Map Technology (GIS)

Map Technology (often called GIS, for Geographic Information Systems) is a valuable part of the internet's role in real-world applications and the concept of Web 2.0: user-powered content.
Here are some examples from around the world:

Roads and Trails

People who enjoy hiking in national parks or riding bicycles share maps that show where they traveled. These maps can include information like how difficult it was, where you can park your car, and where to set up camp. Travelers also take photos and post them onto the map. Other people can find these photos online and decide where they want to go.

Many people use maps to get driving directions. You enter two locations, and in seconds the site tells you what roads to take and how far to drive before the next turn.
In cities and towns in many countries, Google has taken pictures from every road. This means that you can "walk" down a street in another country on your computer.
Want to try it? (You will need Flash) Kyoto, Japan, Paris, and New York City.
Check out some street view photos and a video.


A wildlife preserve in Kenya wanted to help protect their elephants. It is important that elephants stay inside the park and not eat farmers' crops.
They decided to put GPS (Global Positioning System) on the elephants. A GPS device uses satellite radio to calculate its position on a map of the preserve (how GPS works). At first, rangers would "call" an elephant to find out where it was. Now, the rangers get an SMS text message on their mobile phone when an elephant is leaving the park! Each month, they share maps and reports of where the elephant has been going.
Read More  See elephant reports (PDF on bottom right).

In the United States, many people have fast internet connections and can see 3D maps on their home computers. For this reason, many organizations are using maps as part of their programs. For example, a type of mining called "mountaintop removal" has destroyed many forests in the Appalachian Mountains. Citizen journalists noticed you could see the mines in satellite maps, so they posted reports and petitions onto these satellite maps. Now many people can be part of protecting the environment. Read more here.

Disaster Relief

After a major disaster, relief organizations quickly work to help the affected people. But how do they know what places need help, and how can regular people report problems and safe places? Hurricane Katrina showed that these are serious problems, even in the United States. Now, radio stations and bloggers try to put together maps of disasters and allow anyone to share information.
More than 300,000 people used this map after a flood in Fargo, North Dakota in the United States.
In China, more than 2,000,000 people used one online map when a snowstorm hit during the Chinese New Year holidays (read more).
Maps are also used to track wildfires, predict a storm's path, and share news stories.


News agencies in the United States use maps to show results of votes. This map even shows the number of votes in each town.
This map helped people in Australia find out more about political candidates and where they could vote.

Democracy is made strong by putting information online. When the government posts information for its citizens to see, it is called "e-Government". The United States is trying a system of e-Government by putting a new economic plan on
In Kenya, most people do not have internet access, or they use cell phones to connect to the internet. But they are developing e-Government, too, at this site.

Collecting Users' Knowledge

The uses of maps are many, but users often find that maps of their regions are old, incomplete, or cost money to use. OpenStreetMap and Google MapMaker allow users to add to maps of regions. Recently, data from Google Mapmaker was used to power Google Maps in Kenya.

Your own Map

You can make a map!
Read this guide to making maps that can be found on Google Maps.
You may want to try OpenStreetMap and see if Google MapMaker is available in your country.