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OpenStreetMap Then and Now (mvexel.github.io)
406 points by sashazykov on Aug 11, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

The one enlightening experience I had in the 2009ish timeframe is how incredibly easy it is to contribute valuable information to OSM.

Intuitively I would have assumed that this would be really difficult to do, but the tools OSM provides for editing are actually quite easy to use even for people with no clue like myself.

You don't even require accurate GPS hardware or anything. Knowledge of your surroundings combined with the (blurry, but available none the less) satellite imagery might already be enough for you to really do good.

In my case, I've added building numbers of my neighborhood, marked one-way roads, added a few gravel foot paths where they were missing and I knew where there because I walk on them on my commute and so on. All this required zero hardware nor actual knowledge in map making (also: The changes are still in unaltered, so I assume they weren't all bad).

Using a cheap GPS tracker and a bike I furthermore added a few small lakes and a small creek close to where I live. The GPS tracker was very helpful as the satellite imagery was (understandably) just showing forest, but biking around the lake a few times was really helpful in giving me the correct measurements.

All this was both a lot of fun and absolutely trivial to do. I highly recommend that you give this a shot on your end. I'm a person with zero experience in map making and yet I could easily contribute my part and I had an absolute blast doing it.

Also, if you are good with directions, this isn't limited to the places you live now - I've also added a lot of detail to the map around the place where I went to elementary school (yes. The environment has changed a bit, but that was a great opportunity to visit the place again).

Contributing to OSM is a very pleasant and fun experience.

I love it. A couple of days ago, we heard we might be moving office to a different building a couple of kilometres away. I checked on OSM, and the roads were all correct, but it was pretty sparse apart from that.

It took literally just ten minutes to map the whole block - building outlines, numbers and addresses, car parks, POI for the pub on the corner. The iD editor is ridiculously good, and mapping really is quite fun!

To contribute to (say) the Linux Kernel, or Firefox, you need to be a good programmer. To contribute to Wikipedia is a little easier, but you probably need to be pretty knowledgeable about something non-trivial.

To contribute to OpenStreetMap, you only have to know somewhere. It's quite likely that almost everyone knows something that isn't in OSM.

Even 2 people from the same town, but live 1km apart could probably contribute different things to OSM.

Combine that with everyone wanting to see their own town/city/house/area on a map, and it's a recipe for explosive growth.

Generally agree with the ease of contribution sentiment to OSM, but your characterization of Firefox contributors dismisses the valuable work that 9 out of 10 Mozilla contributors do who aren't programmers. You absolutely do not need to be a good programmer, or any kind of programmer at all, to contribute to Firefox. https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/contribute/

I misspoke, and apologise.

Most of my point still stands w.r.t. Firefox. QA, graphic design, education, translation and documentation are still skills that lots of people don't have.

I've been using OSM for some time for offline navigation on my tablet but never made an edit, because I thought it would be difficult to do. After reading your comment, I signed up and marked my street one-way (which it wasn't on OSM). It was so easy - thank you!

I logged in to say that I'd want to contribute with roads, but every time I've tried to I didn't know where to start. I've added shops and ATMs in my neighborhood, but I want to add buildings and roads too. I have a Nexus 5 and sometimes a bit of time. Is there a friendly guide?

The easiest way to contribute is to trace roads and buildings that you know, from satellite images, using the iD editor at http://openstreetmap.org/edit . You can create GPX tracks using a variety of different apps (I use OSMAnd), but most of the time they aren't all that necessary.

As for knowing how to tag things, most of the time it is self-explanatory, and then you pick things up over time by looking at the wiki. I wouldn't worry about getting everything perfect from the start, for instance, you can add building outlines, and then in the future go back and add addresses if you choose.

There are also some forest paths that I'd like to track. For them I guess I need GPX tracks (they can't be seen from satelite). I've installed GPSLogger. I guess I could just upload those files to Open Street Map for use in the iD Editor.

