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Why the World Needs OpenStreetMap 162

Posted by Soulskill
from the because-hole-in-the-wall-restaurants-are-the-best dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Over the past six months, we've all grown a bit more skeptical about who controls our data, and what they do with it. An article at The Guardian says it's time for people to start migrating en masse away from proprietary map providers to OpenStreetMap in order to both protect our collective location data and decide how it is displayed. From the article: 'Who decides what gets displayed on a Google Map? The answer is, of course, that Google does. I heard this concern in a meeting with a local government in 2009: they were concerned about using Google Maps on their website because Google makes choices about which businesses to display. The people in the meeting were right to be concerned about this issue, as a government needs to remain impartial; by outsourcing their maps, they would hand the control over to a third party. ... The second concern is about location. Who defines where a neighborhood is, or whether or not you should go? This issue was brought up by the American Civil Liberties Union when a map provider was providing routing (driving/biking/walking instructions) and used what it determined to be "safe" or "dangerous" neighborhoods as part of its algorithm.'"
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Why the World Needs OpenStreetMap

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  • Open Street (Score:3, Funny)

    by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:02PM (#45960143) Homepage Journal
    Open Street
    Can nae be beat
    With proper ads
    Every so many feet
    Burma Shave
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:06PM (#45960191)

    The level of detail is just fantastic, and I can carry the entire map on an sd card for offline use, including routing. It's plain awesome.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      It's what google maps should have been.

    • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:45PM (#45960509)

      The level of detail is just fantastic, and I can carry the entire map on an sd card for offline use, including routing. It's plain awesome.

      Detail? Not so much.
      Side by side comparison: Zoomed to my town. Entered search term: Starbucks

      Google Maps: Showed every starbucks in my town
      OpenStreetMaps: Showed nothing in my town, but listed some in Japan, an ocean away.

      Zoomed to Seattle. Repeated same test.
      Same results. Openstreetmaps can't find a Starbucks in Seattle.

      Keyed in a random address: 521 N 1st st, new york, NY
      Google: Bam, direct hit.
      Openstreetmaps: Nothing. Not a single thing.

      This is probably where 50 people jump on me and suggest I should fix the maps and contribute.
      Yeah, that will work.

      • by Guest316 (3014867) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:57PM (#45960573)

        Openstreetmaps can't find a Starbucks in Seattle.

        That's a feature. Seattlites know good coffeeshops from Starbucks.

      • You need a map to find a Starbucks? Kidding aside, obviously the quality of the map depends on the people who make it. Around here, it is indeed fantastic. It even shows every single electrical tower. The bicycle routing in particular is much better than Google's.

      • Thanks for the example.
        Never seen the advantages of OSM described so concisely.

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Well, Google Maps has all sorts of garbage. Who at Google once placed Mt. Whitney in Yosemite NP? Defaced the name of a University (I won't say which one, but I got the distinct impression QC at Google isn't what it should be.)

      • by websitebroke (996163) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @11:10PM (#45961061)
        Try Starbucks Seattle [openstreetmap.org]. Turns out there are a bunch of them. Yeah, not even close to as nice as defaulting to finding things right nearby your location, but not completely useless, either.
      • by sberge (2725113)
        You seem to be confusing a map and a business directory. OpenStreetMap has a lot of map detail, i.e. street names and such, but no business listings. Google Maps is not only a map, but also a business directory. Certainly, these are useful services to combine, but I wouldn't fault OpenStreetMap for not being a business directory. That would be better handled as a separate project, and the two data sources could easily be combined to produce the service you're looking for.
        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          Umm yes it does have businesses. That is one of the issues I have with editing Open Street Maps. You have Points and you have Areas. You can make say a restaurant an area or a point! Which is current.

      • Firstly: your random address doesn't exist. 521 1st st, New York, NY does, however and OSM finds it straight away, even showing house numbers on the buildings!

        521 N (as copy-pasted from your post into the search bar) returns two alternatives - in Nassau and in Cattaraugus, where there are North and South 1st streets.

        Other counterexamples:

        All the starbucks in my town are listed in OSM.

