Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Find the best dosa or the worst pot-hole on the map

Find the best dosa or the worst pot-hole on the map

Deepa Kurup
The world is truly small for OSM mappers who say it need not be a complex cartographer’s job


DILIGENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: This community effort is much like the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
BANGALORE: It is a party where getting lost is fun. And not just getting lost but also discovering minute details about roads, street corners and local resources, which are later diligently mapped on to digital formats, perhaps over lunch and some dessert.

Mapping is not a complex cartographer’s job anymore; nor do you have to be a techie to dabble in online maps. In the expanding mapping enthusiasts’ community, for instance, students, random professionals and their families set out with GPS devices or simple GPS-enabled mobile phones to map their world.

U.K. model
Modelled along the OpenStreetMap (OSM) parties in the U.K. and Germany, Bangalore hosted its first party last year. About half-a-dozen people met through online social networks and assembled in a nondescript suburb of Hosur, near Bangalore.

Pradeep B.V., a mapping enthusiast and software professional, recalls that the first time around they got so caught up in the details it took them hours to cover a little over four square kilometres. Tired but enthused, the mappers ended up digging into lunch at a fellow mapper’s place, and then dispersed.

Mapping parties have since been held a few times in Hosur, Electronics City and Koramangala. It is this community effort — much like the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia — that the free global map initiative OpenStreetMap thrives on.

With no corporate interests to uphold and no monetary models to fret about, OSM is all about hobbies and passions, and perhaps an inherent interest to put yourself on a map. So this barebones map of the world, freely accessible on www.openstreetmap.org, can be edited to add attributes such as street names, the local tea shop, your newspaper boy or your favourite “adda”.

How you do it
“You needn’t be technically inclined to map,” insists Mr. Pradeep. All you need is a pen, paper and a GPS-enabled phone or device (there are always extra ones to go around).

If you spot something you want to record, you simply press a button to get coordinates (typically latitude, longitude and time), jot down detailed attributes. The more internet-savvy ones later help collate this data on to the map using open source tools, Mr. Pradeep explains.

Why use OSM?
As far as mappability goes, OSM is a clear winner. Maps here are in vector format — unlike typical Google/ Yahoo maps where you get a map image but no underlying data.

Further, OSM is user-driven and is often more accurate. For instance, while the popular maps today have no record of where the Bangalore Metro will come up, or where an underpass work is in progress, OSM has all the data nailed. Thus, you don’t have to wait for some company to update it, you can simply log in and edit, Mr. Pradeep explains.

Not always a party!
Parties, however, are not prerequisite for young mappers.

Arun Ganesh, a student of National Institute of Design on Tumkur Road, says mapping fits in well with his two interests: cycling and using mass transport. The landmarks offered in proprietary online map are of little practical use to a general road user, points out Mr. Ganesh.

So he and his friends cycle around, a basic GPS device and camera in hand.

“Using a synchronised camera and GPS clock makes it easy for me to collate data and upload it on to OSM,” he explains.

So, when he finds a landmark, a signboard, an affordable barber shop or a nice shady road, he simply clicks, and there it is on the map.

Logon to www.openstreetmap.org.

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