Open Street Map Redefining GIS Data Collection

I used to be fairly involved in the Free Software Foundation and involved in local GNU/Linux groups. While my focus and energy has changed some in the past 10 years, I still have an affinity for these things. Alan Dayley contacted me asking if Gangplank would be interested in hosting an Open Street Map mapping party. Of course, I said yes without really thinking twice.

A few days before the mapping party I figured I would check out the technology and see if I wanted to attend. I will say I was petrified by the way the site looked and frankly it felt like a bad version of yahoo maps. I ended up having a pretty rough weekend so didn’t make it down to the mapping party until Sunday. When I met Brandon, I was brutally honest that I didn’t get it. The only thing I could think of that was valuable was making the information free (which is an important thing). Brandon humored me and then enlightened me, like any good evangelist should.

Brandon explained to me that Google maps while very complete doesn’t really let you interact with the data. They simply let you plot points on the map, not interact with the map. It clicked at that moment, why having the data be free was so important. Then I was shown the editor behind Open Street Map. On Google maps my neighborhood doesn’t exist. It didn’t exist on Open Street Maps either but in a matter of five minutes, I was able to map my neighborhood. Now I was excited. Like really excited. The power in being able to create maps is so powerful.

If this wasn’t enough, it got better. A lot better. A good friend Todd Huffman dabbles in the mobile space and does a lot of GiS related mobile device stuff. I had invited his partner to meet with Brandon over the weekend and was feeling bummed that he didn’t make it. Minutes before Brandon was about to head out to the airport, Todd called asking if there was still a chance to meet up. Todd shared with me that he was already very familiar with the product. In fact, during his trip to Afghanistan he had mapped several villages and wanted feedback on whether he was doing it correctly.

Now the impact of this product really hit home. In the United States we take maps and their readily available access for granted. Here you have someone making digital maps for areas that have no maps available outside of military/government means. Now this project becomes impossible for me to ignore and why I’m blogging about it now. I urge you. Please, go create an account and map your neighborhood. Brandon will be back in January and it is important that you show up.