46 votes

I dare you to try OpenStreetMap!

I dare you to try OpenStreetMap but also (probably most importantly) contribute!

But first, some introduction,

What even is OpenStreetMap?

Okay well, OpenStreetMap is a database, licensed under ODBL, to create maps basically.

It's kind of like Wikipedia with how the data is crowdsourced from well, anyone. The data can then be used for well, basically anything.

Research? Sure.
Wanna make your own map? Sure.
Wanna just use it for navigation without relying on anyone else? Hell yeah you can.

Basically anything you want as long as you share people's work under ODBL and well, attribute them of course.

How do I use it? Well, for navigation, on desktop :
  • Gnome Maps
  • GraphHopper
  • Qwant Maps

On mobile :

  • OSMand
  • Maps.me
  • Maps (on F-droid)
  • Navmii

You can also find other choices on the OSM wiki

Okay so now that you know how to use it for yourself, let's get contributing!

For this, since it's most likely going to be new users editing, we will use iD, it's available right under the edit button on OpenStreetMap's website!

Well, I would explain how to use it and all but thankfully, since iD is pretty userfriendly, there's a walkthrough to get you started.

Please DO NOT copy data from Google Maps or other services, it would violate their licenses. Only add information you personally know from local knowledge or aerial footage which you can use, iD thankfully lets us use most of the available ones which we have the rights to use for OSM.

If you need any kind of help,
the wiki is there which has tons of information but which also has links to mailing lists, IRC, Discord and other services. Oh and of course, feel free to comment below too.

If you're already using OSM or contributing, feel free to talk about your experience below too!

Happy Mapping!

41 comments

  1. [9]
    9000
    Link
    Especially if we're talking about contributing to OpenStreetMap, you should look into StreetComplete as an easy way to contribute! It's an Android app, and while it doesn't enable you to add new...

    Especially if we're talking about contributing to OpenStreetMap, you should look into StreetComplete as an easy way to contribute! It's an Android app, and while it doesn't enable you to add new points of interest (like buildings or roads or anything), it asks you for all sorts of missing metadata for existing POI near you. Super easy interface, and a very low-friction way to contribute!

    I've also heard that OsmGo! is useful if you want a step up from that to add new POI, but still want a convenient user interface, but I haven't personally tried it yet. It is also Android only.

    And, of course, OsmAnd is great for navigation and can also edit the map! The UI is a little cluttered, but it's very powerful. This one is also available for iOS.

    All the above are FLOSS, some are available on F-Droid, all on Google Play (though, some may require a fee).

    12 votes
    1. kfwyre
      Link Parent
      Checking back in to let you know that I've been using StreetComplete, and I love it! It's such a simple and easy way to contribute. I've been varying the routes on which I take my dog on walks in...

      Checking back in to let you know that I've been using StreetComplete, and I love it! It's such a simple and easy way to contribute. I've been varying the routes on which I take my dog on walks in order to take care of quests, which has been great for him as well since he enjoys getting to explore new paths. I also open the app up whenever I go someplace new, and it seems like there's always something in the area I can fill in.

      6 votes
    2. [6]
      stickman
      Link Parent
      Do you know of any app to contribute for roads, since I use the car a lot and I could map some streets in my country.

      Do you know of any app to contribute for roads, since I use the car a lot and I could map some streets in my country.

      1. [4]
        heady
        Link Parent
        OsmAnd has a plugin you can download from within the app to contribute. In most countries the roads are already present from government imports and the like but sometimes have inaccuracies or are...

        OsmAnd has a plugin you can download from within the app to contribute.

        In most countries the roads are already present from government imports and the like but sometimes have inaccuracies or are out of date for varying reasons.

        The main ways to map a road are to drive down it while recording a gpx trace (can do this in osmand) and uploading that to openstreetmap so that it can be overlaid the map in the id editor on the main website (or use a 3rd party tool like josm) and modified respectively.

        You can also just add in survey notes either for your self or for "arm chair" mappers to fix up later.

        5 votes
        1. [3]
          lionirdeadman
          Link Parent
          The OSMAnd editing plugin only does points of interest from my knowledge.

          The OSMAnd editing plugin only does points of interest from my knowledge.

