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Why we believe in Open Data and Participatory Mapping

Maps in 2019 are beyond placemarks and navigation. They give an accurate perspective of a village, town, city or neighbourhood. They tell stories. The best stories about a place are told by the people who live and work there or are in some way invested in that place. The same rule applies to maps. The people invested in a place have more knowledge about the surroundings than anyone else. This premise led to the rise and popularity of OpenStreetMap.

Large corporations which currently host and provide web map tiles and basemaps have moderators. These moderators monitor and approve changes to a map sitting in offices. This means that geographic data of a community is not being controlled by people who make up that community. Apart from this, a change in the area may not be reflected in such maps for months, possibly years. This will depend on when data will be collected, sent to moderators, and approved. This often results in erroneous maps, outdated content, and missing data. Such bad maps don’t really help anybody. As opposed to this, public participatory mapping can enable immediate updates to an area on the map.

 

person in front of computer

We at GeoSpoc actively strive to have a culture of contributing to open data. Part of this culture also extends to OpenStreetMap. Many of us are active contributors to OpenStreetMap for our neighbourhoods and localities. On GIS Day this November, we thought of extending our know-how and expertise to remote locations of India. We pulled up a list of towns and villages across India which are currently not on the map, to map them.

Keeping the spirit of community and keeping in mind the shortfalls of mapping remotely, we decided to stick to mapping clear and visible roads on high-resolution satellite imagery, so that these places are connected to the nearest road network or a highway. Our team was excited as ever and picked places which may not receive as much attention as your Mumbais or Delhis. In this two-hour mapathon, our analysts reached and mapped places like Phushgarh in Haryana, Chettiarpatti in Tamil Nadu, Prothrapur in Andaman and Kiphire in Nagaland among others. At the end of the session, we had mapped a total of 1419.405 km in roads. A few of those who participated in the mapathon were inspired and continued mapping places they knew, contributing to the open data sphere.

The mapathon was a success and led a few members of the team towards the State of the Map Asia conference held in Bengaluru in late-November. SotM is an annual conference showcasing discussions around OpenStreetMap, which is held in countries which hold successful bids for hosting the event. SotM Asia 17 was held in Nepal, while Bangladesh has won the bid for 2019.

geospoc team in sotm

The conference was a resounding success, with record attendance for the Asia chapter, and also featured the efforts made by GeoSpoc for the Kerala flood relief efforts in a presentation by Manoj Karingamadathil. The event not only helped publicize GeoSpoc’s efforts but also helped the team to see what’s currently happening around open data. The conference also helped GeoSpoc tie-up with Datameet Pune – a local body of like-minded individuals who work towards contributing and curating open datasets.

Small contributions can make a large difference, especially during calamities when accessibility is of utmost importance. GeoSpoc believes that data is valuable and should be used judiciously, and certain kinds of data deserve to be in the public domain. It is with this belief that we support and encourage open data and public participatory mapping.

 

Chinmay Shaligram | CTO, GeoSpoc

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