        Looking for bus routes in Kent, England
        Google Maps: Search, get the occasionall bus depot. Public transport layer, g

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      The level of detail is just fantastic, and I can carry the entire map on an sd card for offline use, including routing. It's plain awesome.

      The only downside is some clowns have been placing poor data into the collection - trails which are way off, restrooms which are not along trails, etc.

      • by plover (150551)

        The only downside is some clowns have been placing poor data into the collection - trails which are way off, restrooms which are not along trails, etc.

        You think that's bad? Think about conflicting factions arguing over border lines, or competing businesses trying to steal each others' business. It'll make Wikipedia vandalism seem like children on the playground.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Same could be said for Google Maps as well.

        I've seen many buildings/places in the wrong location on Google Maps.
      • by richlv (778496)

        a) contact those users, try to find out (politely) what they are doing;
        b) if that does not work, contact osm data working group, let them know your concerns : http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Data_working_group [openstreetmap.org]

  • even the oldie-goldie paper maps were outsourced except for the larger cities (not states or countries).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:20PM (#45960309)

    ACLU can protest, but I'd far rather have a system that gets me around neighborhoods where I get a gun shoved in my face for my ride, then another with the trigger pulled in my face for being the wrong race in the wrong place.

    In fact, I wouldn't mind a service that can make and keep current heat maps so I can glance at somewhere like Cleveland or LA and know what routes to take so I don't end up having my vehicle (and my cranium) perforated by .40 ammo so a gangbanger can "blood in" and show it off via a YouTube video.

    There was a company that was doing heat maps of crime, but they have not done a single update in two years.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by doom (14564)

      There was a company that was doing heat maps of crime, but they have not done a single update in two years.

      Let me see if I can put this delicately. If you care about this you're an idiot. (Oh well.).

      If you're driving around what you really want is a "heat map" of traffic accidents. If you're walking around what you really want is a "heat map" of pedestrian deaths. And so on...

      Stressing out about stray bullets, even in a "bad neighborhood" is only one step up from worrying about lightning strikes.

      • by richlv (778496)

        when i was in south africa, i was told that in central johannesburg people sometimes get robbed of their cars. stop at the red light, two cars come. one stops in front of you, one behind you, a couple of guys with guns throw you out of your car.
        "traffic accidents" would not be enough :)

        • by guises (2423402)
          The point he was making was that traffic accidents would cover everything that you need to worry about. A rare but well publicized event with some thugs robbing a person in a car just isn't important.
        • by isorox (205688)

          when i was in south africa, i was told that in central johannesburg people sometimes get robbed of their cars. stop at the red light, two cars come. one stops in front of you, one behind you, a couple of guys with guns throw you out of your car.
          "traffic accidents" would not be enough :)

          If you're lucky. A guy in our building in Joburg was carjacked at the lights, but the guy fired the pistol having failed to remove the keys.

          Fortunatly it jammed, and the would-be jacker took his time clearing the gun why the chap escaped. When Group 4 arrived 10 minutes later they found both the misfired bullet with a dent in the back, a few spent casings, and a bullet hole in the back of the car.

          Lucky escape, I'd rather drive in gaza than joburg.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Carjackings are very common in certain locales. It's not idiotic to worry about such things. Things aren't quite as bad as the 70s and 80s now, but if you're the wrong color, it can be extremely dangerous to drive through certain neighborhoods at certain times.

      • You may not think of yourself as being sheltered, but if you live someplace where random violence is not a serious concern, then, compared to many of us, you are. Drive-bys, jackings, and other attacks against drivers are so common in Cleveland and even some of the inner suburbs as to be un-noteworthy unless someone dies, and rarely reported to police. (Sometimes they are commited BY police.) No one walks if they can help it, and while a lot of people do take buses if they have to, this is what befell a [newsnet5.com]
  • Wikipedia of Maps? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rueger (210566) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:23PM (#45960333) Homepage
    Somehow I envision a Wikipedia of maps, with boundaries and street names changing at random if two groups can't agree.

    Sure it may not happen in downtown Topeka, but imagine to geo-edit wars that will happen in the Middle East or other disputed territory.
    • by AVryhof (142320)

      Somehow I envision a Wikipedia of maps

      Like http://wikimapia.org/ [wikimapia.org] ?

