 2013

On Sunday, January 13th, Team Oakland LocalWiki held our first-ever Local History Editathon! That day, local historians, geographers, San Francisco Bay Area Wikipedians and curious residents of all editing abilities gathered at the Oakland History Room for what became a very successful major first push toward incorporating local historical content onto Oakland LocalWiki.

After a merry social hour at the Brown Couch Cafe, the day’s researcher-editors met up for the main event at the Oakland History Room at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library, a local treasure trove of primary materials relating to the history of the East Bay.

Sunday History Room Librarian Martha Bergmann greeted the crowd with a table filled with prime examples of the history room’s collections: from neighborhood-related clippings that volunteers have collected over many decades, to historical photo albums and property maps dating to the 1850s. She had spent the previous evening thoughtfully pondering the event: Which resources would she highlight, particularly given the digital nature of the project?

After her wonderful exhibition on the library’s collections, she lead us to a conference room, where Team Oakland Wiki members Marina and Vicky gave first-time editors an editing walkthrough. After returning to the History Room, the day’s localwikians packed the largest table in the room with books and news clippings, laptops and hand-scribbled research notes, a portable scanner, and an occasional history-excited voice (that the author of this post had to remind to keep quiet).

One of our attendees, Gene Anderson, is the local historian/geographer behind the detailed neighborhood boundary maps that are incorporated into Oakland LocalWiki. He is the keeper of the OurOakland blog, an amazing repository of local history and events. A few years ago, he started an Oakland history wiki on OurOakland as a way to record in wiki format local history that doesn’t meet Wikipedia’s notability guidelines--but the project ended up being too monumental a task for him alone. He now edits Oakland LocalWiki under the name "Gene", and is a regular sight on the "recent changes" tab!

The aim of organizing local history editathons is fourfold in our eyes:

  1. Engage existing communities: We want to tap into communities of Oaklanders who have the potential to become dedicated editors--in this case, those who are already actively interested in creating and preserving a story to call Oakland’s. We believe (and are seeing!) the potential that this community of active historians holds!
  2. Make the analog digital: We want to create the opportunity to bridge communicational divides between the analog and the digital and include invaluable information on the wiki that is not readily available on the Internet.
  3. Promote incremental editing: We want to motivate more people to edit by having a content base spanning the basic history and geography of neighborhoods, people and historic events. This is part of our strategy to include people who may not have the knowledge, time or sense of agency to write an extensive history on a topic, but who through incremental changes could add more value and depth to what’s already presented.
  4. Enrich our perspective of today’s Oakland: Having basic content on the historical trends that shape and inform today’s Oakland will make an Oakland LocalWiki user’s experience that much more enlightening.

Our Local History Editathon series takes place every Sunday at different libraries, museums and other repositories of local history. Please see the Local History Editathons page for details and sign up for our announcement listserv! More highlights of the day (including photos, content created, and ideas for future events) can be found here.

A movement spreads

28 November 2012

We've seen something incredible happen recently: all over the United States, people are getting together — in person, and in huge numbers — to kick off or just to edit LocalWiki.

Toledo, Ohio

When Brian Zelip went back home to Toledo for Thanksgiving, he knew the community was missing something — a LocalWiki! So he got to work creating one. But he knew he couldn’t just stop on by, boot up a new LocalWiki instance, and head back. Instead, he worked with friends and organizations in the community, and pulled folks together for a big “learn & launch” event for Toledo LocalWiki.

Around 60 people came out to the event.

Around 60 people came out for the event, and the meetup alone created about a 33% increase in users and a 50% increase in users. Check out this great newspaper article about the event. One of the people who came out for the event was Eddie:

Eddie is an eight year old contributor to Toledo LocalWiki. He asked the first question during the event’s Q&A, then set to work on his iPad creating a wiki page for his school!

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Motu Viget is the motto of the City of Grand Rapids. It means strength in activity in Latin. Viget is also the name of the local wiki project for Grand Rapids. The project was started back in 2007 and re-launched yesterday, in beta, on LocalWiki. To mark the occasion, they had a big edit-a-thon and meetup yesterday evening!

The team behind the project, Friendly Code, has already started doing some great work on the LocalWiki platform.

Oakland, California

Last week, folks behind the Oakland LocalWiki project organized their first bikeabout!

One of the bike groups.

Participants split up into three groups that rode around Fruitvale, Jingletown, Downtown, Grand Lake, and West Oakland. The ride was roughly geared around recording information about Oakland's vibrant collection of murals.

After biking, folks met back up at the West Oakland Library Branch where they created an amazing collection of pages about the city's murals — like Mural Lane, 514 28th St Murals, Children's Fairyland, and 15th and Webster Murals. (See the huge full list!)

A couple days later, some of the Oakland LocalWiki team organized a brown bag lunch at the Oakland City Hall! About 20 city employees attended, and they had a lively discussion about ways the City could engage with the Oakland LocalWiki project.

Champaign-Urbana, Illinois

Folks in Champaign-Urbana just passed the 1,000 page milestone on CU LocalWiki. Congrats!

...and finally, a message from Triangle LocalWiki:

Triangle LocalWiki folks on the R-Line spread the LocalWiki word!

Antarctica like you've never seen it before

10 October 2012

Many months ago, we were approached about helping start up LocalWiki in Antarctica.


The project, sponsored by the Open Antarctica organization, would aim to initially document a region of roughly 2 miles surrounding the Palmer Station United States base on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Our first question was: wait, there's Internet in Antarctica? And yes, there is Internet access on the Antarctic bases — access that's provided over an awesome looking, though incredibly slow, satellite uplink. So slow, in fact, that we briefly thought about sending our contact down to Antarctica with a plug-in computer running a little LocalWiki server — but ultimately decided it was too much work for little gain.

