OpenStreetMap, a Model for Data Communities?

OpenStreetMap is creating the world's best map. I'll look at the technical and social concepts that make OSM work, and ponder the applicability of this approach for creating and sharing other kinds of data

Mikel Maron @mikel



October 30, 2012

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Map Kibera

(they work in same database as anyone)

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Humanitarian OSM Team

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Why does OpenStreetMap work

And what (if anything) can other data projects learn

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Preconditions, ala Hakley

  • GPS, removal of selective availability
  • Broadband & Computing Power & Mobile
  • More Educated People
  • Neoliberalism and Mapping Agencies
  • Web Mapping APIs and Open Standards

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free and open

free to contribute

free to use

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Wiki Approach

  • Iterative Data Correction and Improvement
  • Monitoring and post contribution QA/Analysis, rather than moderation
  • Revision History
  • Social knowledge
  • We are not embarrassed by data!

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Community not Crowds

everyone from slum dwellers to govt pro GIS. highly complex. personal movitation.

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Minimal, Necessary Restrictions

But No More

  • API (restful, evolving, to purpose) easily understood standard
  • Open Ethos
  • Enthusiasm (we made surveying fun!)

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Single Database

  • not collections
  • with specific purpose(s)
  • we must work together

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Discussion and Documentation

Not politeness and Restraint

a strength and weakness

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  • key / value pairs
  • no predefined schema
  • converges through conversation, consensus, code
  • ever expanding

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Creative Tools Space

rendering especially, minimal restriction are spherical mercator tiles

image of tiles

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Is there a space in Other Disciplines?

  • Restrictions from the Academic Publishing Model, applies to Data
  • More complicated data. Methodological differences, temporal differences.
  • Smaller contribution and user base

get ref

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Barrier: Hard to redeploy

  • OSM rails app encodes a lot of these practices in a usable way
  • But not easy to deploy
  • Some good experiments, USGS
  • Contrast: MediaWiki is easy to deploy

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Even Geo Data


  • Hard to acquire and process data
  • Hard to combine seamlessly
  • Takes a serious infrastructure

Fauna and Flora observations

  • very dynamic and fuzzy boundaries
  • some subsets (individual prominent trees, protected areas for endangered species)

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Historical OSM

world's most out of date map

  • Diverge in code
  • Manage tagging for time frames (start_date, end_date, and onwards)
  • Editing tools and rendering tools
  • Use Cases (OldSF, Burning Man, Historic NYC geocoder)

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Do It

It is possible and we must try to accelerate data sharing and collaboration. work in climate, conservation, earth sciences is too crucial

"Contribute to the Grand Design of Improving Natural Knowlege and the Universal Good of Mankind" Oldenburg

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Distilled OSM Wisdom

  • Define Minimal Basic Rules
  • then Get Out of the Way
  • But Keep Talking
  • Iterate

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Stay Practical

  • Collaborate within Dynamic Open Source Projects
  • No Data or Code Silos
  • Avoid Heavy Standard
  • Don't architecture astronaut

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Thank you

Mikel Maron


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