MapSwipe - Why we’re setting up a collective…
If you’re reading this blog post today, you might have tried the app MapSwipe. Thank you for that, the minutes you and about 3000 other people spend every month looking at imagery does make a difference, whether it’s in the fight against Covid in Mali, or Ebola in the DRC.
I joined the MapSwipe team just over 2 years ago, when Benni Herfort told me he was looking for an app developer who could help him fix a few bugs. I knew the technology he needed, I had a bit of time on my hands, so I offered to help out “for 3 weeks”. The few bugs became many, and soon we were planning a major update of the app which came out in October 2019, after almost a year of work. Another year later, we’ve released 8 more versions of the app (and over 120 test versions).
This work has allowed us to provide lots of improvements, many of which you are not aware of as the user, but are important anyway. We’ve translated the app to 14 languages, made it possible to find changes over time in imagery, added a great tutorial to help new users understand how to use the app. We’ve also improved access to the resulting data, built a leaderboard, complied with GDPR, made the app more responsive and fixed countless little issues, many of which we only discovered thanks to your bug reports. Then there is the truly boring work, like upgrading software dependencies so that the app can continue working on new phones, or writing to Google when they drop the app from the PlayStore because it talks about Covid.
All of this has taken thousands of hours of work by designers, translators, bloggers, developers, testers, and many others. Some of it was paid for, but a lot was volunteered time. Today, over 20 people contribute to making MapSwipe work, even before any mapping is done. Only a few months ago, this number was closer to 5 (the biggest increase came from translators, if you wonder). The biggest risk for the project right now is what is known as a bus factor of 1. If any of the core people were hit by a bus (or something less dramatic, like they simply had other priorities), there is nobody else who knows how to do their job. So we need help, new members who can help us keep the project going and getting better.
Today, I want to ask for your help with a small donation to our brand new OpenCollective. I love MapSwipe, its goals and the team. But realistically, if we want the app to keep working reliably, we can’t just rely on people’s goodwill to spend all these days working on it. We are working with the organisations that use the results from MapSwipe (MSF, HOT, the Red Cross…) to get some support from them, but we also want to make sure this does not just become their project (and to be fair, they already provide a lot of support). We believe that many other organizations could benefit from MapSwipe, and your donation can help us reach out to them, and offer to support their work for free.
But more importantly, the entire core team (excluding translators) is made up of Western Europeans and Americans, all white, and mostly male (I’m one of them). I find it a bit sad, especially considering that the focus of the project is the “Global South”. I believe the reasons for this are complex, but a key one is opportunity. As I wrote at the start of this post, the main reason I could join the team was because I had a bit of free time. I could afford to work for a few days without pay. There are tons of very talented people out there who unfortunately do not have this luxury. So when we rely on volunteers to run the project, we are also limiting the talent pool, and skewing it very strongly towards people like me. And while I think we’ve done an ok job so far, I’m convinced we could do so much better with a more diverse team.
Thank you for your support!