It was not something that i was confident about. I had been nominated by mappers from the Indian openstreetmap(OSM) community for the travel scholarship to attend the the State of the Map(SOTM) 2009 conference on OSM at Amsterdam. I was eventually one of those selected for the scholarship which i guess had a lot to do with my efforts in promoting opensource geographic data in Chennai and taking OSM to the state transport departments and the Chennai Corporation to show them what could be done with free software and community mapping. My dream bus route mapping project for chennai eventually did see the light of day in the form of BusRoutes.In , although its still in its infancy and still only a fraction of what i had hoped to accomplish, it gathered massive attention quite quickly, thanks to the osm maps that we used that were more detailed than google’s for many areas. I have been quite fortunate to know so many good people who have helped me whenever i had a problem, from coding, hosting, organizing meets, and even spreading the word. It just goes to show that all you need is enthusiasm, vision and great social community, and suddenly your empty wallet is no longer a hindrance.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) my call letter from National Institute of Design came soon after and i would have to stall all my activities in Chennai and shift to Bangalore for the next 2 years. I had hoped to continue such efforts in Bangalore, but sadly it hasnt happened yet, thanks to coursework and my infamiliarity with the local language that makes it hard for me to approach government officials. I was in Bangalore, looking forward to the openstreetmap conference in amsterdam, where i would have to share these experiences of mine using OSM in India to an audience whose only knowledge of India would be ‘Slumdog Millionaire”. This would also be the first time i would be exposed to the international GIS and openstreetmap community. Find out how they use opensource maps and the kind of ideas and solutions that are in development abroad.
Attending SOTM was an enriching experience in terms of the cultural exposure as well as technical knowledge. Especially inspiring is talking to so many individuals who speak passionately about their projects and dreams. I still remember a great conversation with the guys behind GeoMajas which was a bedroom project then, and now its being incubated by OSGeo. Looking at the kind of interest that GIS companies and software developers were showing at the conference in openstreetmap data, its quite apparent there’s huge amounts of money involved in this business. But then why wasn’t any of this happening in India? Nobody here knows about the openstreetmap project, or care two hoots about why its needed. After all, you do have googlemaps for everything, and its free anyway.
To be quite honest, inspite of all my efforts trying to create awareness about the free geographic data and the openstreetmap project, the response has clearly not been satisfactory. I have been speaking about OSM at numerous unconferences, Chennai barcamp, Bangalore World Usability Day, Bangalore Mobilicity, gosh we even managed to set up a stall for OSM at OSI Tech Days in Chennai with the help of NRC-FOSS, but nothing sizeable has come out of it. People still ask me if i work for OSM, and to be fair WIkipedia in India is in the same boat too. Half the people ive asked still dont know that they are allowed edit wikipedia, let alone edit a map of their neighborhood on openstreetmap.
One of the problems is that the development of OSM is still west-centric, after all thats where all the active mappers are and thats where the money is too. India is more of a sleeping giant, we still dont get that we are sitting on a giant pot of gold, we have enough people to crowdsource data, only that nobody knows why it should be done or how it can help them. I left Amsterdam thinking about a new direction of promoting OSM, by putting openstreetmap data into action and let others do the talking.
There was lot of cleaning up to do in the current India data itself, before letting others jump into it. For one, the Mumbai map data was extremely messed up after the AND import, i went around trying to attempt a cleanup of the major road network and the railway network and its almost done. This should hopefully start as a good reference point for someone to add data to Mumbai. As an example of showcase, i attempted to create a tourist map of southern Mumbai with an emphasis on the railway lines, a work still in progress.
I figured out that this was a better way to generate public interest in the osm project, letting interested people discover for themselves what osm is about, an approach i hope would bring more genuine users become active in the project and let developers see the potential of this project for themselves.
All it took was a couple of Xapi requests from the openstreetmap server to get the railways and forest cover areas to make this. Even the Indian railways dont have a GIS system for their network but OSM has it, thanks to tracing from landsat imagery, the entire Tamil Nadu railway network was added in two days. Expect more maps in the days to come.