Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lalitesh Katragadda: Making maps to fight disaster, build economies

By Stephen M.

Lalitesh Katragadda begins his talk with a reference to Cyclone Nargis, a tropical storm that hit Myanmar in May 2008. He goes on to explain the meaning of his talk: that maps are an important part of disaster relief and economic growth. In this piece of writing I will summarize the talk, how it was presented, reaction and my personal opinion along with a recommendation.

As I stated before, the presentation is initiated by a reference to Cyclone Nargis. He describes how maps could have played a crucial role in assisting victims of the disaster. Sadly, no maps were available for UN personnel. Katragadda describes the problems that this created "But there were no maps, no maps of roads,no maps showing hospitals, no way for help to reach the cyclone victims." He then states an astounding fact to the audience "When we look at a map of Los Angeles, or London it is hard to believe that as of 2005 only 15 percent of the world was mapped to a geocodable level of detail." This brings him to Google's response to the crisis "At Google, 40 volunteers used a new software to map 120,000 kilometers of roads, 3,000 hospitals, logistics and relief points. And it took them four days. The new software they used? Google Mapmaker." Google mapmaker allows people to map their local surroundings that is then added to the huge database of maps. He uses the ideals of Nobel Prize winner Hernado De Soto to emphasize his point that mapping land can still help people: " For example, a trillion dollars of real estate remains uncapitalized in India alone." He then shows some maps being created by Google mapmaker users at the moment of the talk. Lalitesh ends his presentation with a testament to the success of the program "This is an invitation to the 70 percent of our unmapped planet. Welcome to the new world."

Katragadda's opening statements to his talk are related to his point that maps can be used to ward off the effects of a natural disaster. He describes how the cyclone's victims suffered due to the lack of accurate geographical documentation that would have allowed United Nation's aid into Myanmar. He then uses drastic percent of the world that is not mapped (85%) to ensure the audiences interest in the topic. This is followed by more figures proclaiming the effects of the 40 volunteers that illustrate how fast maps can be made with Google Mapmaker. He then moves on to his second topic: That maps can be used to build both developing and developed country's economies. Katragadda is a big fan of numbers as more of them prove his point here when he reveals the monetary potential for land in India (over a trillion dollars). Lalitesh ends his talk by referring back to his original statement that only 15 percent of the world was mapped in 2005 with a surprising new number "This is an invitation to the 70 percent of our unmapped planet. Welcome to the new world." This was the most tastefully done part of the talk in my opinion due not only to the reference of one of the opening statements, but also by the phenomenal increase in the sheer amount that was mapped in that time!

I believe that Katragadda presented with a fair degree of effectiveness though wasn't engaging enough with the audience and relied heavily on cue cards. The engagement was lost mainly though the absence of bodily movement, tone, and humor. On the contrary, the statistics were impressive and the slides that he used gave insight on not only the conditions that the victims face but how Google Maps look when being built. The online crowd seemed more interested in the technology than the actual talk so I estimate that his goal of getting people interested in the program succeeded. Overall I would rate this performance as a 7 out of 10 due to the stated reasons.

To conclude this report, I would like to recommend this talk to someone who is interested in being part of a collaborative map making group or interested in them, anyone wanting to enhance their knowledge of geography, and people wondering how to assist in disaster relief efforts online. I think that the talk elaborated as well as it could on the point in its 2:55 span but would be greatly ameliorated by adding more gestures and humor.

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