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  • Holiday Gift Idea #2 - OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer

    OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer by Jonathan Bennett OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer is another must-have for any map lover, whether or not they currently have any knowledge of OpenStreetMap (OSM). It's well written, nicely organized, and is a great introduction (and beyond) to the entire OSM project. The book begins with a brief history of OSM, an introduction to the OSM website, links to internet resources, and everything else to help you hit the ground running. Once you're feeling comfortable enough to begin contributing and becoming a mapper, the book provides you with information on GPS surveying, data tagging, and various mapping/editing techniques. Three popular editors -- Potlatch, JOSM, Merkaartor -- are also covered in depth, helping to choose the right editor for the reader. Developers and mapping specialists will especially appreciate the latter half of the book where Bennett explores ways to publish your own customized maps using the OSM export tool, Kosmos, and Osmarender. Entire chapters are also devoted to accessing raw OSM data and its API, and manipulating OSM data with Osmosis to fit your needs. Overall, OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer, is balanced in a way that isn't too dense and still covers the key highlights of OSM. It should be noted that this book reads easily and new users will benefit tremendously having just read the beginning few sections. Like OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World, this book is a valuable OSM resource and makes for an excellent gift for everyone this holiday season! MapQuest was fortunate enough to have a moment with Jonathan Bennett and have him speak with us about OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer.
    How did you first get involved with OpenStreetMap?  Did you ever envision it becoming as successful as it is today? I was in a similar situation to many people who get involved in OpenStreetMap: I had a smartphone and a Bluetooth GPS receiver, and wanted to use them for navigation, particularly for off-road cycling. There was no easy, legal way of doing this, but OpenStreetMap offered a promise, even if in those early days the data wasn't there. I don't know whether I considered where OSM was going at first -- all I was concerned with was whether it would allow me to do what I wanted to do, which was countryside mapping for walking and biking. I did add other features besides the ones I was interested in, and by the time other people started mapping in the same area, it was clear we could do far more with OpenStreetMap than just roads and paths. As an early adopter of OSM, can you tell us what it was like to add and edit data back then?  Was there much standardization at all? Starting with an almost blank canvas was lots of fun, and made every mapping trip easy and worthwhile. There was no aerial imagery or other data for the area I was mapping, so I did everything on foot or by bike. The most common features such as road types were already pretty standardised but there were things people just hadn't got around to mapping yet. As an example, there are lots of turning circles in the roads around where I live, but there was no existing tag for these, so I just went ahead and created one. Now there are hundreds of thousands of them in OpenStreetMap. Is your own personal experience what motivated you to write OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer? I've been writing about technology for 15 years, so condensing everything I'd learned about OpenStreetMap into a book seemed an obvious move. While everyone working on OpenStreetMap's software does their best to write and maintain documentation for the bits they're responsible for, having a coherent set of documentation is a lot harder. Also, while online documentation is fine if you're just trying to get a single task done, it's easier to get an overall picture of a project like OpenStreetMap from a book that ties all the pieces together. I hope my book makes it easier both to understand OpenStreetMap as a whole, and to know how to use the data for specific purposes. What do you hope people will get out of your book? The book is aimed at people who have little or no experience of OpenStreetMap, but are interested in creating and using the data. They may just want it for personal use, like many of us, or they could be working in a company that uses proprietary geodata and is looking for a better solution, or they could be in a local government GIS department. I've tried to keep the book light and easy to read -- it's more to show you examples of the kinds of things that are possible with OpenStreetMap, rather than an exhaustive listing of every last option in every piece of software. The printed version is less than 15mm thick (that's half an inch if you're in the US), so it's the sort of book you can carry around and just dip into when you have a few spare minutes. And finally, we'd like to ask the same question we asked Frederik Ramm, Jochen Topf and Steve Chilton.  Where do you think OSM will be in another 5 years when it's 2015? The great thing about OpenStreetMap is that it allows people to use the data and tools for things you'd never be able to predict, so I'm not going to try to say what people will be doing with OSM. What I think we will see is better integration between all the different parts of the project. We're already seeing the start of this, with bug trackers appearing in editors so that mappers can find, fix and close bugs in the data from a single application, and we should see other types of quality assurance tools like TagInfo being brought into editors as well. What I hope we'll get better at is making it easy for a fledgling mapping community in other countries to get going. Things like localising the tools and services, and adapting tagging conventions to each country need to be easier, so that mappers spend more time mapping, and less time fiddling with the tools.
    We wanted to thank Jonathan Bennett for allowing us to interview him and talk to us about his latest book. Be sure to check it out!
    A special thanks to Kumiko Yamazaki for helping write this review!
  • Holiday Gift Idea #1 - OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World

    OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World by Frederik Ramm, Jochen Topf, Steve Chilton Originally published in German, OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World was first made available in English in September 2010. This book provides a comprehensive overview of OpenStreetMap (OSM) and has become a valuable reference for many mappers. The first half of the book proves to be an excellent source for users who wish to learn about the OSM project, collect data using a GPS, and edit and tag data. You'll find bits and pieces of similar information on the OSM Wiki but if you're looking for a more complete and fluid version, this is it. Everything is explained thoroughly and followed by examples and screenshots. In the second half, the book takes a break from editing and contributing to OSM and instead allows you take advantage of all the hard work that you and everyone else has put in. Users will learn about customizing and publishing their maps through Mapnik, Osmarender, Kosmos, and even uploading your OSM map to a mobile or navigation device. Also included is the section titled "Hacking OpenStreetMap" with over 60 pages devoted to learning about the OSM database server and its API. This will aid you in writing your own OSM software, using Osmosis to filter the data, and when you're ready for it, setting up your own OSM server! This book is the perfect gift for map lovers, GPS addicts, cartographers, GIS professionals, developers, etc, and should be added to their library collection this holiday season. MapQuest was fortunate enough to have a moment with one of the authors, Frederik Ramm, and have him speak with us about OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World.
    Can you tell us a little about your OpenStreetMap background? How did you first hear about the project and what caused you to become so obsessed? OSM is an obsession, correct? I'd certainly say it is an obsession - albeit often an obsession with the negative! You become obsessed with data that isn't (yet) there, with software that nobody has (yet) written, or with bugs that haven't been fixed. You start helping out a little, and before you know it you're "the guy who edits this area", or "the maintainer of that editor". That's indeed how I got started with OSM - Jochen told me he was getting involved in that great project but how the Java editor was causing him pain, and so I thought I'd have a look if I can fix it... The book, OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World, seems to encompass a little bit of everything. Is it safe to say that both beginners and advanced users of OSM will find value in it? You bet. The book has four major sections - the first one is basically the "management overview" about OSM, stuff you can read without getting your hands dirty and nice pictures you can look at. The next section then is about contributing to OSM - about mapping and editors, from simple map features to the most complicated multipolygon relation. Then we have a section about mapmaking which is already a more advanced topic, and we top it off with a section on hacking that covers technical details down to the last API call. I should be surprised if there's anyone in OSM who does *not* find anything new in the book. Being but one of three authors, I certainly did! What were some of the challenges faced when translating this book from German to English? It was difficult to find a publisher who would produce the book in the way we wanted it to. Jochen and I are book lovers. (Jochen can hardly visit any book store without carrying away a stack of books!) We thought that we had a brilliant book and we wanted it to look brilliant, too. We wanted it printed on the right stock, we wanted the same glossy color pages in the middle that we had for the German edition... that was certainly something that made things more difficult. Once that was settled though, the actual translation was straightforward - even though I sometimes think that writing a new book would have been easier. We had to re-do all the screen shots and many illustrations of course, and our co-author Steve Chilton from England did a great job at helping us to identify situations where our German OSM background had led us to make assumptions that were not universally true, or where we had chosen examples that someone in the US or the UK might not be familiar with. After the whole thing had undergone cross-checking by a few other helpful OSMers and the obligatory proof-reading at the publisher's, I felt we had so many improvements over the German edition that I started to translate some of them back for the next German re-print! Edits and editing tools are constantly being contributed to OSM. How are you able to keep up? Will there be another edition of the book, and is it already being worked on? We have a book web site ( where we inform readers about anything major they should be aware of. The German book is now in its third edition, with roughly one new edition being published every year. We can't yet say if it will be the same for the English version but if the community likes our book as much as we do, I would not be surprised to see a second edition in late 2011. We all know OSM has already come a long way in just 5 years. Where do you think OSM will be in another 5 years when it's 2015? I think that OSM will be an everyday commodity in 2015. A little bit like Wikipedia is today - you don't need to think if you want to look something up, you go straight to Wikipedia. In 2015, if you say you're using or even involved in OSM, people won't say "oh, that's interesting, tell me something about it" but they'll say, yawning: "who isn't?". And, of course, there will be about 20 books about the topic!
    There you have it! We very much appreciated having Frederik Ramm answer a few questions for us. Please remember to visit to learn more about this publication. Coming soon: Holiday Gift Idea #2 - OpenStreetMap: Be your own Cartographer.
    A special thanks to Kumiko Yamazaki for helping write this review!
  • Voting Time: Pick Your Favorite Icons

    Opinions count - especially yours!  We're adding new icons to our international Open MapQuest maps (powered by OpenStreetMap) and we want to hear what icons you want to see! Check out this sample map of Whitehall Theatre in London for a sample of what our maps look like now.  Here's a sample map from OpenStreetMap centered on Whitehall Theatre and the richness of icons on the OSM map. Take the survey here - it'll be open for feedback until October 19th, 2010.