OpenStreetMap – Be Your Own Cartographer

Like many geospatial people, I’m familiar with OpenStreetMap (OSM) and have put its offerings to occasional use, not to mention contributing periodic edits. Despite my experience with OSM, I would classify myself as an intermediate user. Although I find the project fascinating and valuable in so many ways, I have just never delved as deeply I should into a number of significant aspects of the project. A new book, OpenStreetMap by Jonathan Bennett, provided me with a needed golden ticket to fill gaps in my OSM knowledge.

The book begins with a discussion of the project’s history, structure, and benefits. Bennett then goes on to point the reader to valuable online resources such as wikis, mailing lists, and the OSM community’s social media presence. He rightly urges project volunteers to take full advantage of these resources and clearly demonstrates their value.

Although I wouldn’t have expected it when I first started reading the book, Chapter 3, Gathering Data using GPS, may have been the most worthwhile chapter of the book from my perspective. The chapter provides a comprehensive view of what is involved in collecting data for OSM with GPS and discusses many aspects of this approach I hadn’t ever considered. Bennett’s ideas on documentation associated with GPS data collection and his discussion on collection techniques themselves caused a number of light bulbs to go off in my head.

The editing discussion begins by covering OSM’s data model and then moves into fairly comprehensive coverage of various editors, e.g. PotlatchJOSM, and Merkaartor. My previous awareness of editors other than Potlatch notwithstanding, because Potlatch is fine for many tasks and quick and easy, I’ve used it almost exclusively to make edits to OSM. Chapter 5’s discussion of alternatives should help dislodge myself from my overreliance on Potlatch. I do wish this chapter had mentioned other editing options such as the QGIS OSM plugin and the ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap, but as these editing options are geared more toward GIS users, they may have fallen outside of the general audience that I believe the book intends to reach. Chapter 6, Mapping and Editing Techniques, ends the editing discussion with a number of real world examples and advice on making edits appropriate for the examples. Bennett concludes his treatment of the editing process by covering a number of tools available for checking for problems. This portion of the book was also helpful to me since it covered ground quite new to me.

Chapters 8 and 9 show the reader how to produce customized maps with the openstreetmap.org exporter and Kosmos, as well as getting raw OSM data by downloading planet files, using the OSM REST API, or using the extended API (Xapi). Chapter 10’s discussion of Osmosis topped off a group of three chapters that will serve as a very handy reference for me in better leveraging these tools. Again, these are OSM capabilities I was aware of, but only marginally so before reading the book.

The book concludes with Chapter 11’s brief discussion of the future of the project. The reader is undoubtedly shown that OSM is continuing to grow and evolve with changes to the project’s licensing and new tools and capabilities being discussed.

Bennett succeeds in presenting a comprehensive overview of OSM while remaining pragmatic and not overly technical. Those new to OSM should be able to pick up the book and get off the ground fairly quickly, while more advanced users who feel like they still have much to learn about the project, such as myself, should find the book full of good advice and a helpful pointer to new resources. The book is a very good read for anyone interested in OSM and a good reference to have on hand.

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