    • Somehow I envision a Wikipedia of maps, with boundaries and street names changing at random if two groups can't agree. Sure it may not happen in downtown Topeka, but imagine to geo-edit wars that will happen in the Middle East or other disputed territory.

      I don't know Topeka, but there are plenty of places in the US where there will be disputes, because it happens already. If a boundary is in dispute, and they often are for neighborhoods or unincorporated villages, people will fight to get their property included in the more prestigious area.

    • by richlv (778496)

      nothing new there - obviously, such disputes do happen in osm.

      a) territorial. think india/pakistan, china, russia... these tend to be settled by drawing both/all suggested borders in many cases
      b) naming. usually, which language will be the default (main) for some feature. russian names in ukraine or belarus, french here or there. these either tend to be settled by making the 'main' name include all suggested ones (lang1/lang2), or just not having main at all (and only having language-specific names)

      those ar

      • by fatphil (181876)
        > naming

        That was one of the more amusing cock-ups by google maps/earth for many years:

        In Finland, the significantly Swedish-speaking parts were labelled in Finnish, and the Finnish-speaking parts were labelled in Swedish.
        In Belgium, the French-speaking parts were labelled in Dutch and the Dutch-speaking parts were labelled in French. (E.g. our screenshot maps were useless to the locals in Brussels when asking for directions and pointing, as they didn't recognise any of the street names - they didn't even
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Sure it may not happen in downtown Topeka, but imagine to geo-edit wars that will happen in the Middle East or other disputed territory.

      Apple and Google have this problem - over Taiwan. China considers it a territory, while Taiwan naturally considers themselves an independent nation.

      Heck, remember Windows 95 had a time-zone setting that used a map? Handy, right? But border disputes between Peru and Ecuador and India put an end of that [msdn.com]..(And no, Microsoft used official UN-recognized maps for their borders).

      A

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        It's not hard to deal with border disputes on maps. Even paper maps have been doing this for as long as I can remember; there used to be a rhombus-shaped zone on the border of Iraq and Saudi Arabia (it's not on Google Maps now, so maybe the dispute has been resolved), which showed the territory as disputed. Maps normally showed that portion of the border with dotted lines, maybe coloring the disputed area in a different color. These days, most maps have to do this with the border of India and China, whic

    • Somehow I envision a Wikipedia of maps, with boundaries and street names changing at random if two groups can't agree. Sure it may not happen in downtown Topeka, but imagine to geo-edit wars that will happen in the Middle East or other disputed territory.

      It's happened on rare occasions [openstreetmap.org] before.

      But relative to the total amount of mapping going on, the amount of edit-warring is truly insignificant.

  • Any move away from a single minded, publicly traded corporation is a good thing. The worst is yet to come.
  • by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:30PM (#45960395)
    how to get to Sesame Street?
  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:40PM (#45960469)

    "Who defines where a neighborhood is, or whether or not you should go? This issue was brought up by the American Civil Liberties Union when a map provider was providing routing (driving/biking/walking instructions) and used what it determined to be "safe" or "dangerous" neighborhoods as part of its algorithm.'"

    That doesn't come from the map provider though. That data is from someone else, overlaid on ANY map providers map... using OpenStreetMap changes that not a whit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rubycodez (864176)

      using crime stats to overlay and provide safer routing is a great feature. if that happens to show an ethnic neighborhood is like being in a Mad Max movie, so be it. I for one don't feel like I'm contributing to diversity and equal opportunity by letting a minority rob or maim or kill me.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        Crime maps are available for many cities. Unfortunately, there was a lot of noise made a while back about decreased property values and business losses when crime stats were going to be included in driving directions.

        Google Maps and my Garmin can route my around traffic, but they sometimes insist I drive into bad neighborhoods. That's fine in the greater metro area that I live in, since I know how dangerous various areas are. It's not so good when I'm in a strange town.

        I was out of town for work, and

    • by icebike (68054)

      Yup, crime statistics are public information.
      The next thing you know the ACLU or some Cities will be anonymizing crime statistics to protect feelings.
      Responses to 911 calls will be dispatched to random addresses so as not to cast aspersions.

    • by richlv (778496)

      note that it actually talks about "Who defines where a neighborhood is", as in neighbourhood borders

  • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @09:57PM (#45960571)
    I don't see how an open map solves the problem of the annotated street map that is "politically incorrect" but useful. Bike lanes marked which are dangerously exposed and poorly maintained, especially in winter. Streets and neighborhoods even the prostitutes avoid.
    • by fatphil (181876)
      Yeah, and when I'm travelling on business I'd like to know what kind of areas have high levels of street prosititution, so that I can, you know, avoid them.
    • by goldfndr (97724)
      Can said bike lane exposure be verifiably [openstreetmap.org] tagged?
  • I hate to fall back onto freemarkets self regulating in these scenarios, but actually this is exactly what I see happening here and for search in general.

    Maps are only as good as their accuracy and their results. Just look at the backlash against Apple maps, and the number of people who installed the Google Maps app when Apple maps went through it's hilariously bad teething phase.

    People don't use maps that aren't accurate, so if I can't find something on one map, I go to another, and if I find one map to be

  • The race is on (Score:5, Informative)

    by ras (84108) <russell-slashdot@nOSpam.stuart.id.au> on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @10:05PM (#45960629) Homepage

    If Google isn't careful, they will loose this race. Right now it is a bit of a toss up. It wasn't always so. A few years ago OSM was just toy, and the Android Google Maps app did a reasonable job of offline maps and searching the local area. My how things have changed.

    On the one hand Google has been busily removing features from it's Maps app. I think they were trying to make it easier to use. Whether they achieved that is debatable, but what they done is make it less useful. You can't measure distances now, the search for local places of interest is all but useless, there is no way to find out what maps are available for offline use.

    OsmAnd+ on the other hand has acquired one big missing feature - directions, navigation and voice. Amazingly its point of interest search works much better than Google, possibly because the locals enter the point of interest data. And it always had a number of features Google Maps doesn't:

    • Measure distances.
    • Add way points for navigation.
    • Directed Address Entry.
    • Display custom underlay / overlay maps.
    • Record / display GPS tracks.
    • Totally offline operation.
    • If something is wrong or missing, you can add it.

    Normally I would not bet against Google. But collecting traffic and public transport out of the realms of possibility for Osm. If that happens, I can't think why anybody would choose to use Google Maps over OSM.

    • If you want an offline map in the Android maps app, you select an area to download and it does just that. Any area. There are size limits though.

      Measuring distance in a straight line isn't all that important. It's not going to be accurate, especially on a map. The roads aren't always exactly in the correct place, the satellite imaging is also approximate.

      Getting a distance figure from driving directions is more useful, and a feature OSM doesn't have by lack of directions.

      For driving, Google Maps, for trampi

      • Measuring distance in a straight line isn't all that important.

        Really? Then why do you see a measurement scale on nearly EVERY printed map.

        And that's in a realm where you have to further approximate by holding something against the scale, then against the map...

        In a digital map scale is even more vital, because you can zoom in and out and quickly lose track of exactly how far distances are at your current zoom level.

        • by fatphil (181876)
          What he's almost certainly saying is that *if you've got the scale on the map*, then *you don't need an in-map straight-line distance measuring feature*, as you can eyeball it. At no point did he say anything contradicting how vital the scale is; you're setting fire to a straw man there.
      • by doti (966971)

        If you want an offline map in the Android maps app, you select an area to download and it does just that. Any area.

        Not true.
        I can't download offline map for Brazil, it says it's not available in this region.

        Getting a distance figure from driving directions is more useful, and a feature OSM doesn't have by lack of directions.

        Not true.
        Directions in OSM works well, even better than Google, as you can use it offline (there are places with no internet available at all, and no cell phone signal too); and you can add any number of waypoints you want, change their order, etc.

