They’ve swept the country faster than a Leon Schuster movie, but what makes Tracks4Africa (T4A) such a sought-after and respected product?
We spent an afternoon with the folks at T4A to see if we could pinpoint the reason for their ongoing success.
T4A is an electronic mapset that you load onto a GPS. It covers an area stretching from Cape Town to Cairo; you can either purchase the full collection of maps, or just for particular countries/regions. The tracks and co-ordinates on the mapset are compiled by GPS users themselves, and then checked and authenticated byT4A.As a result, the mapset is up-to-date and features routes and tracks that are not indicated on normal GPS mapsets or even paper maps.
Have you ever found yourself questioning the reliability of a travel guide? You’re planning a mammoth expedition that would daunt Livingstone himself, but every travel guide you pick up seems to predate the lurassic period. And let’s face it, if you’re travelling in Africa you need all the help you can get – this continent loves to pitch curveballs at the unwary traveller.
Imagine how valuable it would be if each of us shared our African experience, if we could create a huge route planner including interesting sites, facilities, viewpoints and tracks crossing the mother continent. If you’re a cynic like me you’re probably thinking there’s no way on earth such a thing could be orchestrated – too many people, too many points, too much land. Sometime in the early y90s a few mates began sharing waypoints with one another. The hobby swiftly became popular with other travellers and within a few short years the information was available on the net – free to download In ’03 the founders of this community decided to package the information in the form of GPS software, but in order to do this they needed a specialist program compatible with SA’s leading GPS supplier, Garmin.
The first-time I heard about T4A my initial thought was that a wealthy bloke had probably bought the software from the US and was now marketing it in Africa… simple as that. Now, after meeting some of the faces behind the product, I feel guilty of two assumptions: first, nothing’s simple in Africa (including marketing); and second, I assumed that us South Africans weren’t capable of such a clever idea. T4A isn’t based on any existing systems (local or foreign), it’s a completely unique initiative born out of need and necessity – in true African fashion.
So what is the need? Well, you probably have a perfectly good map that tells you exactly how to get from point A to B, but Africa’s face is forever changing: rivers burst, borders close and stocks of supplies fluctuate with more volatility than you’d care to entertain. Keeping you in the know about these types of variables is what T4A is all about. More than 12 000 keen travellers are currently using the Tracks4Africa software – together they are a community of nature lovers, explorers and adventure seekers who enjoy preserving and uncovering Africa’s sites and untold trails. T4A receives an average of 10 – 15 submissions every day, detailing tracks, coordinates or other information updates; this info is stored in a huge database covering more than 7 000 000 km of explored terrain.
Not all the coordinates and tracks supplied are authentic, as it could be, for example, that someone mistakes a river runoff for a genuine track; for this reason T4A provisionally stores the information while waiting for similar submissions to confirm the accuracy of the information. They also use satellite images to validate information, and route information is subjected to scrutiny from the T4A community forum where up to 1 000 members can debate the reliability of the points. After undergoing these forms of stringent inspection, new tracks are incorporated into the software and included in the latest version of Tracks4Africa – an updated version is released three times a year.
T4A also offers the opportunity to download mapsets of specific regions – meaning that you don’t have to purchase the full T4A software. For example, if you were planning a trip to Mozambique and Malawi, you could buy an up-to-date T4A map online for a mere R85, covering both these regions. This clever community-driven product has swiftly become one of the most talked-about subjects in 4×4 circles. With T4A realising their goal as “the navigational standard in Africa”, it comes as no surprise that the company recently established a solid relationship with one of the world’s strongest online businesses, Google.
The internet giant agreed to a 5-year contract with Tracks4Africa, which means users of Google Earth can now view T4A information as a featured layer. This powerful combination of satellite imagery and adaptive GPS software could spell the end to the age-old paper map… or could it? Surprisingly, Tracks4Africa don’t think so – the company is planning yet another project involving a printed version of T4A; also community driven, each user will be encouraged to express his/her opinions on the maps’ quality and authenticity. It’s too soon to say what the paper maps will sell for, but T4A did mention the purchase will include a free download of the software version.
Words by Grant Spolander.
Ivory 4×4 Hire thank SA 4×4 for this fantastic article. This article was published August 2008 Issue of SA 4×4