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05-10-2012

State of the Map
OpenStreetMap’s 6th International Conference

At the start of September, a wide mixture of people headed to Tokyo for OpenStreetMap's 6th annual international conference known as "State of the Map"(SotM). The conference first ran in 2007 as a way for the dedicated volunteer mappers and early adopters to meet, having known each other online as they added to a very bare map and programmed the initial tools needed. The OpenStreetMap(OSM) user base has grown exponentially now beyond 650,000 registered users, and so the conference has grown to include people with various interests in the project, several having never made a contribution to the map or previously met the community.

By Gregory Marler


OpenStreetMap to the Rescue
OpenStreetMap rocketed in international awareness following the devastating earthquake in Haiti at the start of 2010. Many SotM 2012 delegates represented the efforts of HOT (Humanitarian  OpenStreetMap Team) and other aid organizations. The first conference day was given the title "OSM To The Rescue". We were updated on continued work and support for Haitian mappers, and projects in countries that include Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Not forgetting the host country, Japan, which also held a stream of talks in the native language. Topics covered stories of events that had been organized, new tools, methods, and resources being used, and upcoming projects looking for support.


Waste Map, OpenStreetmap


A standard question at the annual conference was "When will OpenStreetMap coverage be complete?" until everyone moved onto the question "How much detail counts as complete?". We now see the road network and associated facilities complete across most of the developed world, even surpassing coverage by national mapping agencies in some areas. Large users of map data have started to become interested and focus is turning to navigation applications. The SatNav business is fast paced at the moment, so it's good to know what's happening and who else is working with community created data. Technical issues are the main concern, dealing with such vast information and ever growing calculations. Discussion wasn't just limited to car navigation, but reached over to include emergency routing, and public transport systems. This area has a range of complete new-comers to SotM regulars such as Raul Krauthausen of WheelMap.org. It's great to see an update on how the website is helping people in more countries find step-free access to shops, buildings, and neighbourhoods. We watched a TV advert filmed and funded by Google that showed OpenStreetMap to advertise WheelMap.org.

Conferences are a time for friends
The talks were all great, but OpenStreetMap is built on community. Friendships really grow over food and geobeers. Bento boxes were provided for lunch each day, offering a selection of traditional Japanese food. In the evening meals were provided by the sponsors, one of which was on a boat that gave wonderful night time views of the city centre skyline.

We didn't get to see any Geo Yoga performances by Tim Waters this year. Instead Tim spoke on "You Know When You are Addicted to OSM When...", which was full of laughs. ‘Is OpenStreetMap a Pirate or a Pilot?’, was the question posed by Dr Bob Barr in his brilliant style of speaking that's a mix of philosophy and comedy. Often talks include before and after maps of the work that is done, as an audience and group of friends we show 'map love' by clapping at the result and extra detail shown. A new website, http://live.openstreetmap.fr was launched, which easily puts me in a trance watching where people are editing OSM in real time. I watched this for a 10 minute period while there was an average of 159 contributions a second.


Tokyo impression

The three day event was closed with a display of banners that brought memories of the London Olympic Opening Ceremony. Being run by a non-for-profit foundation, the conference had many volunteer organizers to thank. All the display items and materials produced were auctioned off as souvenirs. The auction provided more humor as people called out bids in about 10 different currencies. As is tradition for State of the Map, there was embarrassing song at the end. Ivan Sanchez, famous for writing "Geo Global Domination, The Musical", unable to make it, I took to the stage to perform "I'm Making Maps" to the tune of "It's Raining Men". If the talks and community weren't enough, the following day there was an optional sight-seeing and mapping trip to Mt Takao. More time for friendship building and geo discussions out of the city centre.

Mapping In Memory
When I returned from Japan, many friends were surprised I could describe a conference as deeply emotional. When you have aid agencies in Haiti expressing lives were saved by OpenStreetMap help, you see there is an important connection with people in my hobby. Many Japanese mappers who had helped trace imagery of Haiti were humbled in March 2011 as Haitians and others around the world put their effort into creating resources for aid workers on the ground in the disaster hit areas.

Last summer, at the the State of the Map EU conference I had listened to Kinya Inoue (known as Ikiya), a resident of Fukushima, tell how he had gone out to map the changes to the road network. He showed screenshots of a residential area he had surveyed and the whole area covered by the sea. It would be easy to look at the frustration of time consuming work being wasted, but Inoue's thoughts are with those who have lost their homes and perhaps loved ones. He hopes that with time his GPS traces will be able to provide a memory of places that can now longer be visited. The talk was repeated this year and despite hearing it before I struggled to hold in my tears. Continuing on the recalling of events, Kinya pointed out he was aware the coast line moved by several metres and this would need resurveying. A beautiful coastline and landscape, in his talk last year not mentioned but now he revealed to us how he had been unable to visit the places he knew and loved for over a year following the devastating work of the tsunami. Not confidently fluent in English, yet the whole room was captivated and gripped on each word read out. With time, OpenStreetMap and its need for resurveying was part of the grieving process. If there is one talk to watch, it is this one that took place at midday on Thursday.

Gregory Marler is a web developer, data lover, and geospatial consultant. When he's not having fun working or singing, he's getting lost creating a map and blogging at LivingWithDragons.com
The full schedule of the conference, complete with video recordings and slides is available at http://wiki.osm.org/SotM12
Events across the world are happening each week, a calendar is shown on the OSM Wiki homepage. http://wiki.osm.org
The main map (not including all the different subject-focused renderings) can be seen at www.openstreetmap.org

 





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