Archive for August, 2009

State of the Map Scholarships, Looking forward

“The SOTM was the opportunity to meet more closely all those people sharing experiences, knowledge, experience and passion for a common project. To feel the real sense of comunity. To have seen the result of working together, of uniting all our efforts.” – Jorge Batista

“The experience has convinced me that the OSM organizational model is valid. I had a meeting today with the people from OSM does not have access to the same (government) datasources as them” – Nic Roets

The scholarship program is meant to be a starting point. What comes next is yet to be seen. What’s needed to get there is now much more clear. And here is where some interesting divergences happen from our prior experiences with OSM.

GPS units are much more expensive in developing countries, due to scarcity and import duties, and sometimes just impossible to procure. We need to find a better way to distribute these units. The OSM Foundation already runs the GPS ToGo program, and distributed GPS units to several of the scholarship winners.

There’s a need to map marginal areas. Conflicts and informal settlements are unfortunately much more common in developing countries. Already for many slums, OSM is the only source available, from tracing Yahoo imagery. However, the resolution of Yahoo imagery, and lack of POIs and names collected via on-the-ground surveying limit the usefulness of OSM. Most anyone who lives outside these areas is very wary of visiting in order to map, probably with good reason. So, the only way to map a slum is by giving the tools of mapping to residents of the slum. From Brazilian Favelas, to Cairo slums, to the Transistrian independent region of Moldova, there’s great opportunity to map the unmapped. JumpStart International, who sponsored the mapping of Palestine, are already looking to help in efforts to map Kibera (Nairobi’s and perhaps Africa’s largest slum), and parts of South Ossetia.

We can start to acquire satellite imagery for areas that are hard to reach, like conflict zones, or in many cities simply without good coverage in Yahoo Maps. The experience of Gaza, where we acquired high resolution aerial imagery relatively inexpensively, and combined with low tech tools like Walking Papers can remove issues around GPS units.

Developing countires require localisation more urgently. There are generally fewer English speakers, and so the website, the wiki, and the map itself need translation. Already a great amount of infrastructure is in place for localisation, but there’s more to do. Producing alternate, local tile sets is still very difficult, and arguably something that the main site should do, and we have been discussing solutions. There are also ways to engage with the very active web translation community, by building new interfaces; this is an idea I discussed with David Sasaki at SOTM, another long time online acquaintance I finally got to meet in person.

Localised renderings are crucial. Many applications are seemingly only possible if there’s free data and motivated people. Transport maps, such as the ones produced for Chennai, are a rarity in developing countries, and OSM can easily introduce some efficiencies to usually chaotic transit systems. Useful services like this will be key.

And as SOTM is likely to remain a distant event for many mappers in the world, there’s interest in organizing regional conferences that carry on that spirit.

“I was impressed by the diverse array of applications and use cases where OSM data is being employed, the potentials for all kinds of exciting future geo-enabled mobile applications, and above all the enthusiasm & energy of the OSM crowd.” – Abdelrahman

Other ideas and needs are more generally a focus of OSM. We are working on a framework to set up Local Chapters, and everyone was interested in having some legal backing to their promotional and advocacy activities. The issues are diverse and complicated, so having as many perspectives on what constitutes a membership organization in different jurisdictions is very valuable. All are looking for advice on setting up local legal entities. Considering the small size of the group, and natural affinities, there was some discussion of initially starting with a Latin America wide local chapter.

With an official presence, groups can approach potential data donors, like governments, national mapping agencies, and cadastre departments. Many businesses collect geodata, and may be willing to share or help collect data. University and education programs can make great use of OSM, so local mappers are looking to make contacts with education ministries and produce promotional materials for schools.

Promotion. In the media, in different activity groups, conferences .. promotion has always been one of the most chaotic and creative parts of OSM. And there’s a real need to distill down collective wisdom here .. how to frame a story to gain media attention, sponsor events, and promote with recreation groups. And along with greater promotion comes the need to make the process simpler; simpler editing tools and new, non-tech heavy ways to contribute, like Walking Papers and OpenStreetBugs.

