Friday, September 7, 2012


I haven't blogged yet specifically about OpenStreetMaps (OSM). On this post I'm going to talk a little bit about OSM and the easiness and importance of adding information.

For those that haven't heard about OSM the simplest explanation is: it's the Wikipedia for maps. A joint collaborative effort of thousands of people to create a free world map.

Recently OSM has gained a lot of traction, mostly because of the transition of some key players from other mapping technologies/data to OSM. Notable examples:
  • Foursquare
  • Apple
  • Wikipedia
  • Craigs List
I'm really glad that OSM is finally getting the exposure that it deserves, but I still feel that it's a niche thing. Everyone that likes maps obviously knows it, but it isn't as entrenched on our web culture as something like Wikipedia, and most people don't realize that there's a free mapping wiki where everyone can contribute with unique and valuable information.

I even thought about creating an initiative to promote OSM in Portugal called "Let's put Portugal on the map". Basically it would be the "formalization" of me preaching to people about the easiness and simplicity of adding information in OSM.

I typically use my neighborhood as an example (although there are much better examples). This was my neighborhood according to OSM:

The map was kind of lacking, so I edited it. This is my neighborhood now according to OSM:

I fixed/added roads, buildings, ATM machines, pharmacies, coffee-shops, gardens, parking-lots, etc. The panoply of information one can place on OSM is staggering.

Regarding editing, and although there are very, very powerful tools to edit OSM data, the OSM webpage provides a really nice editor itself. Thus, to access the edit mode it you just have to click "Edit" on the top-left corner of the map.

The edit page has something that is, in my opinion, the game-changer: a photographic overlay from Bing.

We can, like in a drawing application, create the roads and buildings on top of the photograph. It's that easy.

Let me show you an example. I just panned the map a little bit and found this area:

I've timed this edit. It took me less than 2 minutes to fix the map.

Just to say this: OSM is freaking awesome. I just wish more people could understand its full reach and start to contribute.
The funny thing is that it's really easy to engage someone on this. You just go: "Lets check if your area is well mapped". They'll probably rant saying that something is wrong, or some road is missing and you just go: "Well, just fix it then" :)

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