Contributing to OpenStreetMap, a popular crowdsourced map of the world, is one of my favorite hobbies. It involves online research, tracing satellite imagery, and on-the-ground surveying with phone GPS. Here are a few reasons why you should consider joining me:
- It makes you a better researcher. When new roads are built or new businesses pop up, it is the mapper’s job to find the details. This often involves searching through city records, calling business owners, and using clues from social media to guide the hunt.
- It helps you ask concise questions. On-the-ground surveys of new commercial developments can be time-consuming. Additionally, businesses have limited interest in conversing with customers that aren’t going to buy anything. When entering a business, a mapper must get to the point. Who are they? What are they doing? What information do they need? Businesses usually respond with some interest to mappers who have learned the art of cutting to the chase.
- It makes you less concerned about how people perceive you. On-the-ground surveys of an area often get odd looks. People wonder why you’re walking around, jotting in notebooks, measuring buildings with laser range-finders. Sometimes the curiosity boils into a conversation about crowdsourced mapping, but most of the time the stares serve to build up your ‘I don’t give a crap’ muscle.
- It frees you from the Google/Apple map duopoly. Contrary to the centralized creation and closed licensing of these corporations’ maps, OpenStreetMap is made by users like you and released under a free license. You can also map whatever you find important, instead of being limited by what is of commercial utility to a map owner.
- It introduces you to the interesting corners of your city. When you start mapping, it gets you outside—around your neighbors, around your city’s culture. Perhaps you’ll find an underrated restaurant, a small park, or a forgotten vestige of a previous architectural generation. There’s a lot to be found in even the most boring town.