OSMapping my Alma Mater

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to contribute to OpenStreetMap more often.  I started out 2012 by mapping my hometown, as the city I currently live in already has  very good coverage.  My next mapping challenge was to map my undergraduate Alma mater, Keene State College in beautiful Keene, New Hampshire.  When I started the mapping project I was surprised about the lack of mapping data contributed for the college and city!

With essentially a blank sheet I used JOSM to digitize (what geographers call tracing) the pathways, parking lots, and athletic fields using the Bing Imagery as a reference layer, while adding a few placemarkers throughout the campus, and finally altering the existing road vector attributes to correctly reflect what was on the ground.  These low-hanging fruits quickly spruced up the map:

The next step was the hardest (not that it was mentally challenging, just that it involved several steps).  I wanted to add all the buildings on campus to the map so the services that now rely on OpenStreetMap had the most accurate representation of the campus as possible.  Anyone who has ever been apart of a digitization project knows that creating a somewhat planimetric building layer can be a tedious task.  Basically, I didn’t want to digitize all the buildings, so I went searching for a layer with the buildings already digitized for me.  After searching the KSC website (and source code) I extracted the geojson layer from KSC’s campus map.  I then opened the geojson layer into Quantum GIS and exported the data to a shapefile.  From this point I converted the shapefile into the OSM format using Merkaator and completed the editing using JOSM.  (Side note:  If anyone knows if it is possible to import a shapefile into JOSM let me know!)  With the buildings now available in an OSM format I could edit the data through JOSM.

After a couple hours of tweaking the original building footprints (including moving the footprints to the rooftop outline, not the oblique outline) and editing some other features I wrapped-up my mapping session with the latest version of KSC’s OSM contribution:

I think most will agree that a couple hours contributing and editing data can drastically improve any part of OpenStreetMap, but there is a larger message here for higher-ed GIS and geo-educators.  Having students in GIS and geo-classes contribute to a campus’ OpenStreetMap can be a great educational tool.  I graduated from KSC eight years ago.  How come a geo-savy student or geo-class didn’t do this over the course of the past few years?!?!

There are plenty of schools that have excellent data in OpenStreetMap (Example 1,Example 2, Example 3, Example 4, Example 5), but there are just as many schools (that have geography departments or GIS programs!) whose OpenStreetMap campus map could be improved very easily (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3, Example 4, Example 5)!

If you are a higher-ed geo-educator check out your campus’ OpenStreetMap and get your students to contribute.  They’ll learn about GIS, VGI, and open source while your campus map, and potentially community map, improves!  Everyone wins!

Next, maybe I’ll map my graduate school Alma mater so I can take it off the bad examples list!


The Year of OpenStreetMap Continues

On February 28th, 2012 I (yesterday), I posted a blog titled “2012 -The Year of OpenStreetMap”.

In the post I said that “the next “big” mapping application that hits the market will be have an OSM back-end.”  Well, well, well, talk about timing.  Today, FourSquare announced that they will be switching to OSM for their mapping back-end using MapBox.  Pretty cool.

If you get a minute take a gander at the comments in the FourSquare blog post.  There is a mixed reaction to the switch, which I can understand.  There are also a number of really good suggestions that FourSquare could take a look at too.  Just like when any social network incorporates a design change there will be some push back from the users.  But, with time the OSM footprint will improve, as the community will grow, mature, and produce better maps.  People seem to forget that early on Google Maps wasn’t perfect and had data gaps as well.  FourSquare would be smart to somehow encourage OSM mapping parties and promote what is now being called the OpenStreetMap movement!

February 28, 2012.  You heard it here first.  2012 – The Year of OpenStreetMap.  What will be next!

2012 – The Year of OpenStreetMap? Yes.

OpenStreetMap has been in the news a lot lately, and rightfully so.

Has the geospatial world reached the tipping point? Are users, developers, and society as a whole now more accepting of open-source spatial information? Are we now confident in the crowd sourced masterpiece that is OSM?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So, now two full months into 2012 I’m calling it.  2012 is the year of OpenStreetMap.  But why now?  I think it is due to a few reasons:

  • Quality and Coverage Improvements:  When OSM started many parts of the world were under-mapped, but once the community of users developed so did the maps.  Over time, and with great publicity during certain global events, the coverage and quality of the maps drastically improved.  In 2012 the data in OSM is now equal to, or better than well known web mapping tools.  For example, check out the coverage for North Korea.
  • Development of the Contributors Community: When I first learned of OSM several years ago I was skeptical of the random people creating this global street map, just like I was skeptical of Wikipedia.  Well, I was proven wrong (I’m still skeptical of Wikipedia…).  Even though there has been instances of tampering of OSM, its contributors have proven to be a consistent and reliable source of quality data.  I often spot check locations that I am familiar with to see if anything is amiss or needs to be updated, and thankfully I rarely have to make edits.  The growing and dedicated user community has really driven the quality, which is a great thing!
  • Credibility: Credibility is tough to earn, but through the efforts of users, developers, and the map using public, many reputable organizations trust the data available in OSM.  As OSM’s credibility grows a wider variety of well known organizations will start to use their data.  I’m guessing the next “big” mapping application that hits the market will be have an OSM back-end.
  • The Paywall: If you had a choice between spending something on a service or spending nothing on a very comparable (or perhaps better) service which would you select.  I would pick the equally as good free service.  You’ll see this with OSM.


So, there you have it.  I think you’ll hear a whole lot more out of OSM in 2012, whether it is about new and exciting applications built using their data, or companies switching their services from one of the major players to OSM.

There it is, my reason calling 2012, the Year of OpenStreetMap…two months late 🙂

Now, go host a mapping party!