          1. [2]
            heady
            Link Parent
            It also records and uploads gpx tracks. You could use Vespucci to do more detailed editing on a phone but I find it a lot easier to use my phone simply as a surveying tool to assist making more...

            It also records and uploads gpx tracks. You could use Vespucci to do more detailed editing on a phone but I find it a lot easier to use my phone simply as a surveying tool to assist making more significant edits on PC.

            1 vote
            1. lionirdeadman
              Link Parent
              That's not part of the plugin but yes, OSMAnd can do that. I personally do similar only using my phone as a surveying tool until I can go back to glorious iD.

              That's not part of the plugin but yes, OSMAnd can do that. I personally do similar only using my phone as a surveying tool until I can go back to glorious iD.

      2. lionirdeadman
        Link Parent
        Um I guess you could try Vespucci, it's the only android application which I know could do this but it's not exactly user-friendly. I would really recommend using iD for that.

        Um I guess you could try Vespucci, it's the only android application which I know could do this but it's not exactly user-friendly. I would really recommend using iD for that.

        2 votes
    3. lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      StreetComplete is great but when you're trying to create or when the area is under rapid development, the tiles tend to be very outdated which is problematic in some cases from my personal experience.

      StreetComplete is great but when you're trying to create or when the area is under rapid development, the tiles tend to be very outdated which is problematic in some cases from my personal experience.

  2. [9]
    Keegan
    Link
    Just made an account, downloaded Maps from F-Droid, and will definitely give it a try for navigating tomorrow. Looking around at a few popular areas in my town, it looks like there are very...

    Just made an account, downloaded Maps from F-Droid, and will definitely give it a try for navigating tomorrow. Looking around at a few popular areas in my town, it looks like there are very detailed park, parking area, etc outlines.

    I've already spent a few hours adding more businesses, moving roads that are very out of position, and fixing boundaries for areas like lakes and parking lots.

    10 votes
    1. [8]
      lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      Please be wary when editing roads and such that aerial imagery may be quited dated or misplaced.

      Please be wary when editing roads and such that aerial imagery may be quited dated or misplaced.

      1 vote
      1. [7]
        Keegan
        Link Parent
        What do you mean by misplaced?

        What do you mean by misplaced?

        2 votes
        1. [6]
          lionirdeadman
          Link Parent
          I mean offset so everything in view could look slightly off and of course not all aerial footage is perpendicular to ground so it could also look offset because of the angle the aerial footage was...

          I mean offset so everything in view could look slightly off and of course not all aerial footage is perpendicular to ground so it could also look offset because of the angle the aerial footage was taken in.

          3 votes
          1. [5]
            Keegan
            Link Parent
            Oh. So how do people map the roads accurately then?

            Oh. So how do people map the roads accurately then?

            4 votes
            1. [4]
              hungariantoast
              Link Parent
              TL;DR: Aerial imagery can be misaligned which means any features mapped using that imagery can be out of place. To avoid this, you want to download/view GPX tracks recorded by others, overlay them...

              TL;DR: Aerial imagery can be misaligned which means any features mapped using that imagery can be out of place. To avoid this, you want to download/view GPX tracks recorded by others, overlay them on top of your aerial imagery, then "slide" or "offset" your aerial imagery so that its positioning lines up with the GPX tracks.

              On the flip side, if other mappers have aligned their imagery and then started mapping, but you haven't aligned your imagery yet, then things might look off to you, but actually be correct.

              Confused? Don't worry. It might not even be something you need to worry about when mapping your area. If you do need to worry about it though, it's very easy to perform these corrections in iD or JOSM.


              First, let me say that if you're mapping a feature on OSM that doesn't exist yet, like a road that hasn't been mapped, it's perfectly fine to just trace out and map that road without worrying about imagery alignment, offsets, etc, so long as what you are adding isn't wildly incorrect. Getting the road on the map in its approximate location is more important than getting it perfect.

              That being said, imagery offset is an important thing to understand and be familiar with when mapping in areas with lots of detail, precision, and features. It's especially important when contributing to the map for disaster relief or working with other mappers.

              Look at this image. Do you notice how the roads and other features are weirdly offset from where they should be? The features that have been mapped don't align with the imagery. Weird, right?

