OpenStreetMap, says Joe Morrison, “is now at the center of an unholy alliance of the world’s largest and wealthiest technology companies. The most valuable companies in the world are treating OSM as critical infrastructure for some of the most-used software ever written.” Corporate teams, rather local mappers, are now responsible for the majority of edits to the OSM database; Morrison speculates that their participation is about “desperately avoiding the existential conflict of having to pay Google for the privilege of accessing their proprietary map data.” In the end, he argues that we’re in a strange-bedfellows situation where corporate and community interests are aligned. (To which I’d add: for now.) [MetaFilter]
Facebook’s AI tool has added some 480,000 kilometres of previously unmapped roads in Thailand to OpenStreetMap, BBC News reports, but some local mappers have been complaining about the quality of those edits, and the overwriting of existing edits by Facebook’s editors: see OSM Forum threads here and here. In particular, see OSM contributor Russ McD’s rant on the Thai Visa Forum:
What Facebook fail to state is the inaccurate manner in which their AI mapping worked. The OSM community in Thailand had for years, been working slowly on mapping the Country, with the aim of producing a free to use and accurate map for any user. Information was added backed by a strong local knowledge, which resulted in a usable GPS navigation system based on OSM data. Main road were main roads, and jungle tracks were tracks.
Then along came Facebook with its unlimited resources and steamrollered a project in Thailand with scant regard for contributors … sure they paid lip service to us, with offers of collaboration, and contact emails … but in reality, all our comments went unanswered, or simply ignored.
Sure, their imagery identified roads we had not plotted, but along with that came the irrigation ditches, the tracks though rice paddies, driveways to private houses, and in once case, an airport runway! All went on the map as “residential roads”, leaving any GPS system free to route the user on a physical challenge to make it to their destination.
Local users commented, but the geeky humans who were checking the AI, living thousands of miles away, having never visited Thailand, just ignored our comments. They would soon move onto bigger and better things, while sticking this “success” down on their resume.
Sounds like another case of local mapping vs. armchair mapping and automated edits, where local mappers are swamped and discouraged by edits from elsewhere. [Florian Ledermann]
Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads.
An incident of map vandalism roiled the Internet last week. Users of several online services, including CitiBike, Foursquare and SnapChat, discovered that New York City had been relabelled “Jewtropolis” on the services’ maps: see coverage at Gizmodo, Mashable and TechCrunch. The problem was quickly traced to Mapbox, which provides maps to these services. Mapbox, understandably upset about the act of vandalism, soon figured out what the hell happened.
The problem was traced to OpenStreetMap, one of Mapbox’s data sources. On August 10 an OSM user renamed a number of New York landmarks, as well as New York itself, after a number of alt-right and neo-Nazi memes. The edits were quickly reverted and the user blocked—on OpenStreetMap. They nevertheless entered the Mapbox review pipeline, where they were, in fact, caught and flagged on the 16th, but a human editor mistakenly okayed the renaming of New York to Jewtropolis. A simple human error, but with a delayed fuse: the edit turned up on Mapbox’s public map two weeks later. When all hell broke loose on the 30th, the map was fixed within a few hours.
Vandalism of online maps isn’t a new thing: in 2015 Google ran into trouble when a series of juvenile map edits exposed the shortcomings of the Map Maker program’s moderation system and led to a temporary suspension of Map Maker (it closed for good in 2017) and an apology from Google. Anything involving user contributions needs a moderation system, and OpenStreetMap and Mapbox both have them. But moderation systems can and do still fail from time to time. (That’s a take on this incident that isn’t on Bill Morris’s list.)
Earlier this year Google Maps changed the terms of its API and in the process jacked up its prices, leaving web developers to consider other alternatives. These include (among others) OpenStreetMap, which posted a switching guide in June; Apple, which announced its API for websites that same month; and Here Maps, which (a) is still around1 and (b) has announced a freemium plan with reasonably generous transaction limits. As Engadget points out, Google’s trying to profit off its market dominance; its competitors, seeing an opening, are making their move. [Engadget]
Traffic. Traffic congestion is a key feature of mobile mapping, and predicting it involves looking at historical data. CityLab reports on a recent study suggests that time-of-day electricity usage patterns can be used to predict traffic congestion patterns. A household that starts using power earlier in the morning gets up earlier and presumably will go to work earlier.) It’s another variable that can be put to use in traffic modelling.
Trail difficulty. OpenStreetMap doesn’t differentiate between “walk-in-the-park” trails and mountaineering routes, and that may have had something to do with hikers needing to be rescued from the side of a British Columbia mountain recently. The hikers apparently used OSM on a mobile phone app, and in OSM trail difficulty is an optional tag. The wisdom of using OSM in safety-critical environments notwithstanding, this is something that OSM editors need to get on. [Ian Dees]
When I started contributing edits to OpenStreetMap in earnest, I couldn’t help notice certain idiosyncrasies in its tagging: for example, there was a tag for brothels, which I didn’t need to use, but there wasn’t one for daycares, which in Quebec there are rather a lot of. That seemed odd. And it was indicative of a project whose contributors were overwhelmingly male. On CityLab, Sarah Holder examines OSM’s abysmally low female participation rate (only two to five percent of contributors are women), makes the case for better representation, and looks at where women are making a difference to the map. Because a map built overwhelmingly by men can have some massive blind spots.
