A Multilingual Map of India

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.”

Importing CanVec Data into OpenStreetMap

Last February I imported CanVec data into OpenStreetMap for the first time.

CanVec is a dataset produced by the federal Department of Natural Resources. It’s been made available to use in OpenStreetMap: users have to download the data for a given area and import it into the OSM database.

It’s a great resource, but I’ve been giving CanVec the side eye for years, largely because OSM users had been bungling the imports and not cleaning up the mess they made. To some extent it also encouraged a certain amount of laziness from Canadian OSM users: why go to the trouble of tracing imagery or going out with a GPS if you could just download the data from the Natural Resources FTP server?

That said, most of my complaints were from a few years ago; it’s been a while since I’ve seen a CanVec-induced mess in the database (for example, doubled or even tripled roads imported on top of one another). And between existing imports and the improved Bing aerial and satellite imagery coverage, there weren’t many places I was aware of that I could, you know, try a CanVec import for myself.

Except one.

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OpenStreetMap’s New Map Editor

OpenStreetMap has launched a new map editing interface that runs, for the first time, in HTML5. (Potlatch, the previous web-based map editor, uses Flash, and JOSM runs in Java, which I always thought was ironic for an open project.) The editor, called iD, is live now, and is designed to make editing the map more accessible to beginning mapmakers. I’ve given it a quick try this morning. My summary judgment is that if you have any experience using another editor, you should stick with it. iD is far slower than Potlatch at the moment, and does things sufficiently differently that you might have a hard time finding things. I made a mess trying to edit the existing map. But will it lower the barrier to making new contributions, particularly for casual or non-technical contributors? I hope so.

All Online Maps Suck

This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I should have written it last December, during the hullaballoo over Apple’s maps, but I’ve never been one to strike when the iron is hot.

You’ll recall that there were a lot of complaints about Apple’s maps app when it launched with iOS 6, replacing the previous app that was powered by Google Maps. The map data didn’t match the user experience: it was a first-rate app that used second-rate data. Apple oversold the experience and failed to meet the high expectations of its customers. It was a problem that no other online map provider had ever had to deal with before, not least because no one had launched a new map service with the same amount of hubris, nor the same amount of scrutiny from day one.

But many of the complaints about Apple’s maps verged into hyperbole. The notion that Apple’s maps were uniquely bad compared to other online maps was frankly unfair. Because when you get right down to it, all online maps suck. They all fail in some way, somewhere, and some more than others—and if the maps you use seem fine to you, it’s because they suck somewhere else.

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OpenStreetMap in Ottawa

I nearly forgot to mention that last Sunday I gave a presentation on the state of OpenStreetMap in Ottawa to the SummerCamp 2011 Mapping Party. It was a small group — five of us, the majority of whom knew more about the subject than I did — and, due to technical snafus with the meeting location, was held in a Bridgehead coffee shop on Bank Street. All the same, my spiel was well received. I made three points in the presentation: that OpenStreetMap was a lot less complete than some make it out to be; that the OSM map of Ottawa needs a lot of work; and here’s what to do about it.

I suppose that I could make the slideshow available if you’re really interested, but my presentations tend to be talks illustrated by slides, rather than read-the-slides, so without me talking it through it’d be kind of confusing. But here’s the penultimate slide, which shows a screencap of OSM’s map of downtown Ottawa, with things that need fixing helpfully labelled.

Ottawa Mapping Party Presentation

You’ll be happy to know that many of these things have since been fixed.

When Mapping Gets You Arrested

Wired UK reports on how an OpenStreetMap contributor got arrested in Reading after “a paranoid guy called the police.” (Here’s the contributor’s own take.)

On-the-ground surveying with a GPS is a great way to contribute to OpenStreetMap, but it’s not hard to see how it might be construed as suspicious activity. The problem isn’t actually the GPS, which is inconspicuous enough unless you’re staring at it every five seconds, it’s the note-taking that goes along with it. Even here in Shawville, when we were surveying a couple of residential streets, one of Jennifer’s co-workers spotted us and later asked us what the hell we had been doing. We were writing down house numbers to add to the map — but stopping every few metres to write down the house number at each corner does look a bit odd. So does taking a photo of every street sign (to confirm road names independently of third-party mapping data). It helps to be as discreet and non-creepy as possible.

Fortunately, it’s a small town and we’re known, so we haven’t run into any serious trouble yet. If asked, I usually explain that I’m mapping the town for a website called OpenStreetMap, which is like Wikipedia for maps: everybody runs around with a GPS to create a map of the world. (At that point their eyes usually glaze over.)