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Discovering Collaborative Mapping 


"Making maps together means piecing together collective experiences, discovering patterns, and arriving at a collective understanding of the root causes of these shared experiences."

Social Cartography: The Art of Using Maps to Build Community Power,
Weaving the Threads Vol. 17, No. 2, 2010

Early examples of map include sharing paths to good hunting grounds or clear water sources, both crucial to surviving and thriving enough to build magnificent civilizations. In modern society, spatial information helps us achieve other goals by specifying locations, and holds a similar importance for improving the quality of our lives.

Maps help us answer questions such as "How do I safely ride to this school on my bike?" or "Where can I get my shoes repaired?" and even more pressing questions, like "How do I reach the nearest hospital in case of an emergency?" Being able to define where community or commercial buildings are and show others the relationships between locations and how to get to them has always been useful, even essential, to humans everywhere.

For all those reasons, it seems natural for people to work together on mapping. Nevertheless, not all maps are openly editable or free of use. This vital need to provide and share information is at the heart of collaboration. Collaborative mapping is a way to gather this information and share it with others and OpenStreetMap is strongly contributing to this larger movement. This chapter will introduce you to this broader topic of collaborative mapping, which goes beyond OpenStreetMap.

What is collaborative mapping?

Imagine if your friend wanted to get her shoes repaired. You could tell her of a place that might do it, but it might not be the best place. You could make a map of where all the shoe repair shops are, but that sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? What if your friends could help you create that map? Or better yet, what if anyone in the world could help? This is the basis of collaborative mapping.

Collaborative mapping is also called crowd-sourced mapping and volunteered geographic information. As a new technique for map-making, it is a subset of neogeography. The idea is that a group of people can work together to gather information. This information can be very specific, such as a map of all the shoe repair shops in an area, or more generic, such as a "free map of the entire world." There are many different tools and motivations for creating collaborative maps.

Why would I want to participate in collaborative mapping?

There are many different reasons to participate in collaborative mapping. Maybe you have a very serious reason and want to help your community create a safety map pointing out locations of all the local hospitals and emergency resources. Perhaps you want to locate and indicate where there is public access to drinking water. If you are a hiking enthusiast, you might want to share your favorite places and to discover new ones by reading maps from others. Or, as a school teacher, maybe you want a new way to teach spatial reasoning to your students. Do these ideas sound interesting to you? Maybe you already have some ideas of your own--hopefully, collaborative mapping can help you with your idea.

What well known projects and tools are available for collaborative mapping?

There are many different ways to make a collaborative map.  The easiest is to sit down with others and use a pen and some paper. While collaborative in the creation process, the pen-and-paper technique doesn't easily enable collaboration beyond the small group that can gather around the piece of paper. Even if the single piece of paper is a very large one, there is a physical limit to how many people can work at the same time on a single piece of paper. OpenStreetMap allows groups to collaborate on maps electronically, which expands that number greatly. But these are not the only options. Besides pen and paper and the tools surrounding OpenStreetMap, there are many different ways to create collaborative, shareable maps.


According to WikiMapia (http://wikimapia.org) itself, "WikiMapia is an online editable map - you can describe any place on Earth. Or just surf the map discovering tons of already marked places." With WikiMapia you can add office buildings, restaurants, parks and villages to name just a few items. The idea with WikiMapia is that there is one collaborative map that everyone works on together. You do not need an account to start adding information to WikiMapia, or to look at the information others have added. You do need an account (and a certain number of contributions to the project) to start changing places that other people have added.


Ushahidi (http://ushahidi.com) is an open-source software application that enables you to crowdsource reports of information, and to visualise that information on a map and timeline. Originally it was used to make maps reporting incidences of violence during Kenya's post-election violence in 2007-2008. Today it is used for many different collaborative mapping projects. The idea with Ushahidi is that users can submit "reports" directly through the Ushahidi application, through social networks, or even via SMS. You can quickly start up a version of Ushahidi using CrowdMap (http://crowdmap.com) or download the source code and run it on your own server.

Google Map Maker

Google Map Maker (http://www.google.com/mapmaker) is a way to correct and add information to Google Maps and Google Earth. Examples of information that you can add include missing and incorrect roads or points of interest. Edits made by new users go through a review process before being published. In certain parts of the world, new map information is always reviewed before it is publicly displayed.

Google MyMaps

Google MyMaps (http://maps.google.com/maps/mm) is a tab associated with Google Maps that allows you to save information in your own map. You can decide whether your map should be public or private, only shared with certain people who have the link to it. You can also invite specific people to collaborate with you or make your map available for the whole world to contribute.

Why would I want to do collaborative mapping with OpenStreetMap?

As you can see there are many options for doing collaborative mapping.  Some of them are very similar to OpenStreetMap, others are different. Often, these tools are complementary to OpenStreetMap. For example, many instances of Ushahidi use OpenStreetMap as their base map, including the information that already exists to give context to new reports coming in. People using Ushahidi can use OpenStreetMap to reference the information they are collecting.


The OpenStreetMap logo 

One of the strengths of OpenStreetMap is the open license. Anyone can use the OpenStreetMap data for their own purposes, even for commercial purposes. The only requirements are that you must credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors when you use the data and that you must release any improvements you make to the data, under a similar license.

Another difference between OpenStreetMap and some of the collaborative mapping tools mentioned above is that OpenStreetMap has everyone contributing to the same map. This type of collection methodology allows greater and greater detail to be added from many sources of knowledge, and stops information from getting divided and stuck in individual projects.

It is important to distinguish between OpenStreetMap and other online maps like Google Maps, MapQuest, or Bing, where the primary purpose is to display search results and make money for their respective business. In some cases, these maps have tools that allow the user to overlay their own data on top of the map and display it in a very particular fashion--but what if you want to do more? Unlike these other systems, OpenStreetMap's primary purpose is to provide the user with the underlying map data. This allows anyone to use that data in any way they want. You can create completely new and exciting map-based products, to the limits of your imagination. 

Additionally OpenStreetMap has a large community.  There are over 450,000 people who have signed up for an account.  This vibrant community includes individuals who add information to map, those who write the software to enable the editing and other who create specialized maps from the OpenStreetMap data.  People from OpenStreetMap get together in places all over the world to share techniques, map their local places, learn from each other and just to meet in a social setting.

Throughout the rest of this book, we'll show how you can use OpenStreetMap to collect similar types of data to the platforms listed above.  We'll also show you how to make use of the resulting data in different ways. Whether you want to gather information about all the shoe repair shops in a city or map hiking trails you are interested in, OpenStreetMap can help. And once you're done, it can provide tools to use what you've collected and share it in different ways with others.