Open Sourcing The Big Board

Written by Jeff Heard on August 26th, 2009

The Big Board from Renaissaince Computing Institute on Vimeo.

The Big Board is a real-time collaborative environment for mapping.  Users open “conference rooms” on a shared map, and join conversations in these conference rooms, much like in a regular teleconferencing application.  However, instead of sharing faces and powerpoints and speech over the wire, users draw on and add content to a shared map or very large image.

The platform is somewhat similar to Google Maps, ArcInfo, or Microsoft VirtualEarth, however the similarity stops where real-time collaboration begins.  Instead of a static map or a remote feed of content, the users of The Big Board have full interactive control of the surface they are working on.  Adding content to the map will cause that content to show up to all participants in the teleconference.

Content is not merely a polygon or line nor even a bit of text attached to that line or polygon.  Content is dynamic and rich, using a PmWiki based backend to allow users to create their own hypertext content on the fly and anchor it to polygons, lines, points, rectangles, or circles on the map.  Users can also anchor geometry out to the greater world-wide-web.  Clicking on the anchor (that is, the piece of geometry overlayed onto the map) will open a browser to the content.

The Big Board with content in Firefox

The Big Board with content in Firefox

In addition to dynamic, user-generated content, the Big Board will also handle arbitrary geometry overlays (provided by the server), and web-services which can add content as a sort of “feed” much in the same way as Google Earth or Maps can take syndicated feeds of data.

The intent of the program is that it be used by emergency managers as a part of a distributed or virtual Emergency Operations Center (EOC).  Instead of all emergency management coordinators needing to be in a room or having to communicate location over text or speech, content can be directly attached to a point on an orthophotographic map.  In addition, the intent is that self-locating resources such as field-officers with cellphones can be see on the map and can add content such as pictures of a disaster scene, info on people that need further assistance, mark static resources, or survey an area.

Renci Open-Source

Today, we are open-sourcing The Big Board and opening it up to the larger community.  We hope this will lead to a more useful and wider-used application.  My own vision for the application is that it remain fairly close in feature-set to the way it is now, with the addition of a few specific abilities, such as the ability to warp and overlay an image and support GeoRSS formatted content feeds. It is not intended to ever become a full featured GIS client nor is it intended to be overly similar to Google Maps.

The Big Board is written in Haskell.  In addition to other goals, I intend this application to show that large, complex applications can be written quickly and the code can be more understandable than the same application written in Java or C++.  Anyone with questions about the code structure or layout can contact me directly via the blog or at jeff at renci dot org.  I will put a Windows downloadable executable on here tomorrow.

Stable source snapshot (.tar.gz)

The Big Board on github

(I’m working on it, folks - never used subversion before so if it doesn’t work, tell me)

User and Administrator’s Guide

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. gwern says:

    It doesn’t work. :) Permission error.

    (Incidentally, suggests using Gitit instead of PmWiki. How hard would that be? I looked for a module interoperating with PmWiki but couldn’t seem to find anything but a bunch of XML stuff.)

  2. Jeff Heard says:

    Subversion doesn’t work? Argh. Have to ask our system admin. I’ll work on it. in the meantime, the stable snapshot should at least work.

  3. Jeff Heard says:

    Not sure about using Gitit. PmWiki was nice because it didn’t take any work to get going and the code’s easy to understand. Haven’t looked aat Gitit.

  4. gwern says:

    Well, if you could describe how PmWiki is being used, that’d help a lot - I could say whether it’s easy or not, and how to start on it. (Functionality or performance aside, uUsing Gitit would be nice because your package gets that much more self-contained since you can put in a dep on Gitit-the-library to force it to be installed whenever Bigboard is.)

  5. [...] The Big Board, a real-time collaborative mapping environment focusing on emergency response by Renaissance Computing Institute, has been released as an open source project. [...]

  6. [...] The Big Board, a real-time collaborative mapping environment focusing on emergency response by Renaissance Computing Institute, has been released as an open source project. [...]

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