    • checked OSM for my area. 4 big problems and 2 minor ones: 1. road relocation in 1999 with OSM being one km off. 2. neighborhood located in a lake. actual is 220 meters west. 3. no new road updated since 1999. 4. street names and street signs don't match. (1) municipal boundaries unreliable. (2) rivers and waterways length inaccurate.
    • Sadly, I think it's more likely that apple maps will somehow win by providing even fewer features.
    • has been busily removing features from it's Maps app

      Yeah, well they've added G+ to it.

    • by Ash Vince (602485) *

      If Google isn't careful, they will loose this race.

      Lol, not likely.

      OSM is currently down (I guess due to some people actually trying to use it for a change). Most normal people don't care about open, they care about something that works reliably.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Google Maps is horribly broken at the moment. Because they took away the zoom buttons you can't zoom without turning off position tracking. If you turn position tracking back on it resets the zoom level. They also removed the "navigate without destination" feature where you could just drive and your position would stick to the road, showing the way ahead with traffic and other layers. Now your position is in the middle of the map and it rotates around randomly as you move.

      They broke Maps 7 really, really ba

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      If Google isn't careful, they will loose this race. Right now it is a bit of a toss up. It wasn't always so. A few years ago OSM was just toy, and the Android Google Maps app did a reasonable job of offline maps and searching the local area. My how things have changed.

      They already play fast and loose with the maps, what else is new? Or do you mean Google will lose?

      But Google maps has basically been coasting for a long time now. Google maps still doesn't show my old house, 5 years after I moved into it and 2

  • Bugger that, can I pay Google to have more people routed past my billboards?

  • (This is a cycling computer.)

    Good: It showed all the street detail, *plus* it showed the offroad trails not shown by the Garmin maps.

    Bad: The navigation functionality no longer worked.

  • I have found that Navteq -> Nokia -> Here have the best maps AND the best Link / Node sources.

    Google just plain sucks because you have to feed from their API but they do have damn accurate maps, as to their routing engine well...

    OSM is pretty good but the level of cruft is quite high and takes a LOT of work to make it usable so...

  • The ACLU people should just use Garmin. I was driving with my SiL and her family a couple years back because they were unfamiliar with the area and she wanted to follow the Garmin. Its directions were becoming exceedingly sketchy, but whatever, until it wanted her to turn down a dark alley in a seedy part of a city with one of the worst crime rates on the East Coast.

    At that point I said, "hell no, go straight, take the first left, a quick right, the next left, and take the entrance ramp to the highway."

  • by dwater (72834) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @12:53AM (#45961789)

    I always found Nokia maps to be better than Google maps on my phone, but I haven't used it since Nokia switch to Microsoft only.
    I'm looking forward to trying 'here maps', which is what came out of it in the shake, once it is available for other platforms : http://here.com/ [here.com]

    However, I guess it has similar issues to Google in this context.

  • I have a lot of friends who proudly contribute to google maps. Whenever I try push them towards OSM, the response is. Its not good enough. roads are missing. POIs are less.
    Its like a big whoosh.
    OSM is user generated. More users will mean better maps. Looks at Europe. We did a trip in norway, and we could navigate perfectly just with OSM. Why? Because of local participation.
    Secondly, we have lost a lot of battles. Today facebook decides what content to show. Want your status update to be seen? Well pay money

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      I have a lot of friends who proudly contribute to google maps. Whenever I try push them towards OSM, the response is. Its not good enough. roads are missing. POIs are less. Its like a big whoosh.
      OSM is user generated. More users will mean better maps. Looks at Europe. We did a trip in norway, and we could navigate perfectly just with OSM. Why? Because of local participation.

      That's because Americans are stupid and are big fans of giant corporations. It's like sports teams to them; they pick a few big corpor

  • When Maps is included in Android, it's hard to compete with it.

    Or will government require another "ballot screen" for it?

  • I have seen so many projects that started as "community data gathering" projects and then went commercial and stopped providing free access when some business wanted to buy them.

    So just how "Open" is "OpenStreetMap"?

    Can I download the data and set up my own server in case OpenStreetmap closes it's free access?

    • The database is under a Free license, there are minutely dumps of the database, all the code is FLOSS, and there are instructions on how to set it up.

      That, and there's a Foundation behind it and the project has been around nearly a decade.

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