State of the Map U.S. runs April 12-13 in Washington, D.C. It’s the U.S. event for users of the “emerging major global geo data source,” OpenStreetMap. Directions Magazine asked Alex Barth, secretary of OpenStreetMap United States Inc., to provide a preview. Organizers released 30 tickets, and created a waiting list, after the conference sold out as of Monday.
Directions Magazine(DM): What one thing, based on the presentations submitted, seems to be the biggest draw for users of OpenStreetMap? Why do you think that is?
Alex Barth (AB): There is a wide variety of motivations as to why individuals or organizations start using OpenStreetMap as data users or contributors, but three stand out: open data, data quality and direct editing. OpenStreetMap is open, raw data. You can go and download it from OpenStreetMap for free and use it for any application you'd like - creating commercial maps and navigation, city planning, disaster risk simulations, you name it. At the same time, in the 10 years that OpenStreetMap's been around now it has grown to amazing data quality with global data coverage, paralleled by very few other datasets out there. The project has been growing so successfully because there is no friction to improving it. You can create an account and edit OpenStreetMap within minutes. This allows the project to scale incredibly fast as you can see for instance in the current efforts in mapping in Guinea around the Ebola outbreak for Medicins sans Frontieres and Humanitarian OSM team or in the Typhoon Haiyan response of the American Red Cross. This combination of open data and direct access to editing the map fuels the amazing and growing community of mappers, programmers and data users that make up OpenStreetMap. The power of OpenStreetMap lies in its community and its infrastructure to create an up-to-date map every day.
DM: What one thing do you think prevents potential users from using OSM as a base map? Why do you think that is? What is the OSM community doing to tackle that issue?
AB: There shouldn't be anything stopping you from using OpenStreetMap as a base map. You can use OpenStreetMap's tiles from OSM.org, you can create your own with one of the many tools to do so, but there are also commercial providers with different styles and SLAs [service level agreements] to pick from. You might have very specific data requirements that will tie you to creating your own maps. In this case you're running a good chance to wind up using tools we're using in OpenStreetMap every day to create our maps: Mapnik, Tilemill, Postgres and so forth. Welcome to the OpenStreetMap software world. OpenStreetMap is all about open data, but it is facilitated through the availability of an open source geo stack that has grown incredibly strong. OpenStreetMap thrives on that but is also an engine for open source innovation - for instance, take a look at the two most popular OpenStreetMap editors, JOSM and iD. Both are among the best vector editing tools out there.
DM: What one presentation do you consider to be “can’t miss” this year? Why?
AB: This absolutely depends on your interest. This is about the base map of the world; accordingly, people have very diverse reasons why they're interested in OpenStreetMap. I encourage you to check out our program and select to taste. We've had twice as many submissions as what wound up on the schedule and I'm very excited about this year's lineup.
DM: How did the “1/3 of scholarships to women” initiative go? Outside of that effort, are more women signing up to attend this year? Do you think the same factors that impact the number of women at other geospatial and technology events impact SOTM and OSM? Why or why not?
AB: The initiative went fantastic; we got good feedback on it and it's a great tool for us to get more women involved - not just the one-third that received the scholarship. You can see from the fact that we guaranteed that one-third that we're still away from an ideal 50%. But we're moving in the right direction, with attendees at the San Francisco conference in 2013 at 20%, up from 15.5% in Portland a year before that. The OpenStreetMap U.S. board is now two women, three men; compare that to five men the year before. Obviously all the factors that keep female participation at current levels in the geo and tech sector also impact OpenStreetMap, but it's on us to change this, one step at a time. This is incredibly important for OpenStreetMap. Our mission is to map the world; we need to get everyone involved in that.
DM: I challenge you to create two elevator pitches for SOTM-US: one to convince someone who works in the geospatial technology world to attend and one to convince someone who is outside of that world to attend.
AB: OpenStreetMap is the emerging major global geo data source, it is a ground breaking way of collaborating around any geo data and it is a hotbed for innovative software. This year's State of the Map U.S. in Washington, D.C. will be the largest OpenStreetMap conference to date. Don't miss this.