Mapping the city collaboratively


Thanks to an email from ravages and sagaro, i find myself sitting in IIM B attending the FreeMap India workshop over the weekend. The focus is on the OpenStreetMap project and its related tools. OpenStreetMap is a mapping service like Google maps, with a twist, its a map that anyone can edit, just like wikipedia. Although i was already familiar with OSM, having dabbled with it very early on about two years back, what drew me to the event was the possibility of meeting people in the mapping domain and a reason to bunk my college cat which the fools have scheduled on a saturday.

Anyway, a 6 hour chilly train ride later im greeted by the bangalore dawn, inhaling the smoky smell of the city mixed with depressing weather and a runny nose. With a touch of good fortune i get a lift to the IIMB campus on a bike. The workshop had attracted a respectable crowd, mostly guys related to the mapping/gis industry in one way or the other. And funnily enough i wasnt the only nut to come from Chennai for this, i bumped into a 2nd year IITM guy and a final year bloke from coimbatore who was doing a project related to location based services.

So coming to OSM itself, Schyuler and Mikel give an intro session about the project, and it really got me thinking. Once upon a time i had dismissed this and other mapping services when Google maps had entered the arena and put up an impressive show back in 2006 and over two years has only become better, offering unparalleled coverage and detail to push yahoo and msn into the web gutter.

But then toaday, i realised the real power of OSM that lay beneath, its wiki aspect and the fact that its licenced under CCbySA. OSM is to Google Maps what Wikipedia is to Encyclopedia Britannica. The bottom line is that Google is still a profit making organisation and not a charity, so whatever work or service they offer is ruled by economics, and that is precisely what will ultimately restrict google maps – in accuracy as well as coverage. While at first i was sceptical at how normal users can ultimately map the entire earth, i realised that when the process had worked so successfully for wikipedia, then there’s no reason why it wouldnt for this.

I thought i’d do a comparison of both OSM and GM for a sample city like London (OSM and Google) , and was clearly impressed with the power that collaborative mapping wielded. There’s almost nothing that cannot be mapped and tagged, right from post boxes to shopping malls. Given that mapping data for the country is extremely limited in coverage and grossly inaccurate, only a community approach such as this can bridge the gap to completeness.

While the freemap workshop lay emphasis on using a gps unit to create vectorised data and may sound a little complicated, its neither necessary to have a gps or have a background in mapping to create maps. The available online editor, potlatch, makes map creation as easy as tracing out the roads on a yahoo satellite image. Next time you stumble upon errors in google maps or voids in coverage, dont hope google to fix it, cause they most probably never will, instead map your neighbourhood yourself. If everyone were to do that we would no longer be bound by the google leash, they control our lives enough already.

The workshop itself has been quite a good learning experience, now i know the ins and out of using a GPS, thanks to FindNearYou- Chennai who were generous enough to lend me a unit especially for this, and also met a lot of interesting folks working with a wide range of projects, like mapunity, iciti, pathfinder and numerous others including government ones. Just imagine, with free mapping data for India, we would have so many developers working on creating map based services that it will eventually be the end users who benefit. For, that is reason enough to be part of the open map project.

So, why dont you sign up for an account and get started with creating a free map of Chennai. And here is a quick quide to the online editor potlatch.

Tags: , ,

About planemad

10 responses to “Mapping the city collaboratively”

  1. Ram N says :

    I’m unable to still understand the economics in this for Google …. (bulb is not lighting up)

  2. tim says :

    OpenStreetMap is an open source project, not a Google project.

    However, Google are taking steps (somewhere in India afaik – they haven’t given much detail about this, would love to hear more if anyone has any more information) to get people to map areas for them, using GPS. The people don’t get any of that data back, except getting the privilege to view Google’s interpretation in Google Maps. The map isn’t free.

    Economically, unless it was just an experiment, they think it is cheaper to hire some people to map their own city than to hire an expensive surveying company. More generally, they want companies to use Google’s mapping – they derive information about where people look and what they look for. They want people to remain within Google when searching for things – and quite a big proportion of search queries are geographical in nature.

    For the same amount of work, with OpenStreetMap, you can get a better, more detailed map, with access to the raw data, one that is going to be more up to date than Google’s paid for surveying. And the surveyors are willing participants, not employees. And it is Free.

  3. Dynesh says :

    So will you be continuing with that schematic map of chennai you were doing?

  4. funkjunky83 says :

    Is this project only in chennai, only in india, or will it be available worldwide?

  5. planemad says :

    Well, my schematic is for a totally different purpose, so yea.

    Worldwide. Why dont you check out the site. Right now only Ludhiana and Mumbai in India have some decent coverage

  6. Mikel Maron says :

    Thanks for attending the workshop, we had a great time .. I hope you keep it up in Chennai!

  7. planemad says :

    Mikel, coming for the workshop from chennai was well worth it, you guys did a great job.

  8. Ram says :

    hi arun

    good to see you active in the osm. lets get together and see if we can implement the bus route alongwith vijay

  9. kannan says :

    Please publish the tutorial in as many forums as possible for a wider reach.

    Just a thought! Postmen are the most knowledgable wrt roads. Why dont we include them?

  10. planemad says :

    yep kannan, am working on the tutorial. Btw the postmen in my locality have offered their help to verify the map

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: