Open maps are better maps

After a year full of new experiences outside my home country (Colombia), I learned that differences of thought, behavior, languages, communication, routines are everywhere. But what I found more relevant is that everyone is unique in their approach to a given task, but there are contextual factors that (un)consciously bias this approach.

In the field I try to focus -FYI: Location-Based Services-, I was exposed to a bit of the world in which people with similar goals develop -nevertheless, biased by an European context-. The experience was rich in many aspects; it was great, good, errrh and even really bad at some points! However, there is a conviction that is being born in me and it started since the very beginning after I left: When dealing with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is the way to go.

[ And this comes from the person who’s thesis is about location privacy. Go figure! ]

In Colombia we use and depend a lot on Google-everything (earth, maps, calendars, docs, etc). And there is nothing wrong with the whole google suite. But there is, however with maps. It is no secret now that every serious data representation includes a geographical context -it’s only natural, we have to be somewhere all the time!-. Depending on google’s arbitrary way of mapping our cities with the details it considers enough is just wrong. And even worst, since their street imagery is impressive -and invasive!-, we take for granted that their details of our city maps are good, but they are so not even remotely close to that. The world, countries, cities and villages change constantly and we should not take for granted that google will keep track of these changes as properly as the actual citizens.

I’ve seen decision making based on these poorly mapped areas, decisions that take place in a matter of seconds, where considerable amount of money is directed towards a good purpose, but with not enough information to be based on; and that makes me think that a lot of good intentions in the right minds might lead to terrible losses if they’re not backed up with reliable information – maps.

So the problem is evident, however the solution is still blurry. I mentioned my conviction about openness and what follows is my biassed approach -but not necessarily wrong-.

OpenStreetMaps (OSM) is a well known alternative to google maps, where it differs is in the way that anyone can alter anything on it. I know it sounds like a bad idea, but it is also the best we have. With the right people mapping for the right purposes, OpenStreetMaps has become a great source of accurate information in many countries where google’s arbitrary updating is left behind. The fact that you can keep local copies of different states of the map makes it sustainable and trustworthy.

There are many communities dedicated to mapping the world on OSM through YouthMappers chapters, one of them is PoliMappers. It was just recently conformed and is directed by a great team (my team, ha!), with considerable experience and contributions yet to be seen. You can join any mapathon and help to build a more realistic virtual map of the world that you can own.

Erik Satie – Gymnopédie No. 1