The next thing we started thinking about was mapping. Maps are a core feature of LocalWiki, so having a good map of the area, particularly the area near the research station, was really important. And ideally we'd have some aerial imagery and not just a vector map. "Let's take a look at some maps of the area!" we thought.

Given that we use OpenStreetMap data in our default base layer, let's check out what our OpenStreetMap-based tiles look like around the island containing the research station:

The orange dot is where the station is.

As you can see, the OpenStreetMap map doesn't really show any of the detail here — it's missing the whole peninsula the station is on! The story's the same with most freely-licensed satellite imagery:

Typical freely-licensed satellite imagery.

Some commercial satellite imagery, like Google's, is better, but it's still not at the level of detail we wanted — and it's not freely licensed. There's got to be some good aerial imagery of this region out there, right? Maybe if I we found some good imagery we could stitch it together into a map?

Then we found this amazing NASA Photo of the Day:

OH MY GOD! That's just incredible detail and quality! Hope!

Making the map

Searching through the USGS Earth Explorer didn't turn up anything near the quality of this NASA photo of the day image. Hunting around different NASA websites didn't seem to give many clues, either. The best clue was the photo caption from the Photo of the Day, which read:

[...] greeting to scientists and flight crew aboard NASA's DC-8 flying science laboratory as it flew over the station during Operation Ice Bridge.

After even more digging around, I stumbled upon the FTP site where NASA was hosting Operation Ice Bridge images. Presumably, the image from the NASA Photo of the Day would be in there — and hopefully a bunch of great shots of the surrounding area. The only problem was that the FTP site had many, many directories, each with thousands of files:

I experimented with downloading a few random images and plotting them in QGIS, but it quickly became clear that downloading all of the hundreds of thousands of images and plotting them using this way just wasn't going to work — there were too many images, we didn't have the many, many terabytes of required space, and the GeoTIFFs quickly overloaded QGIS. Alex Mandel recommended trying to find a pattern in the filenames — but after working on the problem for a bit we didn't seem to get anywhere.

So we ended up writing a little FTP client to grab just the few Kb of each file, which ended up being enough to get the location metadata out of the GeoTIFFs. With that, we could easily import the location of every image:

...and then start plotting them on a map, revealing airplane's flight path:

The red dot is the research station.

Getting there... after plotting a few hundred thousand other data points:

The red dot is the research station.

Sweet! It looks like there's quite a few images around the station! So there's some hope we can piece together a great aerial map of the region.

Overview / vector map

So, there's hope we'll pull off an aerial map of the region. But it's going to be pretty spotty — the NASA Ice Bridge project is set up to just snap photos of the coastlines, basically. We'll have to lay the aerial imagery on top of something. And because the project may later want to cover other regions in Antarctica, we'd like to have a good base map of the whole continent.

But the problem is that standard maps are designed to make most of earth look right when flattened out, always at the expense of Antarctica. Which usually makes a lot of sense.

Antarctica, viewed on Google Maps. (© Google)

Paths around the South Pole would look really wonky with this standard projection. Fortunately, there's a better projection for Antartica. After much fiddling with Geoserver, we figured out how to get it to correctly reproject vector data in this esoteric projection.

So, we can reproject vector data into this fancy Antarctic projection, but where can we get decent vector data of Antarctica? As explained earlier, the OpenStreetMap data isn't very detailed. Thankfully, the fantastic Antarctica Digital Database comes to the rescue! They have highly-detailed coastline data of the entire continent that's freely usable for non-commercial purposes.

The zoomed-out-all-the-way map in all of its stereographic glory!

Stitching together aerial imagery

So, we've got all these images from the region around the station, but how do we stitch them together into a map we can serve and suck into OpenLayers?

Figuring out how to serve individual GeoTIFF files was pretty easy. The problem was figuring out how to stitch all of these images together. We tried out several of the Geoserver-specific approaches to image stitching, but none of them worked. The Image Pyramid plugin seemed to crash when using this Antarctic projection — and the same sort of crash happened when trying to import a VRT file of all the GeoTIFFs and when using the Mosaic feature of Geoserver.

Maybe we can just stitch the GeoTIFFs together ourselves, somehow? First, we tried using gdalwarp to do the stitching:

Area near the airport the plane took off from.

...which worked, but there are weird black lines in the image, what are those? Turns out the images, while TIFFs, were compressed internally using JPEG compression and we need to run the nearblack utility on them before stitching.

So, we threw together a script to clean up the images and continually stitch them together using gdalwarp. All done? Not so fast. The images, when uncompressed, balloon to around 2GB or so each — EC2 to the rescue! We spun up a server with an insane amount of disk and ran the stitch script for several days, taking a look at the output and tweaking it throughout.

This left us with one stitched-together, compressed GeoTIFF that weighs in at slightly less than 2GB. After building overviews for various zoom levels into the GeoTIFF, it was relatively easy to load it into GeoServer as a raster storage source and then combine it with the vector data layer. The aerial and vector layers didn't quite line up, but after fiddling a bit with the projection we got them be as aligned as could be expected.

The result

After much tweaking and dealing with strange errors — almost all of which related to map projection issues — we finally put together a beautiful map of Antarctica in a glorious stereographic projection with stunning aerial imagery of the region laid on top of it:

The area around Palmer Station. View map.
Litchfield Island, the "island most frequently seen in dreams." View map.
Shortcut Island. You can even spot a seal! View map, view page.

Some beautiful pages

You should explore the project! Here's some beautiful pages to take a look at:

The station trolley.

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