The Crowd Sourced Approach Gathers More Supporters

The Geographers, GIS buffs and spatial analysts at UCL have always been big supporters of OpenStreetMap.  Over the last few years more and more of their attention has been turning to the study of crowd sourcing as a way of creating geographic information.  One great example of applying academic research to OSM is Muki Haklay’s 2008 OSM Quality Evaluation work, in which Muki compared OSM data to data sets produced by the UK Ordnance Survey (OS) – the UK Government body charged with mapping the UK.  The OS has a fierce reputation for for producing some of the most accurate and most detailed maps in the world, so its impressive to hear that: “The positional accuracy [of OSM] is about 6 metres, which is expected for the data collection methods that are used in OSM. The comparison of motorways shows about 80% overlap between OSM and OS…”.  Of course OSM moves quickly – there are now more than 100,000 OSMers around the world compared with 35,000 this time last year – so when I spoke to Muki earlier this year I was excited to hear that there is more OSM data analysis on the way.  Watch this space and in the meantime, take a look at this recent presentation.

A team of UCL Geographers are taking their interests in crowd sourcing on the road, speaking at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Las Vegas next week (22nd – 27th March).  Papers include: “Neogeography: Crowdsourcing and Mapping for Masses” – something that should be of interest to any OSMers in the area.  Another interesting looking title comes from TeleAtlas Chief Scientist Don Cooke talking about “Neogeography and Crowdsourcing: the View from a Walled Garden“.  I got the opportunity to talk to Don after giving a presentation about OSM and crowdsourcing at last year’s Where2.0 conference.  He was a big fan of OSM and the crowd sourcing model.  One thing’s for sure – the often distainfuly labelled “paeleo” generation are not going to roll over and die.  Guys like Don Cooke or the UCL geographers are veterans of an industry that has created vast data sets, empowered millions of people to make better decisions, as well as creating companies with multi-billion dollar price tags.

How will OpenStreetMap react when the “walled garden” approach to crowd sourcing puts the power to edit and create maps in the hands of everyone with a mobile phone or a sat-nav?  To make sure that the open approach to crowd sourcing keeps on producing data sets that can be favourably compared with those of the walled gardens we need to keep one step ahead.  Learn from the acheivements and mistakes of companies like Tom-Tom, who are embracing crowd sourcing.  Openess alone isn’t going to build a free world map.  We need to expand the reach of OpenStreetMap – attract 900,000 more mappers in more places of the world and help them produce better maps.