Founded in 2004 by Steve Coast (Sterling, 2014), OpenStreetMap (OSM) uses User Generated Content (UGC) to compile its visual data. Since OSM is an open data source, any individual or company can access and add to the data within OSM. Any information added becomes immediately accessible to OSM users. OSM currently has an Open Database License (McDonough, 2013), which means that OSM along with all its data can be shared and used once all the data within OSM is made available to all OSM users. In this way it differs to outlets such as Google Maps and Google Map Maker, which is a closed system. Any information submitted becomes the property of Google (McDonough, 2013). OSM is ultimately a community-engaged project to collect geographical data for public use.
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap tasking is a collaborative mapping tool. Its objective is to map areas that are not mapped sufficiently. Through the use of the OSM task manager, important humanitarian initiatives can be met. I participated in mapping the Morrumbala District in Mozambique as part of the Africa Indoor Residual Spraying Campaign. The goal of this particular humanitarian initiative is to help indoor residual spraying programs in the area, which will help control and ultimately stop the spread of Malaria. The mapping of the Morrumbala District in Mozambique will help Peace Corps Volunteers to complete Field Papers to determine where to spray in the district.
The OSM task manager provided useful information with regard to mapping the area. I was evidently unfamiliar with the landscape and structural layout of the area. The OSM task manager provided me with a tracing guide, which I reviewed. I found this guide to be extremely helpful with regards to recognising houses and roads in the Morrumbala District. This particular task focused on mapping a complete transportation network, as well as identifying buildings and waterways.
I also participated in mapping the Togo area in West Africa. The aim of this mapping initiative is to help contain the Meningitis outbreak. In order for the Togolese Red Cross and the government to contain and control the outbreak, mapping of roads, buildings and residential areas is a priority. Comparing this experience to mapping the Morrumbala district, I found the Togo area to be more straightforward to map with regards to noticing structural and geographical features. However, the Togo mapping task did not supply a tracing guide, the Morrumbala district task did supply this as well as alternative information.
Mapping an unfamiliar area proved difficult, I could only map on an indefinite basis. I could not be entirely sure if a road was secondary, residential or tertiary. The only guideline I could follow were the ones provided. Comparing the experience of mapping an unfamiliar area versus a very familiar area was interesting. Mapping through the task manager proved to be more stimulating and there were definite objectives for each task. The user could also see the percentage of progress made on each task. This reinforced the idea of OSM being a community engaged project. The task manager made it possible to view the contributions other users had made. Users can also validate and leave comments on other user’s work. I validated mapping by a user in the Vanua Levu area, which requires mapping after the Winston storm. Users were encouraged to map roads and buildings that had not already been mapped.
With regards to the additional features of OSM, a “User Diaries” feature is easily accessible to all OSM users. Users can contribute to these diaries by sharing their personal experiences using OSM as well as viewing other user’s comments. OSM also offers a feature called “GPS Traces”. This particular feature allows users to upload their recorded GPS traces directly to OSM. The collected data from the GPS traces are displayed as a background of dots and lines. These can help the user recognise map features while editing which adds to the functionality of OSM. These two additional features add to the interactive nature of OSM and reinforces the idea of OSM being a community engaged project. Not only is the site’s data compiled from user generated content, but users can interact and work collectively on an online platform.
To present all perspectives fairly, the limitations of OSM must also be considered. Since anyone, anywhere can contribute to OSM, the accuracy and reliability of the data inputted can be questioned. From my own personal experience with OSM and being an unexperienced mapper, attention to detail was required to ensure the mapping was as accurate as possible. It is apparent however, that OSM’s validation function can help counter this problem, work can be reviewed and validated accordingly.
Ultimately, OSM is a largescale crowdsourced map and its data is constantly evolving due to its thousands of contributors. Their contributors vary from GIS (Geographic Information Systems) professionals and engineers to enthusiast mappers and casual cartographers. Having experimented with OSM and its functionalities, it is evidently a resourceful, interactive digital tool that encourages the use of digital tools to meet important humanitarian initiatives. OSM could definitely be used for academic purposes. Its efficiency and simple functionality makes it a very appealing tool which could ultimately be adapted to research projects or portfolios. For example, research in relation to geographical space and its influence on cultural development and human behaviour would make use of a tool such as OSM. To conclude, OSM is a unique digital tool and promotes community engaged projects on a digital platform.
McDonough, M. (2013) Google Map Maker vs. OpenStreetMap: Which mapping service rules them all? Available at: http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/google-map-maker-vs-openstreetmap-id-editor/ [Accessed 1 March 2016]
Sterling, G. (2014) Founder: OpenStreetMap Already As Good Or Better Than Google Maps. Available at: http://searchengineland.com/founder-openstreetmap-good-better-google-maps-already-192089 [Accessed 1 March 2016]