US Government and Open-Mapping

Delivering on Change - OSM in the WhiteHouseThis weekend, Tim Waters (chippy) noticed that the WhiteHouse is using OpenLayers mapping library and OpenStreetMap basemap tiles in their new Delivering on Change page.

Whether you were already serving your country, or are responding to the President’s call, share how you are delivering on change in your community.Whether it is an hour per month helping those struggling in the current economy, tutoring kids in your neighborhood every day, or anything else, we want to highlight what Americans are doing to strengthen our country.

This is very interesting on several levels. Foremost is the use of government provided (TIGER/Line) and crowd-sourced data (OpenStreetMap) in an official US Government Site. This is definitely an indicator that what were cutting edge tools have reached a critical mass to provide broad usability and appeal. Open Source? check

Looking underneath the hood, the data is provided via a KML feed (), so you can pull the data out and upload or map it however you want. Open Data? check

The site itself, Delivering on Change, is asking citizens to contribute stories and media about their personal engagement with change. This is an incredibly exciting step to ask for people to contribute to national storytelling and character. Citizen-sourced data? check

The new US administration is continually doing amazing, and open, initiatives. There is incredible excitement around Recovery.gov as a testbed for the next generation of transparency and embrace of technology and open data feeds.

Small next steps

My thoughts on interesting applications wouldn't be complete without pointing out a couple of suggestions. While many defend the default OpenLayers controls - I personally think that implementors should take that next step and apply minor customization to better integrate the look and feel of the map controls into their site. I've talked before about how easy it is to change some CSS to replace the controls. Perhaps even just a darker blue background to match the White House blue in the logo. Customized?

Another, less highlighted but very important for Government sites is the integration of accessibility controls. OpenLayers supports map navigation using keyboard inputs - which provides for alternative interfaces to navigate the map. It's not clear if this is official "508 compliant", but at least demonstrates the potential. Accessible?

How you can help

So do you want to help make Change, especially with mapping data and technology? Come join us at the Washington, DC mapping party - currently planned for June 20 + 21, 2009 somewhere in DC (details coming soon). Or join a mapping party near you.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.