Wind turbines for Mongolian nomads

A visit to the World Bank's Google Maps mashup is an exercise in obscure development project serendipity

Topics: Globalization, How the World Works,

What exactly is it about a Google Maps mashup that makes it addictive?

I found myself asking this question after playing around with a new offering from the World Bank that integrates various World Bank project databases with a Google Maps interface. What happens if you click on Togo? Or Mongolia? One must know!

The answer is an odd mix of data, World Bank public relations, and drier-than-sawdust reports about thousands of World Bank-funded development projects scattered across the globe. So, for example, you can discover that the literacy rate in Gabon as of 2004 was 84 percent while average life expectancy was 53.8 years, or you could learn that in July the World Bank launched a series of workshops in public financial management in Iraq. Or you could find yourself just three clicks away from an 11-page paper describing the ins and outs of a renewable energy rural electrification project in Mongolia.

Wind turbines for nomads. I had no idea.

Give the World Bank credit for geek-cred. The Bank already has its own YouTube channel and its own Web 2.0 content aggregator. A Google Maps mashup was the obvious next step.

You can find all the above-referenced information the old-fashioned way on the World Bank’s Web site, but not easily. Organizing the data spatially via as simple an interface as Google Maps makes a remarkable difference in accessibility. If at some point in the future I find myself wanting to know what the World Bank is up to in Tonga I will have no hesitation in calling up The World Bank. Mapped. In the meantime, purely as a serendipity generator, the mashup is neat. And of course, makes me yearn for more — let’s get all the data, that everyone has, plugged in!

But my favorite part is the disclaimer:

This map is powered by Google Maps. Country borders or names do not necessarily reflect the World Bank Group’s official position.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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