There is one other option for forest paths - Strava have made available their GPS heatmap for editing OpenStreetMap:



So, depending on where you live, you may find local trails are on there (although you've still got to go in person to confirm they do actually exist, and to know exactly what they are - mountain bike trails, or narrow footpaths, or wide tracks for horses and 4x4s). In theory, it means you can shift effort away from sorting out gpx tracks, and more into getting the contextual information correct.

That's great! Thanks!

I do a lot of this kind of mapping too. You can drag and drop a gpx file onto iD and it will show on the map to make tracing easy.

You can use OsmAnd to record a gps track and send it to OpenStreetMap. It will be available in most editors, including iD. Althought, you can use any gps tracker and upload a track here http://www.openstreetmap.org/trace/create

Can you suggest some applications (Debian) or introductions to use when contributing? I remember having had a look at Merkaator a few years ago and finding it rather unhelpful (or at least neither “very pleasant” nor “actually quite easy”).

There's now a new and easy-to-use in-browser editor, iD; clicking "edit" on the "default" OSM slippy map gets you there by default, and it even has a walk-through for first-time users: http://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=16/51.5011/-0.0194

(As for me, I prefer jOSM - more complex, Java-based, not in-browser; more powerful in various ways: https://josm.openstreetmap.de/wiki/Download )

Wow, that's really cool. I just added one road that was missing in the neighborhood.

Yup. For small edits, this is perfect - it's in-browser, well integrated with the default map, plus it has a satellite layer by default :)

iD is fine for lots of edits. It's only when you what to lots of complex things (like relations, administrative boundaries etc) that you should break out JOSM

This indeed looks very cool, thank you and your sibling comment very much!

There are two in-browser editors available from OSM itself, and the site includes tutorials. I've used iD in Chromium on Ubuntu so I'm optimistic that you could use it with Debian. For new lines/nodes you can trace over satellite images and/or upload GPS tracks and trace over them. You can also add metadata to existing data - eg mark a road as one-way for motor vehicles.

I would recommend JOSM (http://josm.openstreetmap.de/) which is Java-based and I find much faster and easier to use than the web-based Potlatch or iD. However, try out iD (the one you get on the website when clicking the 'Edit' button) and see if it works for you.

There are also a lot of great smartphone apps. Select OS scroll down and there is a table which apps allow you to edit: http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Software/Mobile

Pushpin is my favorite for iOS right now, because you can just mark the location and while moving on you can select what type of POI it is. It's also all in your edit history so at home you can for example then look up the restaurant and add more information in the browser. http://pushpinosm.org/

Some of the most relaxing & satisfying things I have ever done with a computer was spending hours updating OSM from fresh satellite images.

It was giddying to discover that Bermuda had great satellite images, but zero mapping and then a few hours later you'd literally put a well-known place like Bermuda "on the map" by drawing in most of the main roads, airport and so on. Great to see that others have built on this with detailed information.

Very fond memories.

OSM has really evolved in some places. For the immediate vicinity of my home, OSM is a lot better than Google Maps or any other map I've looked at.

OSM even includes horse trails and bicycling routes that I can't find in any other map available online. Not even local, official maps.

The weakness in OSM still is that it's difficult to tell whether or not the maps are of good quality and up to date for a particular region.

That is a weakness for all maps I've seen.

There should be some sort of heuristic based on the number of edits which could guess at Goodness.

a huge problem i have with it is its lack of consistency. a shady green thing thats hard to tell apart from a list of other shady green things will be used for multiple things. in one state it means brush, another it means forest. near by someone used it to mean desert. Or maybe there IS brush there but no one had ever bothered to label that region. often times an OSM map tells you nothing about what you are looking at.

a 2nd peeve is how it chooses what cities you view on a map when zoomed out. Go look how far down you have to zoom before you see Philadelphia on the map. New York city? 'nope, but we'll show you elizabeth and paterson instead'.

lastly, oh you want to look at other countries? how about we use their language instead. ugg

And google does that better? Google pretty much only shows large forrests in my area, everything else is often just grey, no matter if small wood area, grass or farmland. Maybe it's in the US because of bad imports, but in Europe OSM is usually is pretty accurate.

