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I do a lot of mountain bike trail mapping work using OpenStreetMap, and it's really bugged me that more public-service mapping projects (eg: MTB Project) don't build on OSM. They all tend to instead build their own mapping set which requires stuff to be re-entered... It's kind of a pain.

Similarly, a lot of charitable organizations that could be releasing data to build on top of the OSM dataset and the tooling that exists, instead create their own data silos. For instance, Sustrans (the cycling charity in the UK), and the Ramblers (the walking/hiking charity in the UK). I get the impression that managers are coming up with ideas for their digital projects without any reference to the technical landscape outside their organization.

I don't know whether there's anything which could be done to help these more corporate charities get on board (for instance to make it easy for them to set up and maintain an official database using OSM tooling, on the basis that the data they gather is publicly available and licensed as open data).

For two UK charities I've worked with, the reason is that they've been tempted by the siren voices of Google.

Google offer a tempting deal to charities: free mapping, and the chance to get your content hosted on Google Maps. So, for example, Sustrans' cycle routes are now integrated into the Google's UK mapping data.

This seems to appeal particularly to the higher-ups. The developers/GIS team may be more au fait with OSM, but when the marketing director says "We have the choice of getting our routes publicised for free on Google, or... what's this obscure 'street map' site you mentioned?", it's hard to convince them. (I did try to persuade one such charity to switch to OSM-backed mapping, but the answer was "Google is a corporate partner of our charity - we can't be seen to switch away from them".)

It's a great shame especially because, as you say, the tooling available around OSM data is so much more powerful than the Google Maps API could ever be. But I'm not too worried: it'll come in time. With OSM powering more consumer-level sites by the day, it's getting easier to answer the marketing director's question.

I have a similar experience regarding choosing OSM over people's go to mapping service (which looks completely free to them because Google doesn't ask them to pay). One way to deal with it is just not taking about the decision when they don't even know all the options. Just make it work and they'll probably be fine with it.

I can explain at least why OSM data is not used because I have been through the process many times. OSM is frequently rejected for reasons having nothing to do with awareness or quality. The licensing makes it unusable for many analytics applications.

There is a de facto prohibition on the blending and derivation using many geo data sets due to licensing restrictions and regulatory requirements, including many government data sets. Even OSM does not have the equivalent of a BSD-like license. In many cases, blending two sets of geo data and doing derivative analytics creates an unresolvable conflict between the individual licensing terms and the requirements of a specific application. Specific to OSM, many popular geo data sets have regulatory restrictions that make them fundamentally incompatible with OSM for many applications where OSM would otherwise be a great data set.

With commercial data set providers, the license is customizable to be appropriate for the regulatory and other requirements of the application. With OSM, you are stuck with an OSM license, which would violate all kinds legal and practical constraints for many use cases. I can say that for many geo applications I've supported, compliance with the OSM licensing would literally be violating the law. Fortunately, commercial data sets are much cheaper than they used to be.

Can you please give some specific examples of the obstacles presented by the OSM license to the projects you mention?

Most interesting products of spatiotemporal analysis that might use OSM data as an input are defined as a derivative database under the OSM database license. The mapping data is enriched and blended with multiple orthogonal data sources (like social media, mobile phone telemetry, remote imaging, etc) to provide a more accurate model of physical world dynamics. I think a big part of the problem is OSM's tacit assumption that the data would only ever be used to make maps. The derived analytical data model is not cartographic in nature, and use cases range from emergency management to consumer behavior.OSM's requirement that the derivative database be publicly and freely available is problematic for several reasons:

- OSM may be a minor input to a petabyte scale derived database, a large percentage of which may be modified every day. Many popular derivations would be technically and economically implausible to make publicly available.

- Jurisdictional restrictions on where the derived database can reside because of the type of data that was used to construct it. Making it available publicly without compliance mechanisms would break the law.

- Regulatory restrictions on the public usage of an input it is blended with, such as PII data like raw mobile network telemetry. Proper compliance mechanisms are often post-derivation and outside the derived database. Again, making the underlying database available without the compliance mechanisms would be breaking the law.

