Steve Coast on OpenStreetMap, HOT and paying it forward

By Rebeckah Flowers

OpenStreetMap was ready in 2012 as Google began charging for the Google maps API — it became the preferred mapping platform and primary data source for a growing list of companies around the world.  Since then the power of OSM has only grown.  Why? Because it has built a global community of passionate contributors that supply and verify local, accurate and up-to-date data, and that data is still free to use with just a simple credit to OSM and its contributors.  Recently, Directions caught up with Steve Coast, founder of OpenStreetMap, co-founder of CloudMade and currently the head of OSM at Telenav, to learn more.

Q: What was the inspiration for creating OpenStreetMap?

A:Back in 2004, there was a lack of available map and location data in the UK. However, there was this newly emerging information tool called Wikipedia that was slowly becoming a powerhouse. Based on its model and success, I was inspired to create its counterpart with respect to maps.

Q: What resources and solutions are available for businesses, schools and organizations?

A:Currently, OpenStreetMaps is being utilized in schools, colleges and universities across a variety of educational disciplines including geography, mathematics, ecology, community planning, government and Information Technology  – with some educators contributing to the existing OSM database. What’s interesting is that in the process of using OSM and contributing data, students develop real-world IT skills needed to process data and gain valuable knowledge in the fields of Geographic Information Systems, planning and community development.

On the business front, OSM is used in a wide variety of consumer products ranging from mobile applications like Telenav’s Scout to automobiles currently on the road. Businesses are realizing that alternatives to OSM are much pricier, and lack the quality or real-time data updates afforded to OSM by its more than million contributors.

Q: What is the relationship with Are there other similar organizations? How do these organizations reinforce your global mission to encourage collaboration?

A: The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team depends heavily on OSM to do their humanitarian response and economic development work. From their website: “the organization acts as a bridge between the traditional Humanitarian Responders and the OpenStreetMap Community. Moreover, HOT works both remotely and physically in countries to assist [in] the collection of geographic data, usage of that information and training others in OpenStreetMap. HOT believes that free geodata can help save and improve lives in times of political crisis and natural disasters leveraging [the] network of OpenStreetMap contributors, and by traveling to help people map their own communities and make that data available.” Recently, and according to Wired, the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake this year saw “2,182 digital volunteers providing 14,700 km2 worth of high resolution satellite imagery that identified approximately 3,128 damaged buildings.”

 Similar organizations include the following:

Q: How can folks best engage and pay it forward?

A: When I created OSM more than 10 years ago, I was just out to create a map – and that’s it. Since then, the tool and its uses have evolved and I believe that it’s an amazing thing that there are people involved in the [OSM] project that want to do socially beneficial things with the tool and that they’re interested in OSM from a different perspective. If folks want to engage with OSM, start by getting to know the tools and the community of users that are currently leveraging the tool. And while they’re at it, check out Telenav’s Scout mobile app to see how companies are using that data.

Interested in knowing more about Steve Coast and what’s next for OSM? Check out

Published Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Written by Rebeckah Flowers

Published in


Open Source

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