OpenStreetMap

Open StreetMap (OSM) calls itself the free wiki world map founded by Steve Coast in July of 2004. This is a free resource that uses volunteers to create a free, accurate and comprehensive world map. Although the progress was initially slow today over half a million people are volunteering for this project, which stems from the open source software movement.[1] Even though one might consider a map something that everyone should be able to access easily and for little or no cost, this is usually not the case. This effort wants to put reliable data into people’s hands and uses to force and dedication of volunteers to do so; “map enthusiasts are doing for geography what the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia has done for reference books.”[2]

The reason for their dedication does not end there. Apparently, commercial maps contain inaccuracies known as “Copyright Easter Eggs” which may be in the form of fake/missing streets, churches or other features that do not actually exit.[3] These features are meant to prevent copyright infringement, as the companies could point to stolen information by finding these “Eggs” peppered in with the stolen data. Of course, any system that relies on volunteers has the potential for sabotage, but OSM believes that “the vast majority of good-intentions participants can automatically correct for the few bad apples.”[4] In fact, while bowings the FAQ portion of their website, one can find various ways to correct data or discuss someone’s correction of your data if you believe the correction is unfounded. The overall goal is to create the most accurate information that is free of mistakes like “Copyright Easter Eggs” and that does not make you pay for updated maps when the streets change.

Now how exactly does one go about contributing to this movement? Part of the reason this movement has been able to go so well is the creation of affordable and portable GPS devices; volunteers can use these devices to collect data on foot, bike or in the car. This data is then download as raw files to the website where other information can be added such as street names or types of streets.[5]

Additionally, “OpenStreetMap maps a lot more than roads. All the things you mention: roads, paths, buildings, heights, pylons, fences … AND … post boxes, pubs, airfields, canals, rock climbing routes, shipwrecks, lighthouses, ski runs, whitewater rapids, universities, toucan crossings, coffeeshops, trees, fields, toilets, speed cameras, toll booths, recycling points and a whole lot more.”[6] This data can also be used to generate maps through programs like ArcGIS, where finding free maps to use can be challenging. OSM was also used after the earthquake in Haiti where there were not very many reliable maps in the first place. Haiti OSP not only provided accurate street information to people like emergency responders, it also mapped refugee camps and triage centers.[7] Finally, OSM has a serious of mapping projects going on that extend beyond the roads. Some of these include mapping accessibility, development partners, places of worship, or Native, conservation and environment.[8]

OSM is supported by the OSM foundation, which is a non-profit organization that takes care of things like fund-raising, accepting donations, organizing annual conferences as well as taking care of other technology needed to run the project.[9] Additionally OSM foundation has NO employees due to fact that all the work is being done by volunteers. This ensures that more money goes to supporting OSM and making it the best system possible.

Overall I really like the idea of OSM. Although the copy write Easter eggs do not bother me, I think it is important that everyone have access to an accurate and free map. As someone who is really interested in GIS I also appreciate that you can use this information to create your own maps for free, as finding affordable or free data can be very challenging. I do think that it was slow to work at first, but since its creation a serious amount of data has found its way to OSM.


[1] “OpenStreetMap.” OpenStreetMap. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[2] Anderson, Mark. “Global Positioning Tech Inspires Do-It-Yourself Mapping Project.” National Geographic News. National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2006. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. link here.

[3] “FAQ.” OpenStreetMap Wiki. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[4] “FAQ.” OpenStreetMap Wiki. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[5] Anderson, Mark. “Global Positioning Tech Inspires Do-It-Yourself Mapping Project.” National Geographic News. National Geographic, 18 Oct. 2006. Web. 6 Apr. 2012.  link here.

[6] “We’re on a Road to Everywhere.” OpenGeoData. 31 July 2008. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[7] “Mapping Projects.” OpenStreetMap Wiki. OSM. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[8] “FAQ OSM.” OpenStreetMap Foundation. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

[9]  “About OSM.” OpenStreetMap Foundation. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. link here.

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About hmfraser

Student of Environmental Studies and International Development View all posts by hmfraser

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