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In just under a week, OSM PLUS will be held at the San Francisco Marriott Union Square. We have over 60 people attending and a very strong set of talks and sponsors.

The support for the event has been overwhelming since I announced the idea at last years State of the Map in Portland. We’ve tried repeatedly to bring business to SotM and it’s not really worked, in my opinion. Trying to find the right overlap between some extreme ideologies on one side and practicalities on the other didn’t leave a whole lot of room for consensus.

Trying something new like this, to bring explicitly for-profit organizations together, has worked out really well so far and I can’t wait for the day itself.

OSM Professional Large User Summit


Today, we’re launching the OSM PLUS conference.

At SOTM US last year I threw out the idea of having a commercial-only conference  for OSM. SOTM in general has had a mixed relationship with commercial entities, dating back to the first “business day” we ran at SOTM (if I remember… Amsterdam). Many in the community view companies as somewhere in the range of biased to evil. This isn’t a view that I share. Either way, creating a conference for specifically those entities seems like a good thing to try.

The response I received was very positive. There appears to be a need for large users of OSM data to get together. They share various concerns and have similar goals. Many large users have a piece of the puzzle to help OSM (and themselves) succeed but not the whole set. By getting various entities together, one of my hopes is we can build something larger than the sum of the parts.

It should be a lot of fun, here’s the announcement;

The OpenStreetMap Professional Large Users Summit is going to be held just after SOTM US, on June 10th in San Francisco at the Marriott Union Square. You can register here. Be quick, space is limited.

OSM PLUS is new and focused on professional users of OSM data and toolchains commercially, academically, in government and elsewhere. It is a paid-for event and we expect it to be more of a conversation than a traditional presentation. Many professional users have similar concerns and expectations for OSM. We want to explore these in an environment focused on coming up with solutions.

Today, OSM is a volunteer-only organization. This focus doesn’t always satisfy the needs of many users. We want to have an open conversation about ways to make OSM better. Because of that, the program will be influenced by those who attend.

PS you can use the code “GPS” to get 20% off the ticket price if you register soon.


National Geospatial Advisory Committee

US Department of the Interior

US Department of the Interior

From this release:

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has appointed 13 professionals to serve as members of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC), which provides recommendations on federal geospatial policy and management issues and advice on development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).

Amongst them, I’m honored to say, is me.

OpenStreetMap: Is Cartographic Innovation Possible?

The primary way many people experience OSM is through the main website at

Consider what you might have seen, in the map, in 2006. Basically it would be mostly blank with map data here and there where it was available. Incredibly, in the mean time, we’ve built something that looks great today.

But that’s a problem. It looks great.

It’s not great. It’s missing all kinds of address and turn restriction data. Data that is vital to making OSM a true digital map.

It used to be that you saw the worst view of the map, now you see the best view of it. It looks complete. It isn’t!

Here’s what I say we should do: show the worst possible view of the map possible and let others show the best view. When there were big empty spaces in the past people would feel compelled to complete the map. You could see there were blank areas and go fix them.

Now there isn’t that same compulsion. I say bring it back.


By making the map look blank again. Don’t show map data that is fresh. Don’t show roads with no addressing data associated. Don’t show unedited TIGER data.

In reverse order.

TIGER data which has not been edited will have dave_hansen or something as the username. So it’s super easy to filter it. Don’t show that map data at all in our front page rendered map. Or, if you want to, show it in bright angry orange. Call attention to it, or remove it. Create a big incentive for people to edit it. If it doesn’t need editing (and let’s be honest, that’s rare in TIGER data) then we can use the tiger:checked key (or whatever it is) to mark that it is ok.

Address data. If roads have no address data don’t show them. Instantly large chunks of the entire world will go blank. Good! We need a reason for people to collect the data. Or, if you like, show those roads in bright purple. If a road has no addresses on it, mark it as addressing:none. Let the renderer figure out to show roads which have no addressing. Will people add one address point and suddenly the road is visible? Yes! But that’s a good thing. Now up the limit to needing more than one point. And so on. Until it’s marked as ‘complete’.

If data is version 1, that is if it’s been entered by one person, and it’s been sitting on the map for a year then don’t show it. Or show it in bright orange. Force people to go check old v 1.0 data and as above, check that it’s correct in order for it to be rendered.

Instantly you’d have a global map of orange or missing data and thousands of people would plunge in to fixing it all.

Will any of this happen?


Or, at least, I doubt it.

With everyone in charge at OSM nobody is. Innovation, bold innovation, doesn’t happen by committee. Who would give permission for such a bold change in cartography? Who would order it done?

Inherently there would be a gigantic discussion on the mailing lists about the pros and cons by people with nothing better to do. Nobody would feel the authority to make such a striking change, which is (one of the reasons) why we end up with effectively no change in OSM’s user experience. To be clear, I give you permission.

And yes, anyone could go make a map style like this. The point is to make it the default on the main OSM site. You could turn it off if you wanted. There could be a banner saying “Hey, this is a view of our map with all the bugs exposed, here’s how you can help” to manage expectations.

We desperately need those with the keys to the castle to feel both the ability but also the permission to innovate in new and unexpected ways like this to force the project forward.