              This is what happens when imagery is out of line. In that image, the map features have been placed on the map in the correct positions, but the imagery itself doesn't line up like it should.

              Look here on the map. Do you see how all those colorful lines match up with the roads on the map? That's how we know those roads have been mapped properly, because they align with the GPX tracks.


              Right, so hopefully now you understand how aerial imagery can "lie" to you by being slightly misaligned. Thankfully, the OpenStreetMap Wiki has pretty detailed instructions on how to correct imagery offsets:

              You might also be interested in reading these pages:


              Imagery offset throws a lot of people off the first time they learn about it, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask me. And, to be honest, if you're pretty much the only mapper in your area and the imagery sets you use are only slightly off, like by one meter or something silly, then adjusting your offset isn't that big of a deal.

              8 votes
              1. [3]
                Keegan
                Link Parent
                Wow thanks for the explanation. So basically the GPS trace overlay allows you to be sure the road line is where it is supposed to be? I read the bit about recording GPS tracks, and it seems like...

                Wow thanks for the explanation. So basically the GPS trace overlay allows you to be sure the road line is where it is supposed to be?

                I read the bit about recording GPS tracks, and it seems like something that can be done passively by just driving around with it on. My cell phone's GPS is not that accurate and sometimes won't even connect, so what would you recommend for a good hand-held receiver that isn't too complicated to use?


                The changes I made to roads were only about 20% of what I did, so it shouldn't be too much for me to go back and try to fix.

                Also, I think they should add something to the iD tutorial about offsets in order to prevent stuff like this.

                3 votes
                1. [2]
                  hungariantoast
                  Link Parent
                  Yep, that's exactly it. Unfortunately, I have no idea. I've always just used my phone (Nexus 5X) with an app. I wouldn't know where to begin as far as giving recommendations.

                  So basically the GPS trace overlay allows you to be sure the road line is where it is supposed to be?

                  Yep, that's exactly it.

                  what would you recommend for a good hand-held receiver that isn't too complicated to use?

                  Unfortunately, I have no idea. I've always just used my phone (Nexus 5X) with an app. I wouldn't know where to begin as far as giving recommendations.

                  3 votes
                  1. Keegan
                    Link Parent
                    Alright. I suppose I could try to find a forum somewhere or just use "Amazon's Choice".

                    Alright. I suppose I could try to find a forum somewhere or just use "Amazon's Choice".

                    2 votes
  3. [3]
    ibis
    Link
    I love OSM, I've used the data before for uni and work, and their basemaps via mapbox. I haven't contributed as much as I would like to, I keep meaning to do more. Hopefully when I'm finished this...

    I love OSM, I've used the data before for uni and work, and their basemaps via mapbox.

    I haven't contributed as much as I would like to, I keep meaning to do more. Hopefully when I'm finished this course I'll have more spare time to give back.

    8 votes
    1. [2]
      lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      I'm curious, what did you do with the data?

      I'm curious, what did you do with the data?

      2 votes
      1. ibis
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        At uni I had a bunch of points, and used open street map to label them with the nearest tourist spot/landmark/address. Then I built a network off their footpath data and did a travelling salesman...

        At uni I had a bunch of points, and used open street map to label them with the nearest tourist spot/landmark/address. Then I built a network off their footpath data and did a travelling salesman route through all the landmarks.

        I worked for a local council, and they wanted to know if/where certain services were in a neighbourhood to assist with facility planning. Tbh, there wasn't much in open street map, and I ended up bringing together data from a lot of other sources. That's why I want to try and contribute more myself.

        5 votes
  4. patience_limited
    Link
    So I've signed up and downloaded the apps, but it looks like my tiny corner of the world is already astonishingly well-covered, given its relative remoteness. [I'll admit it's not so remote that...

    So I've signed up and downloaded the apps, but it looks like my tiny corner of the world is already astonishingly well-covered, given its relative remoteness. [I'll admit it's not so remote that Google hasn't deemed the town worthy of exploration - I passed a Street View car a couple of weeks ago.]

    I'll contribute when any opportunities arise (back-country trails? road construction?), and use the data to see if corrections are required.