- OSM is the tail wagging the dog for many of these applications. Trying to make the licensing and compliance of complex applications revolve around OSM's requirements is unjustifiable effort. It is the same reason no one adds a little bit of useful GPL code to a million LoC code base even when it would make sense in the abstract.

This is a long-term problem for OSM in that applications are increasingly about getting intelligent answers out of spatial data systems, which implies the above analytical data models, rather than a map that a human is still required to interpret. Commercial cartographic database providers are usually more than happy to write you a license that conforms with the legal and practical requirements of your analytics application.

What is the upside for OSM if it changes licensing terms to be more amenable to those users? You say it is the tail wagging the dog, but you skip over why OSM should even care about capturing those users.

I realize that "funding" is an obvious answer, but I'm not real sure what that is supposed to look like. I also don't think the generic answer would convince proponents of the share a like terms (I'm personally ambivalent about share a like, but it's clear that a big chunk of the OSM community values it).

I wonder, could OSM even change their licensing in that way if they wanted to? Because all the contributors submitted their content under the old license, they'd all have to agree to the new license again, right?

No. Originally OSM was under a CC licence. In 2012, it was changed to the current ODbL licence. All the data from mappers who didn't agree had to be deleted. In order to map now, you have to agree to the "Contributor terms" which means the licence can be changed to any other "free and open" licence with a 2/3 vote of active mappers.

Contributions are under a contributor agreement, the OpenStreetMap Foundation controls the data and can change the license.

The previous license change was a lesson learned.

> the OpenStreetMap Foundation ... can change the license.

Not exactly. The licence can only be changed to a "free and open licence" after a 2/3 vote of active mappers.


I've been trying to learn the world of GIS for a cycling/pedestrian project I've been working on over the last few months. I'm also working with the local Open Data/Open Government groups. As I've gotten to know the communities I've seen this over and over...even in the Open Data groups.

I've come to the conclusion that it's not malicious (or even 'Not Invented Here' syndrome), but ignorance and a complete misunderstanding of the FOSS world. It seems that a lot of the people and groups involved come from a corporate background where they had to build and keep everything in house. Whenever I mention not reinventing the wheel, building on others work, collaborating with other groups, or opening up our the data I'm met with mostly blank stares. (I could go on and on about this disconnect and why I think it's happening, but it's not directly relevant to your comment.)

I think the major issue is that non-developers (and even some developers) have no idea how to work with others. It isn't that they don't want to or are refusing to, they fundamentally just don't know how to. The idea of working with more than the fifteen people that are present in the room is mind-boggling, let alone the idea of working with people all around they world they may never meet. On top of that simple issue you have the same concerns you do with any person outside the Open* communities: security, trust, liability, etc. Have you ever seen a layperson look at a software/data license? It's beyond overwhelming, so they all go back to whats safe, even if it's not the right thing for their goals or the community as a whole.

To begin to remedy this I think we have a lot of work ahead of us...starting with making the ideas and principles of Openness more accessible to those outside our community.

TL;DR: I believe that silos are a symptom of being ignorant and/or overwhelmed by the Open-anything world.

GIS Manager here. The reason silos happen in the GIS world is because of trust. Every organization has different priorities and standards when it comes to data. The accuracy you need for your building footprints might be (and probably is) unusable for someone else. Data sharing between entities is common but even then oftentimes a great deal of finesse is needed to make another organization's data work in your dataset. In the government sector there is mistrust of data requests from those who would use data for commercial interests so the default option is to charge for it or just make it unavailable.

Another challenge has been that GIS data is historically expensive to acquire. As consumer grade spatial applications have become more popular there has been a noticeable shift to release data for the common good rather than trying to recover the cost of acquisition. Of course there are still plenty of silos out there. The push towards regional datasets for public infrastructure also seems to be gaining momentum but these projects often go nowhere unless they are mandated by a Federal or State agency.

One thing that I've found really helps with this is saying that OSM is "like Wikipedia for maps". These days most people understand what Wikipedia is, how it works, and trust the content. OSM really is like a cartographic Wikipedia...

...with fewer rules and less aggressive reverters, we hope!

http://wheelmap.org/, a map for wheelchair accessible places builds on OSM.

