Recent updates to Esri’s ArcGIS Editor for OpenStreetMap (OSM) add-on and a new OSM edit option in GitHub highlight the continuing popularity of OSM as one of the go-to base layers for many online mapping applications. In April this year, Esri announced the release of ArcGIS Editor for OSM 10.3x, providing an updated free and open source desktop toolset to download, edit and publish updates to OSM.
Two years ago we wrote about the then new option to upload and visualise geoJSON format spatial data in GitHub against a base map provided by OSM. GitHub have now extended the options for viewing and collaborating on spatial data sets to include the base map itself, with a new option to improve the underlying map for registered GitHub and OSM users.
Registered users can either edit the base map themselves or for those who haven’t registered with OSM, leave a note for another editor to review and resolve. Use of the OSM data remains subject to the terms and conditions of the Open Data Common Open Data Licence.
Just over a year ago we wrote about an OpenStreetMap project to support humanitarian aid with open UAV imagery following the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in Nov 2013. Although there were some issues in coordinating the data collection, the benefits of having access to a managed resource of openly accessible aerial imagery were obvious.
One year on and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team (HOT) have established the OpenAerialMap (OAM) project, to host and share aerial imagery from a variety of sources including ‘traditional and nano satellites, manned and unmanned aircraft, mapping drones, balloons and kites‘. The project will not only provide access to the imagery but it will also make the management software available to download, to help support local access to the imagery.
Although the project is still in the early stages, one of the first objectives is to establish an imagery catalog to facilitate searches and display. One of the major problems in the Philippines was identifying which individual or agency collected the imagery the humanitarian relief teams needed access to. The next priority will be to create the map engine, or the OAM server, to make the imagery available as a web service.
Reported in the Guardian newspaper today are plans to map the world’s forgotten places. As the report discusses a surprisingly large number of the world’s cities in some of the poorest countries are unmapped. While local agencies can muddle along using photocopies or out of date and low resolution aerial images for day to day activities, the problems associated with the lack of accurate and current maps are exacerbated during times of conflict or natural disaster. Without access to reliable digital maps, local emergency response teams and humanitarian agencies often lack the necessary spatial data, such as accurate road network information, that they rely on to provide aid and help reconstruct local communities.
One solution to the problem is the soon to be launched Missing Maps Project, a collaborative project involving among others Médecins Sans Frontières, the American and British Red Cross, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. The plan is quite simple – create digital maps for every settlement on Earth as part of what is described as ‘ nothing less than a human genome project for the world’s cities‘. Building on the volunteer crowd sourcing data capture techniques developed by OpenStreetMap, the project will make satellite imagery available via the OpenStreetMap mapping interface.
Volunteers can then log in from anywhere in the world and start digitising road and river networks, building outlines and other infrastructure, in effect creating basic but current digital maps of the cities. Local volunteers then add street and building names and the completed maps are posted back to the Missing Maps head office in London. With end-to-end crowd sourcing and the probably largest team of volunteer mappers ever mobilised, the project aims to map the world’s poorest urban areas within two years and provide a global open access and open source dataset to support local communities.
A central theme in the GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is data licensing; the emergence of licensing frameworks for spatial data, the types of licenses that are available for data producers and users, and what is means to place data in the public domain. Despite much attention there is as yet no universally accepted definition of the term ‘public domain’. A number of organisations have posted their own interpretations, including:
US Copyright Office: The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the ‘public domain’ if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner.
UK’s Intellectual Property Office: The body of works not or no longer protected by Intellectual Property rights which are available for the public to use without seeking permission or paying royalties.
Creative Commons: When a work is in the public domain, it is free for use by anyone for any purpose without restriction under copyright law. Public domain is the purest form of open/free, since no one owns or controls the material in any way.
Common to all these definitions are the freedom from royalty payments and the absence of intellectual property rights and copyright restrictions on the use and reuse of the data. During the recent State of the Map US conference in Washington DC, some of the lingering issues regarding data licensing for spatial data were raised again. In his presentation on OpenStreetMap (OSM) Alex Barth of Mapbox discussed some of the current licensing challenges facing the current and future use of OSM data.
OSM data is open data licensed under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), and the cartography in the map tiles and the documentation are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license (CC BY-SA). Common to both licensing frameworks is the share-alike clause that means any OSM data that is updated and improved, or third party data remixed with OSM data, must be shared under the same licensing terms.
For some organisations integrating OSM data with their own private data, or organisations who are mandated to make their data available in the public domain (for example the US Geological Survey), wider use of this data resource is not an option and the benefits of crowd-sourced, free and open datasets like OSM will never be fully realised. For many observers, the only sensible long-term option is dropping the share-alike clause from the OSM licensing arrangements. For others, designation as a public domain data set is the solution. It remains to be seen which licensing path the OpenStreetMap community will choose.
A couple of interesting articles have appeared recently discussing the emergence of Google Maps, the changing fortunes of some other leading mapping companies and an argument against the dominance of Google products in favour of OpenStreetMap. In his article Google’s Road to Global Domination Adam Fisher charts the rise of the Google Maps phenomenon, the visionary aspirations to chart streets in San Francisco that led to the development of Street View and the development of technologies, such as the self-driving car, that will incorporate the accumulated map data and may one day obviate the requirement for individuals to interpret a map for themselves.
Taking a stand against a mapping monopoly, Serge Wroclawski’s post Why the World Needs OpenStreetMap, urges readers to rethink their habitual Google Maps usage in favour of the ‘neutral and transparent‘ OpenStreetMap. Wroclawski argues that no one company should have sole responsibility for interpreting place, nor the information associated with that place, (we wrote on a similar theme in Truth in Maps about the potential for bias in mapping) and that a map product based on the combined efforts of a global network of contributors, which is free to download and can be used without trading personal location information, is the better option for society. However, in his closing comment Fisher quotes O’Reilly – ‘the guy who has the most data, wins‘. Will OpenStreetMap be able to compete against the power of Google when it comes to data collection?
Whatever the arguments for or against a certain mapping product, perhaps the most important consideration is choice. As long as users continue to have a choice of map products and are aware of the implications, restrictions and limitations of the products they use, then there should be room for both approaches to the provision of map services.
Although many of the .geojson files currently hosted seem largely experimental, GitHub could develop into a useful spatial data resource and one to remember when searching online for open data.