    6 votes
  5. [10]
    JeanBaptisteDuToitIV
    Link
    What's the point exactly? Google Maps is amazing and I doubt any crowdsourced map could match it. Also the apps look terrible.

    What's the point exactly? Google Maps is amazing and I doubt any crowdsourced map could match it. Also the apps look terrible.

    5 votes
    1. lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      Freedom of information I would personally say is imporant. Let's take some examples of uses that I could want to use Google's mapping data for : If I want to use Google Maps for research with...

      Freedom of information I would personally say is imporant.

      Let's take some examples of uses that I could want to use Google's mapping data for :
      If I want to use Google Maps for research with their data? Forget about it.
      I wanna make a competing product? Pay up forever and never have any kind of independence.

      Also, it's been especially popular relatively recently in humanitarian work where Google Maps has absolutely no data so people have to make maps quickly and OSM allows that. See : HOT.

      And well, there's also an argument for privacy, I could never make a service using Google Maps which allows privacy unless I want to proxy all my users which would be a pain really.

      Google Maps is almost a monopoly on navigation and cartography to a certain degree, competition needs to exist in the space.

      On another note, I personally enjoy mapping. I find it relaxing and rewarding.

      29 votes
    2. hungariantoast
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      That's a perfectly fair question, but it's actually kind of hard to answer. When you ask "What's the point" do you mean "what's the point of contributing to OpenStreetMap" or "what's the point of...

      What's the point exactly?

      That's a perfectly fair question, but it's actually kind of hard to answer. When you ask "What's the point" do you mean "what's the point of contributing to OpenStreetMap" or "what's the point of using OpenStreetMap"?

      As for why you might want to take the time to contribute, it pretty much breaks down into the same reasons that someone might want to contribute to Wikipedia, or just any wiki, really.

      OpenStreetMap is free data that can be used for any purpose. This makes OpenStreetMap the primary source of data for research and studies, compared to something like Google Maps. It also means OpenStreetMap can be and is used to save lives by providing unparalleled access to up-to-date, detailed, free mapping data to rescue and relief workers.

      As for why you should use OpenStreetMap, I'll answer this as if you were asking "why should I replace Google Maps with OpenStreetMap":

      The short answer: You probably shouldn't.

      I love OpenStreetMap. If you've ever read any of my comments in the recurring topics in ~talk, you know that already. I talk about it almost every week.

      OpenStreetMap is not Google Maps though, nor is it trying to be.

      Google Maps is a multi-billion dollar, consumer/business oriented product that used to be about giving you directions and is now about navigating you to businesses.

      OpenStreetMap is a freely usable, collaboratively built database of information.

      They're two fundamentally different things.

      Can OpenStreetMap be used as a Google Maps competitor? Absolutely, and it is, in Apple Maps and other services. It forms the backbone of several extremely competent Google Maps competitors, especially when used in conjunction with additional data sources.

      The problem is, Google has poured billions of dollars into Google Maps. No other company in the world is spending that kind of money on a Google Maps competitor. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, none of them are particularly interested in delivering substantial competitors to Google's product. (Apple Maps is "good enough", but it's still quite a ways away from beating Google Maps.)

      So, OpenStreetMap isn't a Google Maps competitor. It's just a database that other companies and services can build off of. Many of them do a fine job of that, such as providing navigation for bicycling, walking, and hiking that outperforms Google Maps' data, but for the average consumer trying to navigate to a business or drive their car, Google Maps reigns supreme.

      That being said, using apps like OsmAnd instead of Google Maps can work. It really depends on where you live and the quality of the OpenStreetMap data around you. Plus, if you can contribute data yourself, it's fairly easy and painless to contribute places around your area to the map and then be able to use OsmAnd or other apps to navigate around.


      Funny story: I've gone through the effort in the past of rebuilding the OpenStreetMap files for the United States, adding OpenAddresses data for businesses, houses, and other places to the new OpenStreetMap files during the process. The coverage and accuracy of the resulting files, which can be used with an app like OsmAnd, was virtually the same as Google Maps for my needs in the Houston area. However, this took 150+GB of memory, a USB stick mounted as a swap partition, running Linux, 400+GB of disk space, and several days of processing time. It's very much not a simple process. (Although, to be fair, the program used to do this was very, very new at the time, and the process might have improved significantly by now.) The point I'm trying to get at with this is that open data sets like OpenStreetMap and OpenAddresses aren't useless. They're extremely capable data sets, it's just utilizing them into a profitable, sustainable service that's immensely difficult.

