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Open-Source Mapping

USGIF Young Professionals Group Hosts OpenStreetMap Tutorial

By Lindsay Tilton • 2013 issue 2

edit world2
USGIF’s Young Professionals Group (YPG) organized a GeoNova MeetUp event at the Foundation’s headquarters in Herndon, Va., on March 14, 2013, to learn about OpenStreetMap (OSM). OSM is a global volunteer project that creates a free, open-source map of the world.

Scott Clark, director of Geospatial Programs for LMN Solutions, and Elizabeth Lyon, a geographer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a USGIF board member and co-chair of the YPG Working Group, led more than 20 attendees in learning how to use the free mapping platform through a step-by-step tutorial. Participants enjoyed refreshments, pizza, and dessert, and then went to work on their laptops in USGIF’s reconfigurable conference room, which had been set up for stadium-style classroom seating.

"The goal of the presentation is to give people exposure to what OSM is and guide them by giving them the tools and resources to edit the maps themselves,” said Clark. "We’re giving YPG members a frame of reference and an opportunity to find the resources.”

The user-friendly OSM tools allow individuals to edit virtually anything and everything. The platform originated in the U.K. in 2004 as a way of simply mapping the country. However, that notion changed years later when the brand started providing free geospatial data for anyone to use.

Use of OSM peaked in 2010 after the Haiti earthquake when thousands of volunteers were editing the map minutes after the earthquake struck. Users were able to edit building and road devastation, and even add refugee camps.

Today, users turn to the tool to update maps of their community or neighborhood. OSM has also developed a smartphone app called Pushpin OSM, which allows users to edit and contribute data on the go.

YPG member Lindy Bersack of Blue Canopy Group said, "I think OSM is very interesting and informative. I learned how to create a footpath in my neighborhood where I walk my dog all the time.”

By creating a free account, users can tag points of interest, such as buildings, roads, road signs, and man-made and natural-made areas, anywhere in the world. Not only can users update the map by labeling attractions, but they can also easily find destinations on the map. After an OSM user edits a point on the map, the map is updated within minutes for the entire OSM community to view.

Like many of the attendees, it was U.S. Geological Survey employee Steven Hak’s first time using the tool.

"I thought OSM was really neat to learn about, especially how it was used as an emergency response in Haiti,” said Hak. "Now that I’ve learned OSM, I will definitely use it more often and check out its Twitter account for other OSM events going on in the D.C. area.”

Although there are maps available online, such as those from Google and Yahoo, legal and technical restrictions limit users from having the freedom to edit points of interest. OSM, which uses satellite images from Microsoft’s Bing search engine, allows people to edit maps in a creative and productive way.