Getting people interested in OpenStreetMap

Posted: July 31, 2011 in openstreetmap
Tags: , , , ,

Over the past few months I have been watching the reaction people have when I have introduced them to OpenStreetMap. I have noticed a number trends worth commenting on.

Describing OpenStreetMap as a free wiki-editable map doesn’t excite them. The problem is that when most people think about an online map they picture a slippery map, and google maps is free enough for them. When I tell them that OpenStreetMap is like the wikipedia of maps they seem to understand what I am talking about. Typically, these are people who have used wikipedia to look something up, but have never seriously considered editing an article. To most people wikipedia is a free source of information on a wide variety of topics. The ability to edit and contribute to those articles isn’t at the front of their mind.

I have found that people are more impressed by getting types of maps (for free) that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.

Data for GPS Devices
GPS devices for cars, boats and hikers are still popular and these devices need data. When you buy a GPS device from a manufacturer you will probably get a basic road network and POI database for your local area. What you probably are not getting for free is:

  • Map Updates. Many GPS devices come with a base map pre-loaded but map updates tend to cost extra.
  • A GPS targetted at automobiles tends to not have very good trail or park data on it. A handheld GPS targeted at hikers might not have a great road network loaded on it. You can purchase these extra maps or you can download them from OpenStreetMap for free.
  • Data for traveling. When people travel outside of their home country they often don’t have data for their GPS. Most people I have spoken with who are planning a trip and found out that they could get free GPS data for their destination were thrilled.

Maps for print
Slippery Maps tend to not translate well to print. Part of this is because the map styles tend to be designed with the idea that you can ‘zoom in’ for details like the name of a secondary road. The only way you can ‘zoom in’ a printed map is with a magnifying class and that can’t add names that were left off the style. The Google maps, Bing Maps, and Yahoo maps of the world don’t have map styles targeted at print, and the license discourages print distribution. OpenStreetMap is an ideal source for printed maps. When I have custom styled printed maps of OpenStreetMap data to people they have usually been wowed.

Cool things
People have mapped both cool things and useful things that don’t normally appear on your web map. The other day I was walking in a local park with some friends and showing them my GPS unit. The drinking fountain we were walking past showed up as a fountain on my GPS. They thought that was cool. Other people have done detailed maps of the rides at amusement parks

We need to get more people using OpenStreetMap data for things that would not be possible with the free slippery map services provided by our closed data competitors. Neither the main or the front page of make it obvious where to download data for GPS devices, nor do we link to a collection of printed maps using OpenStreetMap. We need to promote using OpenStreetMap to more people and then we need to work on making it more likely that these people will start editing the map

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