      11 votes
    3. [2]
      beansgreensgrains
      Link Parent
      OpenStreetMap actually has an extremely rich data set, better than Google Maps for certain uses

      OpenStreetMap actually has an extremely rich data set, better than Google Maps for certain uses

      14 votes
      1. Diff
        Link Parent
        Lots of big things make use of OSM. Pokemon Go for example uses OSM, and for its purpose (generating certain types of areas and overlays) it's very good.

        Lots of big things make use of OSM. Pokemon Go for example uses OSM, and for its purpose (generating certain types of areas and overlays) it's very good.

        11 votes
    4. edenist
      Link Parent
      There are the usual privacy concerns. So much of what makes google maps "good" is actually all based on the data mined from it's slav..erm...users. Traffic data? Mined from users location data....

      There are the usual privacy concerns. So much of what makes google maps "good" is actually all based on the data mined from it's slav..erm...users. Traffic data? Mined from users location data. The data and images of businesses? Provided by users.
      Walking out of a supermarket and suddenly google maps pops up asking for info about said store? How can anyone not think that is creepy as all hell! That's a nope from me.

      Many of the arguments saying gmaps is 'better' than OSM are similar to those that say windows is better than mac or linux etc.... It mostly comes down to muscle memory and what you are used to. There is a lot of value in familiarity. Now I'm used to OSM, I actually find gmaps to be of much lower quality. It is built for simplicity and shows roads well and that's basically it. There is so much extra information within OSM. Of course it is dependant on where you live, OSM can sometimes be lacking in less populated areas, but with more users comes more contributions. It's also quite fun to add and modify map data, too.

      8 votes
    5. Octofox
      Link Parent
      Its actually really good from the developer side. Mapbox is a company that sells services using OSM data and their map viewers are really high quality and a lot lot cheaper than google maps. For...

      Its actually really good from the developer side. Mapbox is a company that sells services using OSM data and their map viewers are really high quality and a lot lot cheaper than google maps. For the use case where you want to show the location of your store on a map or maybe show a some other kind of visualization it actually doesn't matter that all the data like the opening hours of the local library are missing.

      From the user side, OSM is better for things google maps can't make money off. The mountain bike trail data on OSM is actually quite good but on google maps its non existent.

      8 votes
    6. cwagner
      Link Parent
      Where I am in Germany OSM has far superior data compared to google. So don’t doubt it. Of course, it depends. Here google might try leading me through nonexistent streets, in South Africa OSM had...

      What's the point exactly? Google Maps is amazing and I doubt any crowdsourced map could match it.

      Where I am in Germany OSM has far superior data compared to google. So don’t doubt it.

      Of course, it depends. Here google might try leading me through nonexistent streets, in South Africa OSM had little information and what it had was years out of date.

      5 votes
    7. [2]
      tesseractcat
      Link Parent
      There are some pretty decent apps for OSM. My favorite is "Maps.me" which is also available on F-Droid, and just called "Maps".

      Also the apps look terrible.

      There are some pretty decent apps for OSM. My favorite is "Maps.me" which is also available on F-Droid, and just called "Maps".

      4 votes
      1. lionirdeadman
        Link Parent
        "Maps" on F-droid doesn't use the Maps.me servers and lacks certain certain services because some of Maps.me is proprietary.

        "Maps" on F-droid doesn't use the Maps.me servers and lacks certain certain services because some of Maps.me is proprietary.

        2 votes
  6. [4]
    Flashynuff
    Link
    Maybe not related, but I am actually trying to set up a web application with some gis data I've downloaded from my county right now. This data includes municipal boundaries and parcel tax data. I...

    Maybe not related, but I am actually trying to set up a web application with some gis data I've downloaded from my county right now. This data includes municipal boundaries and parcel tax data. I want to crate a website that uses that data along with additional information about political candidates for a voting precinct. So far, I've looked at GeoServer and openstreetmaps, but I'm not quite sure how all those pieces fit together to make an application. Do you have any guidance on a good GIS web application stack to use existing shapefiles?

