OpenStreetMap is an open source tool that allows people to contribute in detail to online maps used for accurately mapping out the world. In OpenStreetMap anyone with a computer can become a contributor for the project, marking and
labelling all roads and paths, as well as all buildings, various land types, and waterways, on an aerial view map, which is made up of a number of different sources. OSM is a unique project as it created from user generated content, and unlike Google maps, OSM maps are far more detailed in terms of urbanisation and infrastructure, as Google maps only displays roads. This level of detail in online maps allows for a new-found level of accuracy in location for tourists and even emergency services. Another major benefit of OpenStreetMap is that the users are constantly updating, perfecting and reviewing the work of others. This, for the most part, means that the maps are accurate and have approval from one or more validators that the map accurately displays any area in the world.
As part of my Digital Humanities module we chose between two options of how we were to use OSM, in terms of purpose. The first option included; adding 100 features to the map of your local neighbourhood as well as correcting 10 features already on the map. Option two took a different approach to using OSM as we were to complete humanitarian tasks. In Humanitarian OSM Tasking, you choose from a list of options of areas and regions in the world that need maps completed (generally speaking these areas would of poor wealth status), or validated if a humanitarian crisis or emergency has occurred in that area. These areas were divided up into smaller land masses called ’tiles’. The tile would show a square around a part of land within the area of emergency and we were to complete three tiles and validate one tile with this option.
I felt that the second option of completing a task for Humanitarian OSM Tasking would be far more beneficial and productive than option one of completing your local area on the OSM map, as most areas in Ireland are completed and were not in a state of emergency. Because of this, I chose to complete option two as part of my Digital Humanities assignment. Two of the tiles I completed were in the same area of Georgetown in Guyana, the third tile was near the city of San Isidro in Nicaragua, and the tile I validated was just north of San Isidro, again in Nicaragua. Since this was my first time using OSM, it was recommended that I use ID Editor for editing the maps. Although I had never previously used OSM, I found that editing the maps was extremely easy to do, largely due to the basic and comprehensible interface of the program. Within the window of the area you were editing, there were three shortcuts: line, point, and area which you could use to mark in any feature of the land on your chosen tile. Fortunately, I found this aspect of using OSM to be simple to use and understand.
The areas that were made available for the humanitarian tasks were both in areas and countries I
had not previously visited, because of this I did not feel very confident that I knew what I was marking in at times. For example, at one point I had marked a minor road over a dark line through my tile in Georgetown, only to discover that it was in fact a canal when I inspected the surrounding tiles and Google maps. Because of these little mistakes that I made throughout my experience of using OSM, I understand that there would be many more OSM contributors out there that would make similar mistakes while marking in features on the map. To minimize the chances of these mistakes occurring, I found it helpful to have Google maps and the editor side-by-side on a split screen for accuracy, as the OSM aerial view became quite grainy when you zoomed in on the map. While editing the maps I had marked in different types of roads, waterways and buildings. Although I found marking in houses and buildings to be quite tedious, I found the overall experience of the mapping to be rewarding and I think I have a better understanding of how to identify different road and water features from aerial view for future mapping.
What I found most interesting about my experience with OSM was that it was a collaborative process. Even though a tile is locked by a user once they began editing, allowing the user to have sole access to the tile during the editing period, the tiles are always being validated by other users once editing is finished. This means that no matter what is done on the OSM, there are others there to help contribute, validate and correct your work if needs be. As OSM is a user-generated tool, anyone including people with very little to no knowledge of certain areas (including myself) can contribute to the maps. For me, knowing that more than one person will work on these maps to improve accuracy and remove any mistakes is reassuring and counteracts the distrust some people may feel towards user-generated content. I believe that all user-generated content based apps and projects should all have some form group work and collaboration, so that the chance of publishing inaccurate or incorrect information on-line is kept to a minimum.
Overall, I would say that completing and validating the tiles on the OSM Tasking Manager was a valuable learning experience in terms of understanding what we can do to help and contribute to the world around us by just using simple technologies and apps from the comfort of our own homes.