For a college project I found myself engaging with Open Street Maps (OSM) online.
I ran into a number of issues with this project that in turn led me to delve deeper into the construct of the scheme.
Firstly it took me a while to get the hang of the basic tools and system and even longer to pick an area on the Task Manager that I was happy with.
I soon realised there were a number of very different terrains to choose from and some required more work than others.
The first tile I chose was in the Philippines and required a lot of farmyard labelling as well as roads and a few buildings.
I decided to chose an easy slot to get me started and to get me up to date with the tools. I made a number of easy mistakes early on.
I started marking my houses with points which I later realised was incorrect, then I used the street tool for outlining an area which was also wrong.
Then, after marking the entire tile, I refreshed the tab before saving and lost all my work. As you can imagine when starting again I was extra cautious and took my time getting it right as well as saving continuously every few minutes.
I then moved on to another tile, this time in South Africa. This time I decided to challenge myself by choosing a difficult tile.
I choose one covered in houses and unlabelled roads.
This was another mistake as I underestimated how much time it would take me to mark the area. A very small portion of the tile took me several hours and after two days of long arduous hours spent painstakingly outlining houses and roads I was still nowhere near finished and losing patience quickly.
I also found that although I was trying to finish the tile by myself, when I unlocked the tile, other people would log in and work on it aswell.
Eventually after getting some advice from others I divided the tile into smaller squares and I found this easier to focus on what I was doing.
There are a number of things I learned from the project that I think will benefit me going forward.
For one thing, it really tests your patience. It is not a fast-moving process and you need to accept the pace at which you can work at.
I found myself finding faults with the editing process and wishing there was a faster way of labelling the houses rather than always having to go back to the area button after every house, which seemed to draw out the process a great deal.
It also required initiative, independence and a certain amount of problem-solving. It was a serious undertaking to decipher the shapes on the map and take responsibility for deciding what type of road or building or house there was on the land you were mapping.
Obviously the instructions helped a great deal and I found myself referring to them a lot throughout the assignment.
The overall layout of the site was very intuitive and I was overwhelmed by the number of areas that needed work or help from the crowdsourced initiative.
At the start I found myself wondering what was the point of openstreetmaps as there was already Google maps and Apple maps, but after asking this question in class I became aware that Apple maps are in fact based on OSM maps and OSM maps also tend to be more accurate than Google maps as they contain a wealth of local knowledge.
I was also made aware that Google Maps use their usage data for commercial reasons whereas the OSM is non-for-profit.
I was also told that the OSM maps can be used by anyone for any reason, thus that is why Apple maps are able to use their data as it is not copyrighted.
After hearing all this, I felt it was indeed a worthwhile cause and worth my time. As the work simply requires a lot of patience and not a lot of head work once you have gotten the hang of it, I found myself doing the tiles while watching television to keep myself occupied while I worked on the maps.
While doing it my housemate remarked that she found watching me to me ‘mesmerising’ and I have to admit there is definitely a therapeutic angle to the mapping that is a little enjoyable if not addictive.
In terms of how I can use this in future I suppose if I wanted to take data from a map this is the way to do it, if I wanted to help out in a humanitarian project in some small way, helping with these maps is the way to do that.
As well as that if I wanted to add changes to a map that had already been made I could do that using OSM.
IN conclusion, although I was dubious to begin with, the tool turned out to be a worthwhile endeavour that helps out in a number of ways, many people and it is a great idea to get involved in crowdsourced initiatives.