    5 votes
    1. ibis
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I don't have much experience in this, but for the little jobs I have done, I've found mapbox gl js to be pretty good. I only had a little dataset to deal with, so I linked it directly to a...

      I don't have much experience in this, but for the little jobs I have done, I've found mapbox gl js to be pretty good. I only had a little dataset to deal with, so I linked it directly to a geojson. I've also played around with their vector tiles - you can upload your shapefiles onto their website for free (where they are automatically converted to vector tiles), and then you just link to them.

      6 votes
    2. fandegw
      Link Parent
      If you used the same kind of service as this one: https://download.geofabrik.de (which downloads the whole database of openstreetmap for a region you select). You can then use a tool like osmium...

      If you used the same kind of service as this one: https://download.geofabrik.de (which downloads the whole database of openstreetmap for a region you select).
      You can then use a tool like osmium (github repo here) to extract what you want through the tag system of open street map (You can see which tag has every node/way/feature via the Query Features on openstreetmap like this), and use the same osmium tool to convert the file to a more javascript friendly format such as .geojson

      2 votes
  7. [5]
    kfwyre
    Link
    So, I love the idea of OpenStreetMap and have attempted to use it before (I think through Maps.me but I could be wrong on that -- this was a while ago). I played around with it only to find out it...

    So, I love the idea of OpenStreetMap and have attempted to use it before (I think through Maps.me but I could be wrong on that -- this was a while ago). I played around with it only to find out it didn't have house numbers in the app. As such, it wasn't really able to give me meaningful directions, as it could just take me from one street to another, but not specific addresses on either of those streets. Not too big of a problem when the streets are smaller/shorter, but definitely an issue when they're long. Why is this? Is it simply that the areas I was trying to go were unmapped at the time?

    4 votes
    1. [3]
      lionirdeadman
      Link Parent
      Yeah, they would have to been unmapped for that to happen. That's kinda surprising but those places definitely do exist. In some places, addresses will be imported from open data with estimations...

      Yeah, they would have to been unmapped for that to happen. That's kinda surprising but those places definitely do exist. In some places, addresses will be imported from open data with estimations (or manually if someone knows the interval and end addresses of a part of a street) rather than buildings which makes it a little inaccurate in some cases but does the job mostly. Thankfully, if a building is assigned an address, the navigation should take that instead of the estimation. Consider making your neighborhood better by contributing!

      I'm willing to help map buildings from aerial footage if you want. My city is still lacking in those still but we have addresses so my navigation needs are mostly satisfied. Considering potentially making a mapathon at my college which might be fun.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        kfwyre
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        It does seem like my area is not very well mapped, but everyone here has inspired me to help out. I downloaded StreetComplete as mentioned in another comment and am excited to get out and do the...

        It does seem like my area is not very well mapped, but everyone here has inspired me to help out. I downloaded StreetComplete as mentioned in another comment and am excited to get out and do the quests in my area. There are a ton! It's like Pokemon Go for information!

        EDIT: None of the StreetComplete quests seem to address unnumbered houses/buildings, despite there being plenty in my area. What's the best way for me to add this info to OSM? (Preferrably via mobile, so I can make updates while walking my dog.)

        6 votes
        1. lionirdeadman
          Link Parent
          To do this, you'd most likely want to add the building shapes so you'd go and map the buildings on your computer using iD, update StreetComplete and the quests for it will appear.

          To do this, you'd most likely want to add the building shapes so you'd go and map the buildings on your computer using iD, update StreetComplete and the quests for it will appear.

          3 votes
    2. hungariantoast
      Link Parent
      There are a couple of reasons for this. The most likely reason is that the address information for the place you were trying to get to has not been added to OpenStreetMap. So, if you were trying...

      There are a couple of reasons for this. The most likely reason is that the address information for the place you were trying to get to has not been added to OpenStreetMap. So, if you were trying to get to your friend's house, but their address hadn't been added to the map, then the Maps.me routing service would just do the best it can by navigating you to the proper street.

      4 votes