This project sets out to address the problem of data availability for Africa. Much public data exists, but it is so difficult to discover, let alone obtain, that many researchers choose other parts of the world to study or spend much of their budget gathering base data. Most people in Africa have an even harder time accessing mapping of their own territories. When researchers do gather data it is often once again lost because there is no place to store it persistently where it can be found by other researchers.
The AfricaMap project will address this problem by building a framework for organizing Africa data. At its core will be a series of digital topographic base maps of the continent from Harvard’s and other map collections, viewable dynamically at a range of scales, and composed of the best cartographic mapping available. Behind the scenes a gazetteer starting with more than 1 million place names will provide zoom access to specific locations. As more detailed mapping becomes available it will be inserted. The mapping will in turn improve the gazetteer. The system’s distributed architecture will allow it to absorb a virtually unlimited volume of data, distributed across organizations.
AfricaMap will not be tied to a particular discipline but will be interested in storing or referencing data from all disciplines. Researchers will be able to define geographic areas of research so that others can find out about their work and contact them. The system will employ a Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), meaning that the data on Harvard’s servers will be made available to other applications as map services, and AfricaMap will, in turn, consume data from other systems. Long-term persistence of data is a problem that AfricaMap will address.
Collaboration will be encouraged in several ways. For example, in mashup fashion, users will be able to add data to the map for point and area locations; add links for locations that point to online content such as photographs, charts, videos, music segments, spoken language exemplars, or web services; tag features with descriptions, comments, or links to additional information; or bookmark any view of the system and come back to it or email it to someone so they can see the same thing.
AfricaMap has not been built—yet. Before any code is written we want your ideas and criticisms. Does it make sense? If so would you like to participate? AfricaMap is interested in partnering with all types of organizations and will be especially focused on working with organizations based in Africa.