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The National Map Corps (TNMC) Volunteer Website

GISCorps volunteers constructed a website where National Map Corps volunteers can get involved, ask questions, organize, and interact with each other.

By David Litke, GISCorps volunteer

Summary

After completion of the TNMC Colorado Pilot Project in April 2013, the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) requested a follow-up project by GISCorps to develop a website for TNMC volunteers. The goal of the project was to develop a volunteer-run online presence where volunteers can get guidance and interact with each other.

Lauren Heller, a GISCorps volunteer and Google employee was recruited to head the project; GISCorps volunteers David Litke, Carol Kraemer, Karen Chadwick, and David Lok assisted Lauren, and the website was opened to the public in January 2014.

The National Map Corps (TNMC)

The National Geospatial Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) manages The National Map  (figure 1) which includes 11 primary digital geospatial data themes for the United States and its territories. These datasets are maintained internally by the USGS and through a variety of partnerships with other governmental agencies.  The USGS also has sponsored various forms of volunteer map data collection through a program called The National Map Corps (TNMC).  In 2012, TNMC began a pilot project to test the efficacy of crowd-sourced data using internet-based mapping tools; this pilot project enabled editing of data from the National Structures Dataset within the State of Colorado.


Figure 1. The National Map viewer, one product of the National Map.

In August 2012, a USGS TNMC pilot project website was opened. This website describes the project, provides guidelines and training materials, and has an editing interface (figure 2) based on the Potlatch editor developed by the OpenStreetMap project.  The USGS began an outreach program to interest the public in citizen mapping. As part of this outreach, the USGS contacted GISCorps in November 2012, and GISCorps led the pilot effort to map structures in Colorado. Colorado mapping was finished by the summer of 2013, and the accuracy of the data was found to be outstanding; as a result of this success, the TNMC editing project was expanded to include the entire United States.


Figure 2. The editing interface for the National Map.

With the increased scope of the National Map Corps project, and the growing number of volunteer mappers (1,200 volunteers in early 2014), the USGS requested that GISCorps construct a website for volunteers that would be independent of the USGS and run by volunteers, where volunteers could  get guidance and interact with each other.

The National Map Corps Volunteer Wiki

The website, called the National Map Corps Volunteer Wiki, was developed during the course of several months of interactive design discussions between the GISCorps project team and the USGS National Map Corps management team. The base software is Google Sites, which is a free content management system and website hosting service provided by Google. The design goals of the website were to provide technical guidance to volunteers, to provide a Q&A system for asking questions, and to provide a place where volunteers can interact and coordinate their editing activities. The website was designed to be a work in progress where volunteers contribute to both the design and content of the website.

The Home page of the website (figure 3) has links to:

  • Get Started: instructions on how to begin with editing
  • States: information specific to each State
  • Structures: information about the 10 structure types
  • Q&A: a place to ask technical questions and find answers


Figure 3. Home page of The National Map Corps Volunteer Wiki

With a large crowd-sourced project, having over one thousand participants, it was felt necessary to distinguish two tiers of volunteers: casual volunteers, who occasionally make database edits and need a place to learn, ask questions and interact; and leader volunteers, who make many edits, are knowledgeable about all phases of the project, and who wish to provide curated content to the website and organize volunteers to do coordinated editing. In Google Sites software, users are either viewers, who have read-only rights to the website; or editors, who have complete access to changing the website. Therefore Google Sites viewers roughly correspond to casual TNMC volunteers, and Google Sites editors roughly correspond to leader TNMC volunteers.

Leader TNMC volunteers who request to be Google Sites editors provide the content to be found on the Get Started, States, and Structures web pages. Casual TNMC volunteers can then search through this content to learn about the project.

In an effort to make the website more interactive for casual volunteers, Q&A functionality was created using Open Source Q&A (OSQA) software; the software was loaded onto an Amazon Cloud server using a pre-made Bitnami machine image. Casual users can click on the TNMC Wiki Q&A link to reach the TNMC OSQA website (figure 4).


Figure 4. The TNMC Open Source Q&A website.

The OSQA software offers an interactive experience where casual users can ask questions and get answers. It has a built-in system of rewards and status where volunteers can gain visibility for their contribution.

Conclusion

The TNMC Volunteer Wiki was designed to be a work in progress. It depends on volunteers to improve and expand upon the basic idea. In addition to asking and answering questions and contributing curated content, volunteers may choose to add new capabilities such as interactive social media functionality. The Wiki is an experiment in on-going crowd-sourcing technology, as is the USGS TNMC project itself.