How To Use Crowdsourced Steet Map Service OpenStreetMap

OpenStreet Map is an online collaborative project whose purpose is to create a free editable map of the world. OSM utilises contributors’ local knowledge with participants using GPS devices, aerial imagery, and low-tech maps to ensure that maps are accurately and regularly updated. Undoubtedly, the project is highly community driven, users range from novice mappers to GIS professionals. In contrast to proprietary maps, such as GoogleMaps, which is a closed system; OSM is open data, which means you are “free to use it for any purpose as long as you credit OpenStreetMap and its contributors” (OSM About). OSM is supported by the non-profit OpenStreetMap Foundation. The Foundation provides support for the OSM project and is dedicated “to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data and to providing geospatial data for anyone to use and share” (FAQ OSMF).

The OSM Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), ensures there is no copyright, license, usage or fees, therefore, data may be utilised and shared by, educational institutions, communities, used personally or even commercially. Undoubtedly, OSM is an excellent example of crowdsourced spatial participation, which provides freely available geographic data. The OSM geodata may be obtained from:

For an insight into the evolution of OpenStreetMap, please view the below video, which is a visualisation of the contributions made to maps over the last ten years:

Contributing to the project is as easy as setting up an account. Users then contribute to OSM by making alterations or additions to map data. This process may be carried out through the addition of roads, landmarks and through providing descriptive information to features. Users may contribute to a map through a range of editors, the most popular of which are: iD; written in HTML5 and Javascript, it is the default editor and the easiest option for beginners, Potlatch 2;  which is an intermediate level, older Flash-based editor and the powerful JOSM which is a cross-platform standalone desktop application which is more suitable for advanced contributors. However, as OSM is an open platform with an editing API there is a vast array of editors to choose from. For in-depth information regarding the range of editors available, please see the OSM editor’s page, available below:

OpenStreetMap Editors 

The first step to contributing to OSM is to visit the OpenStreetMap website and creating a user account. The website features a user-friendly interface. Once a user is registered and signed-in to the site, the process of editing a map, is a simple as clicking the edit button on the top left of the screen.

Users may search for any area of interest or relevance by inputting text into the featured search box. For new users, a visit to the User’s Guide is highly recommendable. The User’s Guide provides information on the Feature’s Panel and its associated tools, such as Points, Lines, Area, Undo, Redo and Save. The site also features a map panel, which allows the editor to zoom in and out, go to a location, configure background layers and open a help menu.

I have elected to focus on a beautiful location near to my old home place which is Holycross, Co. Tipperary. Upon analysis of the map of Holycross, I have found the map to be essentially complete. The River Suir which runs through the heart of the village is correctly inserted, as are all major roads. The main attraction in the village, Holycross Abbey, has also been added, in addition to its accompanying car park.

Upon close examination of the map, however, no services, businesses, and amenities have been added to a map. Although Holycross is a small village, this is surprising as the Abbey attracts tourists throughout the year. As a result of this, I have included a range of services and businesses which are located in the vicinity. Below is a list of contributions I was able to add to the map as a complete novice:

  • Add mass times to information about Holycross Abbey.
  • Mark a local bakery business, a cafe, a gym, pubs and restaurants, and include relevant information about the businesses, such as contact numbers, opening times and websites.
  • Mark the local An Post and provide contact information.
  • Add the Sue Ryder Foundation, which is housing for the elderly to the map, including relevant information, such as, website, address and contact information.
  • Add the former Holycross Protestant Church to the map.
  • Add a Primary School building to the map.
  • Add local Graveyard to map.
  • Map area surrounding the Abbey as church grounds where the area was not a graveyard.

An aspect of the editing I found slightly challenging was the aerial view of the map, particularly, where large clusters of building were concerned. In order to distinguish correctly between buildings, it was often necessary to zoom in on the area, however, zooming in, to a close proximity often meant the map became very pixelated and therefore very difficult to view. However, the Background may be changed from the default Bing Aerial Imagery. Clicking on the background button in the map panel allows editors to choose from a range of options and views, for example, Mapbox Satellite. Overall, the iD editor is extremely user-friendly and allows contributors with no prior experience of mapping to accurately and efficiently contribute to their community.

Overall, partaking in crowdsourced spatial participation proved a very enjoyable and highly recommendable experience.  Learning the basics of mapping is useful for a range of research disciplines. As previously mentioned, digital publishing and online authoring is my current area of interest. OpenStreetMap could effectively be used by online authors in order to attract readers to their works. For example, an author could incorporate an online map into their website, which could be linked to social media, which would allow readers to see locations for their story; allowing readers a more interactive visual engagement with literary works. My contribution to the village of Holycross, which highlights local services and amenities, could potentially attract more tourists. Furthermore, the geographical data may be used for navigation; maps may be synced with GPS devices (data can be downloaded to SD cards), maps may be viewed on smartphones or maps may be printed for later use. Contributing to OpenStreetMap even in small ways, such as marking a local school, is beneficial to your community. Moreover, OSM’s large community of contributors ensures that maps evolve in real time and geographical data is continually updated. Involvement with OSM provides a means for contributors to share local knowledge, at both a national and international level, on a platform that is free, open, sustainable and easily disseminated.

Author: Aisling Burke