When to Use OpenStreetMap vs. Premium Address Data

October 28, 2020

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This article brought to you by Melissa.

OpenStreetMap is community-driven, free map data built by thousands of volunteers and contributors who maintain public data all over the world. Premium Address Data is raw, paid-for data.

What are the Core Contrasts Between OpenStreetMap and Premium Address Data?


As shown in the chart above, there are a few key differences between OpenStreetMap and Premium Address Data. First, OpenStreetMap starts with shapes, lines or points on a map and may or may not have an actual address associated with it. With Premium Address Data, the focus is on the address; it includes additional information that goes beyond mapping and spatial data. Lastly, OpenStreetMap is based around spatial data while Premium Address Data consists of flat (relational) data with their associated learning curves for each.

For this piece, we are using a free extract of US OpenStreetMap in September 2020 from http://download.geofabrik.de.

The Importance of Address Accuracy

Many businesses and organizations rely on accurate address data for the services they provide. OpenStreetMap does not always include all the information needed to qualify an address as complete and valid, for example, a street name and no house number, or a street address but no city, state, or zip code. This can present problems for businesses that require address accuracy for many types of services, such as those provided by emergency responders.

Use Case: How the City of Burbank Increased Address Accuracy with Premium Address Data

In an effort to better serve their residents and businesses, the City of Burbank looked to improve their data quality with increased address accuracy. The city relies on address accuracy for mailing public notices, permit applications, census data and emergency response situations and set out to rectify their address data issues with Premium Address Data. Unlike public data, premium data includes suite and apartment numbers, making it easier to estimate how many people reside in a building. This level of accuracy is crucial for those providing emergency response services. 

To illustrate the difference in accuracy between OpenStreetMap and Premium Address Data, the following example is shown from the City of Burbank use case. The first image shows what the data looks like using OpenStreetMap:


The area highlighted in blue represents the selected commercial/residential area, showing a good amount of coverage with building footprints and plotted points. However, when going a step further and trying to tie those shapes and points to actual addresses, you can see that the data is limited - little to no address data can be derived from OpenStreetMap:


In the next example, you can see the difference when Premium Address Data is used, as it provides almost complete coverage:


The City of Burbank use case represents a situation where Premium Address Data met the needs of an organization that relies heavily on comprehensive address data coverage.

Building footprints are not widely used across the country, as not all cities have the resources to offer that data. The next image shows an example of coverage in Iowa City. Here, the purple points represent the Premium Address Data, giving much more detail than OpenStreetMap.

Iowa City Coverage Example:


OpenStreetMap & Premium Address Data Use Cases:

In cases where comprehensive coverage is not required and the user simply needs get some sample addresses or locations, OpenStreetMap may be sufficient. Publicly sourced information such as parking lots, schools, cemeteries, places of worship, public transport locations, national parks, farmland and waterways are covered fairly well by the OpenStreetMap data; in addition, tags are often included which include specialized and detailed information.

When comprehensive address coverage is required, Premium Address Data is a better solution. With Premium Address Data, the data is address checked with benefits that include:

  • Determining whether an address is a PO Box, CMRA (Commercial Mail Receiving Agency) or PBSA (Post Office Box Street Address)
  • LACSLink® processing to convert rural-style addresses to city-style addresses
  • Converting alias street names to the preferred street name
  • Vacancy notifications (homes not lived in for at least 90 days and determined vacant by the USPS)

While there are many possibilities in leveraging OpenStreetMap and Premium Address Data, it is helpful to know the differences between them when deciding which one best fits your needs.

Why Melissa?

As the “Address Experts”, Melissa has helped businesses for over 35 years by providing smart solutions to clean, verify, update, match and enrich their customer data. Melissa’s Address Verification service verifies addresses at the point of entry and in batch to ensure bad data never enters your system. We combine a global knowledge database with location reference datasets for over 240 countries and territories and proprietary parsing rules to correct, validate and enrich both partial and full address inputs. Our decades of experience and expertise are why more than 10,000 customers worldwide trust Melissa to grow their business. 


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