OpenStreetMap: Addressable?

How on Earth are we going to add addressing in to OpenStreetMap?

Today OSM is a great display map. It’s routable too if you squint. But it’s essentially not geocodable, you can’t turn an address in to a location.

If we fix that then there’s really not a whole lot of point to ever using a proprietary map ever again.

Here in the United States there are essentially two readily available sources. TIGER data has address ranges between intersections and counties (all 3,000 odd of them) have parcel data.

TIGER is public domain but it’s kind of crappy. There is a problem importing it because automatically taking TIGER ranges and putting them in our map is non-trivial. In lots of places new roads have been added, old ones deleted and so on. So, getting an address range in TIGER and then figuring out where to put it in OSM isn’t always easy.

Parcel data is much better but it’s all over the place. There are companies which will aggregate it together for you and sell it to you, but that’s millions of dollars of cost. And, they have no incentive to make it all available.

And it’s even worse in Europe. And even more worserer in Japan where addresses are assigned according to the age of the house and the block they are on, which may as well be random().

So what the hell are we going to do?

I say import the TIGER ranges and slap them on top of the map. They won’t impact the rendering. It will be kind of painful to go and fix all those ranges but it’s much better than what we have today (which is nothing).

All the other solutions are basically horrible. We could crowd-source it but that might take 100 years. We could try and raise the money to purchase the data. We could go visit all 3,000 counties. None of these is palatable.

So, let’s just import what we have available and make the most of it. It worked for the road network, it can work for addressing.

OpenStreetMap: Indispensable People?

Should anyone in OpenStreetMap be indispensable?

I think firmly not. There are whole graveyards full of indispensable people.

A project as broad and important as OpenStreetMap needs the systems in place to withstand the loss of anyone. Should someone important get run over by a bus or simply decide to move on, as many have, the project should at most be slowed a little.

Today that isn’t the case. We have points of control which are fully owned by single individuals. The people around them readily acknowledge that they don’t have a clue what we would do if they quit.

I say that’s terrible. I say they should quit and we should find out what we have to do. By keeping the de-facto in place all we are doing is kicking the problem down the road, for they have to leave at some point in the future. Let’s find out how we distribute the workload now while we only have 900,000 registered accounts instead of 9 million.

Those people should, if anything, build that process themselves. Where that doesn’t happen we should gently ask them to work elsewhere in the project on positive things. For all of the amazing work they’ve done in the past, for all the time they put in, for all of the sheer good they have absolutely contributed to the project, there should not be anyone who’s indispensable.

Article about OSM and SotM

I’ve been meaning to post a link over to this article by Carl Franzen for a little while. It neatly summarizes the US State of the Map conference and where OpenStreetMap is today.

The nice thing is that I can’t find any mistakes in Carl’s article. It’s literally the first piece of fact-checked deep journalism on OSM I’ve ever seen. Because of that, it’s worth a read.

OpenStreetMapper Murdered

Ulf's killer?

Tragically one of OpenStreetMappers finest contributors is no longer with us:

“We are trying to find the people who killed our relative, Ulf Möller. On the evening of the 9th of January 2012, Ulf fell victim to a brutal robbery-murder in Eastern Germany. The people who attacked him apparently were from Eastern Europe, possibly from Poland or Lithuania. When they used Ulf’s bank cards to withdraw money, surveillance cameras captured clear pictures of one of them.” link to site about our loss.

What can you do?

I’m a New Radical

Holding some old maps

The Observer, a British Sunday newspaper and sister to The Guardian, has a very kind article about me and the ubiquitous OpenStreetMap today.

The photo shoot was the most fun. I’ve worked with Kaela at the excellent Serendipity before. On fairly short notice we found a second hand book store in Duval and bought up a dozen or so old paper maps for something like a dime each. Then we had some fun taking pictures outside in the rain and ruining each map before going inside and taking the picture you see.

My doctor’s wife goaded me to agree with her recently that paper maps from the ’60s are not worth a whole lot to kids doing school projects. Her better half had apparently donated several in such a cause.

It made me think about how people of my generation began to use scientific calculators extensively at school and could skip the fundamental knowledge of solving quadratic equations. Just as a generation earlier multiplying large numbers was expedited by simpler hand-held calculators. Later on, I was lucky enough to work at Wolfram Research as an intern before university and had ready access to Mathematica. That’s like giving toddlers access to thermonuclear weapons. Perhaps a relevant analogy would be giving 10 year-old primary school students in England access to various computational equipment from Bletchley Park in 1943.

Presumably computational algebra systems will trickle down to high school and then elementary school students with time just as the other technologies did.

Thus too with maps?

It’s already happened, admittedly to the ready dismay of cartographers everywhere. This makes me think of, randomly, the market share over time of mobile phone operating systems:

The graph works well as an analogy for any technical displacement over time. I’d be curious to see one for the use of various types of maps over time. Broadly paper was dominant for about 2,000 years and then the PND took, at a guess, half the market share within a decade or two. Shortly after that the internet arrived and with it MapQuest and MultiMap. In the blink of an eye Google took the eyeballs – but not the profit – from them.

With a bit of luck perhaps the next phase will be dominated by a more enlightened and open approach.

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