Citizen Scientist Making a Difference

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An engaged volunteer of The National Map Corps crowdsourcing program tells his story about the citizen science project.

The National Map Corps is a citizen science program that leverages crowdsourcing techniques and volunteers to update structure data on USGS map products. To reward, recognize and motivate these participants, the program awards “virtual badges” as they increase their number of submitted “points”.

A point represents a structure or manmade feature on a map such as a school, cemetery, hospital, post office, police station and other important public buildings. Using an online web mapping application, volunteers research and update data that ultimately become part of The National Map structures dataset, which is available for download free of charge.

When registering with The National Map Corps, a potential participant is encouraged to select a screen name or “handle.” A few of these intrepid map volunteers have reached the top level of virtual badges. Also, the program has had a select few volunteers who have exceeded the top award.  Today, we recognize “awatters” who has reached one of the higher award levels in the TNMCorps project - the Theodolite Assemblage badge for editing and submitting more than 2,000 structures or points.

Here is awatters’ story, reprinted by permission and in his own words:

“I have lived almost my whole life in the upstate of South Carolina. I own an archiving service called HeirShare where we help people conserve family items. I have always been intrigued by maps.

New Theodolite Assemblage award member: awatters

New Theodolite Assemblage award member: awatters.  (Public domain.)

I developed an interest in graveyards that led me to find out about the National Map and add my home church graveyard as my first point in 2016. Since then I have tried to add or update points in upstate SC and western NC.

While many point names and locations are stable, I am finding a lot of schools, for example, that have changed names, closed or moved. I look for an official school (or school district) website showing the current year’s school schedule which helps determine the correct type school and address information.

I also always try to look at the "Approved" cemeteries on the map because many addresses need to be added and the coordinates adjusted for accuracy. This area is shot full of small rural churches, many with graveyards not yet on the National Map, that can be spotted with Google Satellite View, then confirmed with Street View. Many also have a web site that is a good source for the correct address.

I enjoy driving back roads and as I travel, I find myself noting locations of various types of points so I can be sure they are on the National Map. It has turned out to be an enjoyable hobby.”

TNMCorps encourages you to see for yourself what all the excitement is about. The only requirements to be an editor are a willingness to learn and access to the internet. Check out the online map editor, where you’ll also find links to the project overview, questions and answers (Q&A), user guides, and much more.  See you on the map!

The most recent volunteer status map showing the spread of structure points across the U.S and territories.

The most recent volunteer status map showing the spread of structure points across the U.S and territories.  (Public domain.)