Tulsa’s First OpenStreetMap Editathon

We had our first OpenStreetMap (OSM) Editathon yesterday at Fab Lab Tulsa.  We made about 50 edits to the Tulsa area, including adding buildings, adjusting roads, and adding points of interest.

Scott Philips, Patrick Forringer, and John Dungan get started as OpenStreetMap mappers
Getting started at our OpenStreetMap Editathon

We’re mostly OSM novices.  Half of the attendees had never added data to OpenStreetMap, and I made my first contribution on Friday.   We found OSM easy to get into; everyone had added mapping data within an hour of arriving.  A great place to start is LearnOSM, which has step-by-step instructions for using OpenStreetMap.org, creating an account, and making your first edit.  This uses iD, a browser-based OSM editor that is designed to be simple and friendly.   A fun activity for the beginner to is tracing local and known buildings from satellite data, and adding details like street addresses and websites.  This part felt a lot like our Tulsa Wiki work, but with better mapping tools.

Paul Johnson joined us after lunch, and was by far the most experienced OpenStreetMap contributor of the group, with over 5000 change sets and nearly 1 millions nodes.  He’s been contributing since 2009, starting in Oregon.  He moved back to Oklahoma last year, and has been mapping around the state since then.  He shared some helpful history of the OSM project, and introduced us to the world of serious OSM mappers.

Paul Johnson and Patrick Forringer working on mapping the Tulsa Zoo in Open Street Maps
Paul Johnson and Patrick Forringer working on mapping the Tulsa Zoo in Open Street Maps

There’s a lot of US data already in OSM, especially since the TIGER data was added in 2007, marking many roads and features. However, not every road is included, and data can grow stale due to construction and road closings.

Paul uses a Garmin GPS to record data.  He’ll leave it recording when driving, to record points along a road as well as the speed he was driving.  These traces can be downloaded to his laptop for mapping, and uploaded to OSM to act as raw data for himself an other mappers. Contributors from all over the world convert uploaded GPS traces to roads with names, direction, speed limits, and lane data. Many standalone GPS devices now export in the GPX format, useful for uploading anonymized data and reporting issues about existing maps.

Paul uses OsmAnd on his Android phone for driving directions based on OSM data.  He can create GPX tracks for new road mapping, as well as add notes to highlight problems or remind him of changes he’d like to make.  He uses JOSM for desktop editing, which has a high learning curve, but exposes many powerful mapping features, and can be augmented with plugins like GeoChat that let you collaborate and avoid conflicts with other mappers working in the same area.

Paul says the OSM community trusts GPS measurements and personal observations more than bulk data imports and area-wide tagging.  While he demonstrated his workflow, I picked up a few tips for new mappers:

  • Go through the beginners guides on LearnOSM, for an introduction to OSM concepts and tools.
  • Use a GPS tracing tool, either a stand-alone unit or a smartphone app.  Get to know it, and how to mark points, take traces, and export data. You can browse for recommendations on the OSM Wiki.
  • Look for GNIS-tagged data in your location.  These should be the important places in your neighborhood, with “gnis:id” tags, but they are usually marked with a point rather than an outline.  Either measure the building directly with GPS or trace it using an overhead map, and fill out additional information.
  • Use OSM-based navigation tools like OsmAnd and MapQuest Open.  Get a feel for the accuracy of OSM data around your community.
  • Download and start learning JOSM.  It has a huge learning curve, but it is still the most powerful tool, so get started.
  • Join the US OSM community, and start asking for help and advice.
  • Map what’s important to you: your neighborhood, your workplace, parks, bike trails, historical sites. Use it as an excuse to get out of the house and explore.
Screenshot of authors from JOSM
Some of the OSM mappers from Downtown Tulsa. We’d love to get these people together regularly.

I’m excited to get started in OSM mapping, and help build the mapping community. There are lots of Tulsa mappers already, some of who are using OSM (for example, check out the University of Tulsa Campus).  There are others, working for the city or the private sector, who love mapping but are using different tools.  We’d love to get a GIS enthusiast group started in Tulsa.  If you are interested too, please introduce yourself in the comments or in the Code for Tulsa Forum.  Happy mapping!

One thought on “Tulsa’s First OpenStreetMap Editathon

  1. I usually use Osmand to collect GPX traces mostly because it’s nice and one-stop and will upload it to OSM’s gps trace database straight from the device. OSM favors original research over imports mostly out of licensing and maintainability issues (not all imports are bad, though, took the TIGER import to jumpstart interest in the US, and lot centroids with addresses have sparked building tracing in places).

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