> lastly, oh you want to look at other countries? how about we use their language instead. ugg

Well, that's what everybody outside the US or non English speaker has to deal with all the time. OpenStreetMap simply is a global project, while google still is very US centric.

No, Google will display the language you normally look at. Also if I go to china, i see the chinese writing as well as english. OSM its just chinese. HOWEVER, when someone with their language set to Mandarin, they can view US cities and see it in mandarin, or even arabic cities.

and for the record, yes, google maps is way better. Not only is the data more accurate, it uses consistent and easy to differentiate symbology.

You are talking about the default map tile style, not OpenStreetMap itself. The default style is really designed for mappers to give them feedback in the editing process. The real intention is for a commercial entity (mapquest? mapbox?) to go and create beautiful consistent tiles and charge for their provision.

Very nice idea and good visualization, although I'd have preferred a single "switch" button to quickly switch the whole view between 2007 and 2014.

While this demonstrates the huge progress of OSM, it is important to keep in mind that the hardest (and not so rewarding) part of the work is not to create the maps, but to keep them up to date!

That's why it is important to keep supporting OSM.

I recently went abroad in Europe and because of the price of data roaming I decided to install the OsmAnd android app for navigation.

In Romania, Transylvania using instead of a map it was very good. Even the little dirt roads were there. I had three problems with the app. The navigation did not wanted to respect my setting for "prefer highways", we always tried to regenerate the route, "we are near, maybe now it will know". Seemed like it hated highways. The app felt very buggy, I know it is free, but froze a lot of times and has un-intuitive controls. For example if I wanted to add navigation to a target it sometimes used a location from yesterday or something totally unrelated. Asking a question "Do you want to keep the current route?" it sometimes keeps the current route, sometimes reverts back to a route before, sometimes even just shows where I was yesterday. Third is, searching is a PITA. Because a lot of house numbers are missing you can only input intersections, sometimes it works, sometimes not. Searching for POI-s is good (remember, it is offline), but a lot of things are missing. I found if I add favorites and want a route between them then that usually works. (I don't know how the app creators are related to OSM.)

Anyway, I recommend the app because it is valuable and usable if you don't have connection (and free if you use only 10 maps).

Recently I wanted to use a web based map in one of my project and I found it is very easy to use OSM with http://leafletjs.com/. It has some bugs (I couldn't get a "map loaded" event out of it, maybe it is just me) but overall I think it was easier to set up than a google map. The one thing I missed is the geocoding of addresses, it is not really reliable because of the missing house numbers, instead of OSM I used the google solution and they can work together flawlessly.

I am glad to see a free map solution gaining popularity. Where I live there are events for mapping. I think on Saturday there was an event for mapping accessible roads/buildings for disabled people and someone even added all the fire hydrants downtown.

OsmAnd really lacks text (Google Maps-like) search for me. The thing I use in there is the address search and it always asks for city name, street name, even a house number (or intersection) before it finds the point. Not sure if I can search for say a restaurant or a lake in there. (Am I missing some functionality?)

If there is some OSM solution for Android that offers simple text search and offline maps, I would like to know about it.

The functionality to find restaurants nearby is in OSMAnd, as is the functionality to search using text. It isn't very intuitive.

On the recent version I have installed, when you bring up search there are icons at the top that switch between different types of search. The stylized "i" has the POI and text search.

The poor Comcast business connection that's hosting the 2007 tile data is really struggling with the traffic! Lots of retransmissions (caused by packet loss) by the looks of it, likely because his upstream is completely maxed out.

Open Street Maps are way ahead of any other maps in my opinion. In my town they have all the fields, ponds, lakes etc all accurately mapped. Amazing.

On the data site definitively.

On the general UI, so and so. Searching for a place can be confusing as the results are often verbose and redundant. Overpass is great for the advanced user (and i really hope it sticks around), but unusable for the average user, where google is miles a head (search for pubs in $city for example).

