The Power of OpenStreetMap

Before our class today, I had never heard of OpenStreetMap, map crowd sourcing or using different maps to collect data and help in disaster response. I am in no way a map enthusiast but the work that the Red Cross was able to do in Gulu, Uganda and in Tacloban City, Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan by using OSM is very remarkable. Upon further research into OpenStreetMap, I came across their sister company CloudMade. CloudMade uses maps from OSM to allow users to access map data, points of interest, navigation, routing and other data around their location even when not connected to the Internet. It all sounds well and good but I was still skeptical about the feasibility of this operation and even the necessity of OpenStreetMap when the map market already has technological heavyweights such as Google Maps, Nokia HERE, TomTom and to some extent companies like FourSquare and Yelp.

But as this article suggests, monopolies on markets are not healthy for anyone involved. Furthermore, OpenStreetMap and founder Steve Coast’s other business endeavors have helped to revolutionize how we look at it and use maps. As of January 2014, OSM had over 1.5 million registered editors, with that number only growing because of the simple editing features that allow and encourage anyone with computer knowledge to contribute to the mapping platform. Obviously no mapping system is 100% accurate and even more so when the editing platform is open to the public. And with OSM and CloudMade offering international maps via Wi-Fi and in offline modes, this allows for people all over the globe to navigate without giving away personal location details, a big concern with users of Google Maps. This accessibility is certainly a major advantage that OSM possesses and explains why it has been such a helpful tool for the Red Cross in disaster relief. I am a big proponent of crowd sourcing and I believe that Wikipedia has shown that using volunteers and peer editing can be a viable tool for providing information. I can only hope that OpenStreetMap does the same with maps, not just for disaster response and international development but in all situations.

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