Openstreetmap: why we need a free/open alternative to proprietary maps


Yes. As Wikipedia has taught us, nobody has ever tried to game an open information platform through a coordinated agenda, the formation of cliques, or bad-faith editing.


This issue was brought up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when a map provider was providing routing (driving/biking/walking instructions) and used what it determined to be “safe” or “dangerous” neighbourhoods as part of its algorithm.

At some point when that same type of presentation was done by combining Google Maps with publicly available crime data, I think it was praised right here on BB.


I am not a Boing Boing spokesfungus or anything; but (speaking on my own behalf) I’d be inclined to judge the situations differently depending on the openness of the data (for clarity’ sake: while I would prefer ‘open’ as in ‘permissive license’ on other grounds, it would be perfectly possible for quite restrictively licensed map data, so long as the restrictions don’t preclude viewing the ingredients, to fall on the right side of ‘openness’ for this purpose).

Trusting a map vendor to build a ‘red zone/green zone’ map according to its own internal criteria is not unlike trusting censorware software that attempts to hide its block list. You are left guessing as to what motives and considerations were stirred into the product and are now being treated as operational realities.

Being able to observe the process doesn’t free you from the risk of working with lousy data; but at least you can see how the sausage is made, and even tailor the weights assigned to various ingredients to suit your taste.

Again, this is, strictly speaking, orthogonal to open-as-in-open-source: a proprietary vendor willing to show you enough of the raw data, rather than just the product, would also fit the bill; but open-as-in-open-source assures that, while getting inside access to proprietary datasets is frequently treated as either impossible, or something for which you pay extra, possibly a lot extra.


This should lead to some excellent, detailed maps of areas frequented by hipsters. Ghetto areas, rural areas, maybe not so much. Good thing that cute cafe next door to Cory’s office is listed!


Why am I not surprised that your office would be located near Hoxton Street’s Monster Supplies?

I’m not sure thats a good analogy to the case I mentioned before since for one you can always ask your map provider how they overlay data to the map and secondly as some people know, “the map is not the territory” meaning you may know better and aren’t bound by the presentation of information on a map whereas on any type of network filter (sorry, I won’t use the weasel word) you don’t have a default option to opt out of its actions.

Being able to observe the process doesn’t free you from the risk of working with lousy data; but at least you can see how the sausage is made, and even tailor the weights assigned to various ingredients to suit your taste.

Personally I’m a map user not a cartographer so lousy data is quite harmful when I’m driving or trying to find the building where my appointment is. In theory, enough dedicated amateur cartographers could go from publicly available geographical & urban planning detail but since I personally don’t see the widespread need for alternatives to commercial maps, I’m having a hard time imagining lots of people devoting the time required to make this idea at all functionally useful.


The OSM of the UK is actually pretty detailed, even in the sticks where I live. I believe there was some relationship with Yahoo a few years ago to get some data. In some places it has more detail than a OS Landranger map or Google Maps, with some house names/numbers shown on the map for example.

The Ordnance Survey have been mapping the UK in minute detail for hundreds of years, so to have this level of mapping done in just a few is remarkable.

So much of movement through the environment becomes tricky for disabled people. Different impairments create separate challenges. For myself as a wheelchair user, availability of drop curbs at traffic intersections, or at least low ones, are crucial aspects that makes a journey easy or a nightmare.

Open Street Maps is logging this data and making it available. This is something I looked at doing myself, but decided it was too big a task with an income stream related to the activity unsure and problematic. If you take sponsorship do you sugar-coat the access features they are responsible for? I ended up realising you needed a neutral and open organisation and process like Open Street Map’s.

It is a testament to their idealism and public spirited nature that they have noticed this themselves and are doing something about it. They are there for my community, so all I can do is be s supporter of them in return. I trust them to create something reasonably close to the truth and useful

The map is never the territory but at least here the description is owned by the many that live there.


OSM is also going to be one of the few options for many other firms to keep up with Google.

It is one thing to make the odd edit to a Wikipedia article …and it is another to rely on the hundreds or thousands of edits of well-intentioned individuals while attempting to reach an unfamiliar destination (or a familiar destination but via an unknown route).

The issues - what is included on a map and what isn’t - are all valid and I am not dismissing them. My concern is that when I’m travelling from Krakow to, say, Riga or Bratislava or something like that - places I’m not very familiar with - I want to be reasonably sure that when I punch in an address that I’m going to get where I want to go.

Perhaps the OSM maps have gotten better since I last looked into them a few years ago - I will have to look into them again now - but when I last looked they simply weren’t complete enough. OSM may be democratic, free, and open, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the most thorough or complete across a large, broad area …and that’s a real concern.


As Wikipedia has taught us, crowdsourcing is a waste of time and Britannica rules OK.

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I don’t think Google is saying certain neighborhoods are unsafe for walking because they are ghetto, they are saying they are unsafe for walking because they have no sidewalks. I live in San Diego and it’s really annoying how many major streets here make no consideration for pedestrians – or worse where they have sidewalks for blocks that just suddenly end for no apparent reason.


With OpenStreetMap, aren’t you going to run into the same sort of problem that Wikipedia does where certain areas have tons of details and others have very little?

This is basically what I came here to post. The major mapping services (Google, Nokia for two) both have very concrete, complete coverage. something like OSM might be really fun for major cities where you have like-minded individuals posting nearby, but keeping these things updated is a pretty big deal - and I say that as someone who has partial visibility into one of the major commercial online map providers and sees the emails that get thrown around for them.

Try based on OpenStreetmap data and shows wheelchair accessibility.

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It used to be that way - when I started editing my patch, there was lots to do. That was years ago.

OSM is also lots better in obscure locations where Big Map hasn’t bothered to buy a dataset so you just get an unreal crossroads instead of a town.

Never underestimate the obsessive completeness of nerds. :slight_smile:

Well, my obscure location has much more detail in Google Maps than it does in OpenStreetMap. Even if I look at the town nearby with 60,000+ people, there is not much detail on the businesses in the area (where there is detail is sort of strange … nothing showing where the Walmart shopping center is, but the newer Target shopping center across the street shows the buildings/parking lot details even though it does not actually have Target labeled).

You are still going to have areas that are completely detailed and areas that are barely there. Look at Wikipedia. As people have pointed out, its coverage is skewed towards content that men are interested in. With OpenStreetMap, I would not be surprised if areas with low education levels and low income levels (like where I live) are not represented very well.

If you live in an area of even modest size, that has any sort of public works, you have already paid for quite a bit of detailed GIS data with your taxes. I work for a fire department that has taken our county GIS maps and added the outlines of almost every building footprint in our area. Also long driveways, walking paths, every single hydrant, etc. We then update and fine tune these every year while out and about. I would think there could be some argument made that these are public property and should be available to the public.


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