On the navigation and mobile site I'm not convinced.

And, probably, surfaces on the paths (http://www.itoworld.com/map/25?lon=6.18181&lat=50.78180&zoom...), rights of way and suggested routes for bikes, speed limits on the roads, and whether the roads are lit at night, where to find cycle parking, and on and on.

All made possible by a mapper near you! And you too can map places like that, near your home or when you're on vacation or whereever :)

I really want to like OSM, but the default UI is really holding me back. Even with its limitations, Google maps looks great out of the box. Open Street Maps is downright ugly.

Aesthetics is a huge selling point, especially when used for business, and I can't help but think that its the factor that is holding OSM back from prime time.

Mapbox are killing it with awesome OSM renders. Their 'Mapbox Streets' you can get if you use their API is amazing (better in some ways than Google Maps) and they also have a quite nice open source style called 'OSM Bright' that you can use on your own render server.

I would like the default style on OSM.org to be a bit nicer, but the problem is that that site is designed more for editors than users - the point of that map is to try and show as much info as possible - half the battle to get a really good looking map is getting rid of information you don't need to show.

This is changing too, with the move to cartocss. Follow the github repo perhaps!

The default layer in OSM is not optimized for the best possible user experience, it is primarily the front end of an editing tool. It has to be useful for mappers first. It is why it looks rather crowded and slightly unpleasant.

If you want to "consume" OSM data, you better find an app or site using the best rendering for your use case. (cycling, trekking, accessibility, etc). OSM is 'just' a database.

I am not saying your wrong, but it is a common misunderstanding that OSM is an open equivalent to Google Maps. It is more a common data source for Google Maps competitor. Where you're right in your assessment is that there might be currently no prominent apps using OSM as its source.

See the following list if you find something nicer :


I'm rather surprised that even North Korea is mapped quite extensively in OSM.(https://mvexel.github.io/thenandnow/#14/38.9911/125.7365).

For a long time, North Korea was shown as a featureless area in google maps.

Fun trivia: Google had quite a bit of data for North Korea that was added by unpaid editors, and then one day they decided to flip the switch and show it on the public Google Maps site. Their data source can vary country-by-country and they can config per-country display options.

Interesting stuff.

I wonder if some of this data - both on OSM and Google Maps - was from defectors and military sources.

I don't really know much about NK, but I can't help thinking their regime wouldn't be too happy if their citizens gallivanted around with GPS devices and uploaded POIs to western internet services.

Satellite imagery as well. Old paper maps for names, etc.

It's amazing how easy it is to improve these maps. I just searched for my small town, created an account and started editing. Added a few alleys/shortcuts and about half a dozen POI's in 5 minutes.

What is the best way to use OSM on mobile, specifically iPhone? I remember trying some apps before but I didn't like them. Is there anything as polished as the Apple/Google apps?

Scout by Telenav seems to be well thought of, I suspect that's the best drop in replacement for Google Maps on iPhone:


But I'd say OSM mobile apps tend to be a bit more focused (or bitty) than Google Maps. So, for instance:

Maps.me - concentrates on offline viewing, target market seems to be tourists, but probably useful in general.

Komoot - concentrates on hiking/biking, planning routes, giving back surfaces of trails, elevation pathways, etc.

Any idea why I can't install it on my Nexus 5?

It could be you're outside the US - Telenav have only recently moved over to OpenStreetMap, from proprietary sources, and they seem to be concentrating on getting the US version working, before rolling it out elsewhere as and when. At the same time as moving to OSM, they also bought another well-thought-of app, Skobbler, and for the moment that seems to be their international version. All rather confusing, but if that applies to you, Skobbler might be worth a go.

Check out Skobbler for OSM nav outside the US. We acquired them earlier this year and they've been instrumental in enabling us to use OSM in Scout.

Maps.me is pretty good.

Thanks for the tip, I'll check it out.