When it comes to increasing access to health services, safety, and education—things women in many developing countries disproportionately lack—equitable cartographic representation matters. It’s the people who make the map who shape what shows up. On OSM, buildings aren’t just identified as buildings; they’re “tagged” with specifics according to mappers’ and editors’ preferences. “If two to five percent of our mappers are women, that means only a subset of that get[s] to decide what tags are important, and what tags get our attention,” said Levine.
Sports arenas? Lots of those. Strip clubs? Cities contain multitudes. Bars? More than one could possibly comprehend.
Meanwhile, childcare centers, health clinics, abortion clinics, and specialty clinics that deal with women’s health are vastly underrepresented. In 2011, the OSM community rejected an appeal to add the “childcare” tag at all. It was finally approved in 2013, and in the time since, it’s been used more than 12,000 times.
Interestingly, when you look at crisis mappers, the female participation rate jumps: to 27 percent, based on a survey of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team community.
Much chatter on Twitter about a blog post criticizing OpenStreetMap that made it to the front page of Hacker News; problem is, said chatter hasn’t been linking to said blog post. Here it is: “Why OpenStreetMap is in Serious Trouble,” in which Serge Wroclawski argues that OSM has lost its way on a technical and management level:
Before I criticize the project, I want to state emphatically that I still believe wholeheartedly in the core principles of OpenStreetMap. We need a Free as in Freedom geographic dataset just as much today as we did in the past. When I wrote my article about OSM in 2012, self-driving cars and other services were still a dream. Today the importance of having a highly accurate, libre geographic dataset is more important than ever, and I support those working to make it happen.
That said, while I still believe in the goals of OpenStreetMap, I feel the OpenStreetMap project is currently unable to fulfill that mission due to poor technical decisions, poor political decisions, and a general malaise in the project. I’m going to outline in this article what I think OpenStreetMap has gotten wrong. It’s entirely possible that OSM will reform and address the impediments to its success—and I hope it does. We need a Free as in Freedom geographic dataset.
I do love me a good rant; and as an OSM contributor myself, I do recognize some of the problems Serge highlights, particularly the difficulties in importing data, moderating edits, and vandalism.
Since getting linked there is what drew attention to it, Hacker News comments (I know, I know) are here.
Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads.
Today Esri is proud to announce that we are making our own global collection of satellite imagery available to the OSM community directly through our existing World Imagery Service. This regularly updated resource provides one meter or better satellite and aerial photography in many parts of the world, 15m TerraColor imagery at small and mid-scales (~1:591M down to ~1:72k), 2.5m SPOT Imagery (~1:288k to ~1:72k), 1 meter or better NAIP in the US and many other curated sources, so we know it will make a welcome addition to OSM’s growing catalog of reference layers.
OSM editors have been able to trace maps from satellite imagery for years; other sources of such imagery have included Bing and Yahoo (back when Yahoo Maps was a thing). Different sources have different strengths, so this can only help the project. (Esri’s imagery makes no difference where I am, but that’s not a surprise.)
Martijn van Exel’s OSM Then and Now compares OpenStreetMap as it was in October 2007 with how it is today, with a slider to change how much you see of one or the other. Amazing how little was mapped back then, especially outside: my own town didn’t appear at all, and even Ottawa was rudimentary.
Quartz takes a look at the Missing Maps project, which I suppose can best be described as a way to jumpstart mapping the unmapped developing regions of the world with OpenStreetMap. What’s interesting about Missing Maps is how it systematically deals out tasks to people best able to do them: remote volunteers trace imagery, community volunteers do the tagging and labelling. There’s even an app, MapSwipe, that gives its users “the ability to swipe through satellite images and indicate if they contain features like houses, roads or paths. These are then forwarded onto Missing Maps for precise marking of these features.” [WMS]
Start with the National Hurricane Center, which has lots of different maps of Hurricane Matthew’s predicted path, weather warnings, rainfall potential and so forth. See also maps from Weather Underground.
Google’s Crisis Map includes evacuation resources—Red Cross shelters, evacuation routes, traffic data—in addition to storm track and precipitation information.
“The OpenStreetMap Community is at a crossroads, with some important choices on where it might choose to head next,” wrote Michal Migurski last month. Identifying three types of map contributors—robot mappers using third party data, crisis mappers responding to a disaster like the Haiti earthquake, and so-called “local craft mappers” (i.e., the original OSM userbase that edits the map at the community level, using GPS tracks and local knowledge), Michal ruffled many feathers by saying that “[t]he first two represent an exciting future for OSM, while the third could doom it to irrelevance.” That’s largely because, in his view, the craft mappers’ passivity and complacency, and their entrenched position in the OSM hierarchy, are impeding the efforts of the other two groups.
With Pokémon Go players turning up outside private homes that have somehow been designated, in game terms, as “gyms,” The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer asks where exactly Pokémon Go is getting its mapping data from. [Jay Owens]
Arun Ganesh talks about making a multilingual map of India: “Hardly anyone in India even knows that OSM can handle regional languages, simply because its not visible anywhere on the map. After some recent interest from the community in making regional language maps for openstreetmap.in, I decided to give this a shot to make a multilingual place map for India using OSM and Mapbox Studio that I have been playing with recently.”