Maptivism: Live Tactical Mapping for Protest Swarming

My colleague Adeel Khamisa from GeoTime kindly shared this news story on how student protesters created a live tactical map to outwit police in London during yesterday’s demonstrations.

Check out these real time updates:

The students also caught the following picture:

The map depicts the tactics employed by the students:

The limits of using Google Maps

As I looked closer at the map, it occurred to me how much this resembles a computer game with moving characters. The strategy employed by the police can be discerned by the pattern below.

But I doubt that students were able to update their Google map in real-time directly from their mobile phones, let alone via SMS, Twitter, Smartphone App, camera phone or Facebook. Nor can they subscribe to alerts and receive them directly via an automated email or SMS. Indeed, it appears they were using Google Forms to “crowdsource” information and this Twitter account to disseminate important updates.

This is why I got in touch with the group and recommended that they think of using Crowdmap (free and open source):

Or GroundCrew (partially free, not open source):

See the following links for more info on Maptivism:

24 responses to “Maptivism: Live Tactical Mapping for Protest Swarming

  1. Glad to see people subverting tools of the cloud for this sort of use, and even more so, glad that CrowdMap exists now to make it turnkey.

    Students for a Free Tibet used a similar approach in 2008 when Tibet supporters were facing off against overseas Chinese nationalists in San Francisco, chasing the Beijing Olympics torch around (and out of) town.

    You can view our Track the Torch Live Map which we updated live during the event along with having three roaming ustream “helmet cams”, a Twitter feed at, and a 2000+ member textmarks SMS loop.

    The most amazing moment was when I received a call from Wolf Blizter’s producer on the CNN situation room who was following our map wondering just how we knew so much about what was happening in real time. I said “it is thanks to the crowd”, and left it at that.

  2. Google Maps provides an RSS feed of items added to the map… could have been a near real-time means of keeping on top of what was happening where.

    But, indeed, Crowdmap seems the way to go, particularly with the ‘timeline’ feature for ‘post-match analysis’ / reusing the same map time after time without past events cluttering up the mapspace.

    • Thanks Nick, good point on the timeline/animation feature for ‘post-match analysis’. Could be used as a training tool for activists, post-protests, right? Looking at how their strategy/tactics did or did not work.

  3. The tool was hastily put together and was designed for use by the demonstrators on the ground to help them to avoid being kettled. Of the various geospatial guis readily available, I believe that the decision to use google maps was a good one.

    The assumption was that users of the tool would all be new users and from diverse backgrounds, needing to make well informed decisions quickly and in stressful situations. The only thing anyone could know for sure about users is that they’d have to have smart phones.

    Google Maps was considered to be reliable, easy to program, and most importantly within users’ comfort zones – they would be familiar with the interface and presentation, and so could immediately focus on the data presented.

    • Thanks for your comment. My post was not a criticism of your decisions. I too fully agree that the decision to use Google Maps was a good one. I also believe that civil resistance and nonviolent action should be planned, and that this logic extends to strategic and tactical uses of technology. CrowdMap uses Google Maps as a base map and from a tactical perspective allows for more real-time, distributed swarming options than Google Maps. But again, I fully understand the reasoning behind the initial use of Google Maps. Nice work.

  4. Hello.,
    The protests where not without violence, using pait and olive oil bombs against horses and their riders etc etc; (quoted by you, see above)
    I am somehow wondering why You do not mention this danger: using Crowdmap for (partly) violent demonstrations in a free and democratic country.
    Sincerley Yours

    • Hi Martin, thanks for your comment.

      I am somehow wondering why You do not mention this danger: using Crowdmap for (partly) violent demonstrations in a free and democratic country.

      Because that would be stating the obvious. Everyone knows full well that technology can be used for good and ill.

  5. Echoing Dan’s point, I see the real value of Crowdmap would be to support a detailed and trustworthy report of what actually happened at a protest.

    Too often, the police tell one story whilst protesters tell a markedly different one. The accumulation and effective presentation of numerous independent reports is the only way for the truth to emerge.

    Unless such a reporting channel exists then the perception – and therefore general impact – of the protest will be defined by those with the greatest platform.

    Looking forward to having a play with Ushahidi meanwhile.

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  13. The team behind this have taken it to a new level with the creation of Sukey that saw a successful first run at the demonstrations in London last Saturday.

    I’m handling press for them so please feel free to get in touch if you want to know more. I also run my own site beyondclicktivism which is about converting online activism into real world action.

    I’d be very interesting in talking to you about both projects if you have time.

    (My email address should be visible to the site admin so please feel free to email with any questions.)

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