The difference on my island is huge :D


Same for my peninsula: https://mvexel.github.io/thenandnow/#15/37.0381/27.4293

...though they still don't have the street I live on. Looks like I have something to do the next time I need a weekend project!

oh god, I thought that at least big city would be covered when they launched it :/

Some huge places were curiously enough unmapped in 2007!


The entirety of New York is missing in 2007, doesn't even have a correct coastline :) Completely populated now with some pretty darned good data.

What kind of internet connection do you get on your island and how much does it cost?

I can't speak for him in particular, but on Réunion island you should get decent ADSL (up to 20 Mbps depending on phone line length, but rarely more than 10 Mbps in practice) in the largest cities, for 50 euros per month (unlimited free phone calls included).

It's more expensive and slower than on mainland France, but it's still reasonable for a rather isolated island (I have used ADSL Internet over there myself, but I didn't have to take care of the administrative details, so there might be some variation in the actual prices).

the same with my town ;)

I still can't believe, that's my city, Rome: https://mvexel.github.io/thenandnow/#11/41.8974/12.4987 I am truly amazed by the wonderful job which has been done by the community.

It's also interesting to see how much activity has been going on in the recent past - ITO World have maps that can show you OSM edits made in the last 90 days, and in the last 7 days. For instance, this map shows the last 90 days of edits around Y Combinator's head office:


Am I the only one who see this working backwards? If I move towards 2007 everything gets more detailed.

It's a split pane. 2007 on the left, "now" on the right. The slider just moves the split. It is a slightly odd interface.

FWIW, the maker of this (Martijn Exel) gave a talk on where to improve OSM last saturday in Seattle at the OSM 10th anniversary event. Slides from his talk are here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ey85IHqupj7aWxq92Rzq...

Personally like his other tool, the OSM vs. US Census Tiger 'battlegrid' :

My last three addresses and all surrounding roads cannot be found on OSM. The streets are all there, they are just tagged incorrectly. With some help from the forum, I tried to correct the errors, but it never worked. Apparently there are 'broken relationships' that are beyond my ability to correct.


First, some nit picky semantics that aren't very helpful towards solving your problem: The search box on openstreetmap.org is powered by Nominatim, which is one particular system for indexing the OSM data. There are design choices and trade offs present in it. A different system could make different choices and trade offs.

Nominatim prefers to associate streets with administrative boundaries that they are inside of. The data for counties is pretty solid, and in the U.S., pretty much every street is properly inside a county (or equivalent). The data for other administrative units is less solid (and often times less clear in the real world). If a street is not found inside of a city or town or the like, it is assigned to the nearest "place" node (I think with some accommodation for significance of the place). So, for instance, that's how Blackgum Drive ends up assigned to Marblehill.

I'm not sure how other people are thinking about it, but I think the long term solution to what you are seeing is to build up exact address information and then also index that data for street-city (or place) relationships in search results. Given the way zip codes work and the hand waviness of postal addressing (the post office does a good job correctly routing miserably addresses mail), this is probably more sensible that trying to create boundaries.

It would also be possible to index streets to several nearby places (but of course that's more work up front and more data to sift through on each search).

The street I get is thise one:


And it is not located in Jasper:


So is this the right street? Or should the street be where you linked the map? Because I can't find a street named Disharoon Dr. there.

You can add a note and someone more experienced will fix it. http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Notes

This is going to be addictive. One, last, edit...

Zoom in on Artis (the Amsterdam Zoo), or the various parks. The amount of detail is staggering!

I feel like this is somewhat exaggerated... https://mvexel.github.io/thenandnow/#11/-34.9324/138.6289

How so? Presumably this is just pulling the OSM data from 2007. Remember that until late 2007 every data point in the system was from user collected GPS traces, and that they only had ~9000 registered users at the time.

The growth must have been unbelievable back then. When I created my account in June 2008 I only found very few streets in my city in Germany that had not been mapped yet.

That varies very much country by country - some have had mass imports from other open sources (e.g. open government data), which has helped enormously with streets, roads and suchlike.

