OpenStreetMap is an open initiative to create and provide free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them.
– OpenStreetMap Foundation

Maps and location data has become big business. GPS equipped consumer products such as cars and mobile phones are ubiquitous. The company that has the most complete geographic data becomes the sought after source of location based information. That company has been Google with it’s Google Maps service. There is also no lack of competitors to it’s maps business.

Meanwhile, there is a growing groups of people who believe that the data of places must belong to all people and not exclusively certain corporations. OpenStreetMap was started by Steve Coast in 2004 when he found a big lack of map data that is available to people. He began the project by mapping Cambridge city in England by cycling around with GPS tracing equipment. Eventually he arranged for many groups of volunteers to help the project by mapping their neighborhood. OpenStreetMap works like Wikipedia, but here the volunteers edit the map and location data. You could register as a OpenStreetMap contributor right here. So far there are over one million registered contributors in this project and it is supported by OpenStreetMap Foundation.

Why OpenStreetMap

  • No corporation should have monopoly over place or location data
  • When location data is monopolized a company could have the power to interpret a place in it’s own terms
  • The misinterpreted information could be regarded as true as it comes from so called the ultimate source
  • A company like Google would monetize geographic searches by prioritizing sponsored information
  • When privacy is your concern

OpenStreetMap carries most of local geographic data including natural features, bus routes, footpaths and cycleways, administrative boundaries, shops, rivers, canals and more. Unlike commercial providers OpenStreetMap data is constantly updated by volunteering contributors who really know about their area. So, it often shows new developments before any commercial provider.

The task of gathering map data for OpenStreetMap requires some technical skills. A good place to learn and get started with contributing to OpenStreetMap is The technical skill that I mentioned maybe required if you’re using a GPS logging device to map your location and then add the GPS trace to OpenStreetMap. For example, you could use the GPS trace to add a new road on the OpenStreetMap that hasn’t been recorded yet. If you’re not interested in these technical stuff then you could help by editing information on the map itself. You could do this by logging in at Then you could perform a simple task such as locating and adding the name of your favorite coffee shop on the map. There are simple GPS logging devices, mobile apps, web apps and desktop apps available for free to accomplish all that is required to contribute to OpenStreetMap.

Information is powerful. With good information and the right understanding, individuals and communities are better able to improve their lives and make good decisions about the future. There are many people and organizations who make decisions that affect our lives. Good information allows these NGOs, governments and citizens to make better decisions, and hopefully make our lives better. Maps are a good way to convey information.

OpenStreetMap has been mobilizing it’s Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) for humanitarian response and economic development. In a humanitarian crisis or disaster relief efforts agencies need location based data to effectively assess the scenario, set priorities, operate and manage logistics. HOT has developed maps that are used by humanitarian mapping NGOs like MapAction and iMMAP, the United Nations and the World Bank. For example, it has played an important role in providing geographic data for typhoon Haiyan affected areas in the Philippines.

It is possible to form a local chapter of OpenStreetMap for your country like this one in Indonesia. So, take a look at OpenStreetMap and if you find your neighborhood map in need of your help, start mapping Mr.Cartographer.



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