Open Street Map



This assignment focuses on spatial humanities, primarily the open street map tool. Open Street map (OSM) is a tool that can be used in lieu of other more popular online map choices. The main unique selling point of OSM is that it is user generated. This means all the maps on OSM are generated by mappers who take the time to do them via satellite imagery (usually for less populated areas or humanitarian causes), or their own knowledge and expertise of an area. The implications of this idea will be discussed further down.

  • The process you undertook;


The process started with signing up to OSM, an easy process. I then used the link ( to choose a project to contribute to for a humanitarian cause. I ended up mapping tiles in Nuwakot, Nepal as requested by the American red Cross society in implementing Earthquake recovery programmes. In each task there is a set of instructions outlining what it is exactly that they are asking you to do (map roads, map waterways etc). There were multiple ways of mapping. I tried out the introductory iD editor and the intermediate Potlatch 2 editor. There is also the advanced JOSM tool for experienced mappers to go into great detail.

The iD editor was basic but easy to work. The imagery was simple to navigate but I foundmyself relying on guesswork sometimes due to poor quality.

Potlatch 2 seemed to be geared towards people who could differentiate via satellite imagery a bank and a hospital. I am not one of people and I think it would take a great deal of skill and practise at mapping to be able to make a viable stab at it. Either that or else it’s meant for people on the ground to fill in the vagueness of any remote mapping.

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I abandoned Potlatch and quickly went back to iD. In iD the extent of the detail I chose to go into was restricted to ‘building’, ‘woods’ and ‘road’.  I saw from checking the work of other people that they did the same. It’s important to validate the work of others on OSM because landscapes are always changing no matter where you are. Outdated maps waste time for anyone using them, and I think that’s one of the reasons open street maps works so well. The active user base is so large that modifications are always being made. When saving my work to Open Street Maps it is recommended that you include comments as to what changes you are making and if possible why. Users may not have access to an updated map for instance which may have new buildings on it, as such they may be inclined to delete recently added new buildings. Effective communication is key in this process.

  • The implications of what you contributed;


The implications of my efforts are probably minimal, but ‘what is the ocean but a multitude of drops’. Therein lies the true effect of OSM and most crowdsourcing efforts. These efforts are obviously invaluable to people working in these projects, but I also found them an engaging and fun way to spend time. More experienced mappers who use JOSM may be able to make more useful contributions.

  • What you learned from the experience;


I learned that dozens of apps are using Open Street maps for the map display, general information, track making and monitoring features (Mapquest, Trek Buddy, Wisepilot, Nogago to name a couple) . For a full list of the andorid apps see

The other side to this project is crowdsourcing and the prevalent use of it today in the humanities. When looking into projects more I found out that reCAPTCHA is not only a security measure to detect bots on sites, it is also an active way to digitise books and newspapers. found this interesting in that crowdsourcing can be so subtle online. Google declares reCAPTCHA to help in “ annotating images, and building machine learning datasets. This in turn helps preserve books, improve maps, and solve hard AI problems.”

One doesn’t have to look far to see the power of crowdsourcing. The once sci-fi idea of visual reality is now becoming mainstream with the huge support of the oculus rift for example, and while this is slightly different in that it is classified as crowdfunding, I think the general principle remains the same. People will go above and beyond when they care about an idea; whether that’s helping aid workers in Ghana or advancing technology.

  • How you feel you might be able to apply the spatial or the crowdsourced initiatives in your own work – now or in the future.

I think as a visual learner I appreciated the hands on and immediately visual implications of my work. These tools and ideas that arise from crowdsourcing that I use in day to day life like Linux OS and Snapmap for presentations and research. Spatial initiatives like open street map would perhaps be useful to me in mapping trends in economies and cities around the world. It would be interesting to have an interactive and tactile way to view very dry information.




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