Today we had a chance to speak with “Agathocle deSyracuse” (pseudonym) who is using OpenStreetMap and other tools to produce maps of the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq. His work was recently featured in BBC coverage of the conflict.

1. Who are you and what do you do? Why do you do your work under a pseudonym, and why this pseudonym?

I’m French and I’m working in the software industry. I also have a degree in History and I’m very interested in understanding military strategies and tactics such as Constantinople siege,  Napoleonic wars, or WWII. However, one can understand warfare and geopolitics are not related to my professional life, so that’s why i’m using a pseudonym. Agathocles of Syracuse was a Greek Tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily living in the end of 3rd century BC. He his famous for his expedition to Carthage while his own city was besieged in Syracuse by the same Carthaginians.

**2\. What is your experience, from the cartographic perspective, using OpenStreetMap to document the conflict in the middle east? How is the coverage, what are the issues involved? **
_One year ago, as I had been following Syrian war for a long time already, I realized that maps were missing in order to understand well situation there. There were a few maps you could find in some twitter accounts, but they were either too detailed or engaged (pro-opp. or pro-govt). After having tried different oftware, I talked about it to one of my friend who is OpenStreetMap France board of Director member and he convinced me to try on OSM. I tried several layer, but the best I found was “MapQuest”, as it provided towns names in both English and Arabic, and provided quite a detailed view. I would say the coverage is good although there are sometimes mistakes, or some uncovered areas, but it is globally a good tool, as I can tell you I have much more small villages names in English than in Wikimapia or Google map._
**3\. What tools do you use to make your maps? How do you verify the situation on the ground, and then how do you make the map?**
_The same friend showed me a very useful web tool, [Umap]( I started using it, and because I did not have much time to look for other mapping tools, and I already had a big amount of data on Umap, i’m still using it. It’s not a bad software, as I can do most of the maps I want to do, but it lacks of drawing and presentation advanced functionalities. The software however is improving everyday thanks to the community._
_The main part of the “job” is to get accurate information about the war, the front-lines, the villages controlled by one party, and so on… There are many ways to do so, and it is difficult to summarize this, but the point is that the more you follow closely a conflict, the more efficient you become. Twitter is a very rich source of information, but you have to know who you can believe / trust or not, and who you know is engaged on which side. Once community of “Syria civil war” know you and appreciate your work, some people come by themselves to help you with value information. They are mostly particulars living in the country, or having relatives there. Also, I use other sources, such as wikipedia collaborative map, but there are many mistakes. Experience helped me to find those mistakes. However, a map is never 100% accurate, because situation is dynamic and information is unequal. For example, Aleppo situation is quite accurate because there are many information, and front-lines are accurate with 100m precision. On the other hand, situation in the desert or in the North-East is much more difficult to know, because of the lack of information and the nature of the field._
**4\. What has been the response from readers/followers? Presumably most of it is about the events of the conflict, but any feedback on the maps themselves?**
_I must say it was a good surprise; followers on my twitter account are quite polite, and for a few of them very friendly. I hardly had any angry answer or comment and it is quite funny as I have Islamic states fans followers as well as Al-Assad or FSA fans followers. Most of time, feedback is about the events or precisions or questions about them. There are also followers thanking me or congratulating me for the map, or giving a #FF. Some other web sites or newspaper also use my maps such as BBC recently about Kobane battle. For me it’s OK as long as they write it comes from [@deSyracuse]( But most interesting are retweets, as it is the real power of twitter; As for example, maps of Kobane were retweeted between 100 and 160 times, and it always bring new followers. I’m posting image maps which are screenshots of OSM, and once a month I post the link for the whole zoomable map, [such as this one](
_As far as I know, there are 3 or 4 other serious mappers on Syria, each one with a “speciality” : [@arabthomness](, doing twice a month global country view; @[archicivilians]( is pro-opp. and doing very good detailed battlefield maps, as well as [@petolucem]( who is pro-regime. _
**5\. OSM just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary. Where do you think the project will be in 10 years?**
_Well I really have no idea, as 10 years in software world is like 100 years in goods manufacturing. I just hope it will continue to grow, and that one day it will allow to make satellite maps mapping._
Many thanks Agathocle for your efforts in making the world aware of the terrible situation. Thanks also for taking the time to speak with us.
You can see [all the Open Geo interviews here](/tagged/interview). If you are or know of someone we should interview, please get in touch, we’re [always looking to promote people doing interesting things with open geo data](/post/98139732993/call-for-open-geo-openstreetmap-interviewees).