Just a warning for any other contributors, at the moment the changeset that WheelMap posts to OSM puts a huge bounding box on the map which makes it really hard for other OSM users to see what's been changed.


In practice, though, a lot of other editors also make huge bounding-box edits, to the point where I've found box history basically useless in London even ignoring wheelmap edits. And I'd take having accessibility data over cleaner edit history.

Well there goes my spare time for the next little while - adding all the places I know of in my home town. It doesn't seem to switch to English properly, though.

It's a known issue and being worked on. Thanks for contributing!

This is by OSM policy, which wants an individual (in this case, you) inspecting everything. It isn't fair to blame public data sources for this. OSM policy makes it incredibly difficult to import data from public sources like this. OSM could change this, if they wanted to. If we want more high-quality data out there that integrates with public data sources, we should make it easy for them rather than putting barriers in front of them.

Sorry, but in this case I'm not talking about public (eg: gov't, et al) data sources. For most of the MTB trail guides out there (eg: MTB Project, Trail Forks) they ask users to submit trail data then they keep it locked up.

I'm particularly bothered by this in the case of MTB Project which works with IMBA, a non-profit, yet doesn't share the data back with the greater world.

How are you finding is the easiest way to do this? I would love to be able to add more trail information.

Where are you starting from?

If you have never contributed to OSM, the process can be pretty easy:

Go walk/hike/bike the trail so you remember what it looks like, perhaps taking notes and recording a GPS trace of it.

Go to openstreetmap.org, make an account, move the map to the area where the trail starts, click "Edit".

If you recorded a trace, drag it into the editor so it can show it as a reference (hopefully it's a GPX, it might be necessary to convert it).

Using the "line" tool, trace the trail, combining the information from the GPS trace, notes and imagery. Make sure to select the finished trace and mark it as a walking/biking/hiking trail. Then click save.

So there is a lot to do, but none of the individual steps are hugely complicated.

I'm still slightly new to editing OSM as a MTBer, maxerickson and c0nsumer have covered the details of how to do this already very well, but i found after comparing a seemingly never ending number of competing apps in this space, i found Viewranger GPS really useful:

a) For planning routes in advance to then download to your smartphone and follow using the app (as mentioned elsewhere OSM was definitely the best mapping layer to use for this both as a resource and as a mechanism to feed your own updates back in).

b) For creating tracks from the routes you've actually cycled which can then be uploaded to the website for later examination.

c) In addition to b) you can annotate your uploaded track on the website with actual pictures from the journey round. These can be from a number of sources (i use flickr) and it will either time sync or gps sync them to the route so you get a nice one stop for looking at previous trips. This has the added benefit you can just take pictures as your going round to then refer back to when fixing OSM without having to worry about making notes as to where it was etc.

Has anyone else used this app or anything else to do this as i'd be interested if there's any alternative ways.

Example annotated track from Hay Bluff: http://my.viewranger.com/track/details/MTIzMzAxNg==

In case you aren't aware, Strava has switched to OSM for its maps which is pretty darn handy.

(It's also knowing that all of the local MTB trails that I've surveyed / mapped are now properly on Strava.)

That is amazing! One thing I'm very interested in is the vertical data which Strava seems to be very good at interpolating from GPS traces. Do you know if they contribute that data anywhere?

They pull the elevation data from government data sets:


Thank you! That was very interesting. I had assumed that they were interpolating GPS data, but I guess not. It seems they are smoothing it, though.

That being the case, perhaps I should write the program I was thinking of writing. Even though GPS elevation data is really, truly horrible I think you could probably use statistical techniques to get good data with enough GPS traces. Even routes that are mildly popular can have thousands, or tens of thousands of rides per year. Each one of those rides on Strava has GPX data associated with it. I'm sure it would be more than enough.

Unfortunately, I have about a million other projects on the go :-P

Ah thanks, it's been over a year since i did the initial evaluation, sounds like i'm overdue another :).

This isn't super-detailed (it's more a framework) but here is my general mapping workflow: https://nuxx.net/blog/2012/06/05/mtb-trail-mapping-workflow-...

The end goal for this is printable PDF maps, with good data ending up in OSM one of the stepping stones.

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