It was glorious - those halcyon days of spotting a missing village or suburb and spending a day with GPS catching all the roads and footpaths.

"That bit doesn't connect up - Ah ha!"

Some roads look strangely incomplete. But looking it at the point that the city I linked was probably done by a single person it makes sense.

It's demonstrating the difference in quality of data, not city development.

Looking at the data in my vicinity, I would say no exaggeration is taking place: after all, you could fork the project and check it for yourself; this is the atrociously poor coverage which I remember OSM had in 2007.

What this shows is how much it's grown, and how much better it's gotten.

Not really. OSM started out with a blank canvas. 2007 was still early days.

Truly astounding. 2007 doesn't even seem like it was a long time ago.

Has any one made a directions engine that runs on OSM in the browser?

There's several:

http://map.project-osrm.org/ http://graphhopper.com/maps/ http://open.mapquest.com/

For mobile, try the Scout app (Android / iOS). Disclaimer: I am on the Scout team. (I also made this 2007-now comparison site.)

Man, I really like the ideas behind OSM and they have an amazing wealth of data. But someone really needs to fund a team to make a usable website and app suite. I would love to switch over to using OSM, but I've yet to find a website or app that comes even remotely close to the usability of Google Maps.

I'm the author of the engine behind yournavigation.

If you want revolutionary progress, someone needs to "fund a team".

But evolutionary progress has a much smaller price tag: For example contribute to the routing mailing list and fund some hardware.

Cool! I was actually poking around the YOURS wiki. Many of my problems seem to be based around lookup. I found it a little confusing that the YOURS wiki claims to use Namefinder as its indexer, but then the Namefinder wiki page claims it's been obsolete for four years.

Anyway, checking out the actual source would probably clear things up. I might do that when I get home from the office.

Try OsmAnd for Android. Allows you to download maps and use it offline, as well as calculate routes for car, bicycle and pedestrian.

I have and it's awful. I want to just type in the street address of my office in St Paul and have it find the right thing.

Instead I have to type in the full city, state, region, etc. It doesn't know "St Paul" so I have to search for "Saint Paul." It gives me three different results for "Raymond Ave". Two are in the same city, except "Ave" vs "Avenue". None of the three are in St Paul, but my office very much is in St Paul. Which one do I pick? I picked one and it doesn't contain my street address, so I can't pick anything. Now what? I press Back to select another of the three identical street names, but it doesn't remember what I typed so I have to type R-a-y-m all over again.

And that's just trying to find an address. I haven't even gotten to the directions functionality. It's a usability nightmare.

I have and use OsmAnd but I still switch to other maps programs quite often. Just searching for an address is an example of how far the mobile app usability needs to go...

Can you elaborate what you are looking for? I'm exploring OSM development right now, and I'd love to implement something that is missing elsewhere.

Mostly I want it to be smarter. More automatic. I know that's a very hard problem.

As an example, I used YourNavigation.org. I zoomed in on my rough location, containing St Paul and Minneapolis. I typed my office's street address into the side bar thingy, hit enter, and... ended up in California. Whoops.

Okay, type in the city name too, and it found the right place. Great! Now as my destination, I typed in my home address, including the city name. Not found. Dammit, I'm going back to Google Maps. (Actually, I tried 4 or 5 variations. Turned out it wanted "W Streetname Ave", not "Streetname Ave W", even though that's what it says on our street signs.)

Thank you for the detailed reply.

I'm using Locus Pro on Android - I don't think it's using OSM data exclusively, yet I wouldn't go back to Google Maps: the ability to have truly offline, vector maps (not "eh, just cache these few tiles, that should be enough") and track recording are the killer features for me.

The most professional implementations seem to be:



The mapquest one is actually useable. Almost as good as google.

Anyone ever tried printing a paper copy of OSM for their region?


Started by a friend : http://www.maposmatic.org/

http://maperitive.net/ takes things in a slightly different direction than the other replies. More work, but lots more control.

I haven't used it.

The power of online collaboration is inspiring.

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