And as these projects grow, we want to measure the progress. This has also been a chaotic part of OSM, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Just for instance, all of our stats are global, and could easily be broken down by country.

Finally, let me just say personally, this was such an excellent project. Who wouldn’t be happy making other people happy?! After a very short couple months, rapidly organizing the application process, then tickets and visas, it was just incredible to have everyone together, in person.

The only sad excpetion was Anas Maraqa from Palestine, who was denied a last minute visa with little explanation. We all missed him at SOTM, and I hope next year works out differently.

Hoping we’ll be able to do it again next year, with a little more lead time. It was very successful for all, and we’ll soon see the results.

This year is not yet over. There’s still some funding for follow up activities. We’re working to figure out what shape this will take.

Sincere thanks to the Open Society Institute for making this all possible, Hotel Residence le Coin for a welcoming home in Amsterdam, Gloria Roa for helping with arrangements, and Erica Hagen for support all around.

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State of the Map Scholarships, looking back

The State of the Map scholarships were focused on the benefit to the recipients. Travel to Amsterdam, connection with the wider project, the intention was to provide a boost to local OSM projects in the developing world, where the communities are young and the opportunities great.

And that definitely happened, but the most definite success sign of the program was the impressions from other attendees. Many people expressed to me how much the recipients added to the entire experience, some raising up the program as a highlight of the conference. Despite coming from the other side of the planet, from vastly different experiences, there was a recognition from everyone that we’re all united in the same pursuit of open knowledge, facing the same challenges and winning the same wins. Whenever I have travelled promoting OSM, in India, Africa and the Middle East, I’ve shared that same experience of encountering like-spirited people, and it gives me the greatest optimism for this OSM endeavor.

“To meet in person the people that keep the project going stronger had a curious effect – It boost the confidence in the potential of my contributions to the project because, now, I see that those guys are pretty much like me.” – Claudomiro Nascimento Jr.

“In the same time it eas wonderful to be able to talk in person with all the guys that I only knew over email.” – Ciprian Talaba

Of course it helped that all the guys were awesome, and jumped into the conference full on, everyone gave “State of” talks, and helped out with videos and the auction. Fredy Rivera even offered up 100 leather OSM keychains for the auction, and I snatched up 25, some of which were distributed at the Camp Roberts exercises.

The talks .. charming and impressive work from all.

Pakistan, Ludhiana, India, Romania, Moldova, Cuba, Vietnam, Egypt, Chile, South Africa, Brasil, Chennai, India (and missing links to Columbia and Georgia)

To meet the guys a little more personally, Christian Kreutz did some great short interviews at the conference. Was great to finally meet Christian in person after a couple years correspondence online. (I myself tried to do a few Flip interview cameras, but with all that was going on I couldn’t get it together .. something to try for another time).

“Being at SotM was great. Great event, great people. their great passion. Get motivated to do more and felt need to do to more outreach activities.” – H. S. Rai

“It helped me understand that it is not all about completing the map but to get more people to discover it and enjoy contributing and using it.” – Julio Costa

“Now I see that inviting friends to a mapping party, explaning them there about the details, walking out with GPSes and/or walking papers and finishing the day with some beer could be much more effective. :)” – Arlindo Pereira

I asked the recipients about the experience of SOTM, and what the future looked like. Again, the remarkable thing is how much is shared in OpenStreetMap, no matter where you come from. Learning, fun, motivation.

The main impression has been that OSM is much more than a technical project, and in fact, it’s primarily a social project. Folks in Western Europe and the US aren’t surprised by this, as mostly people have been introduced to OSM through a mapping party, conference, or contact with an experienced mapper. For folks who have only heard of OSM through the internet, this tacit knowledge is somehow lost. They now see the importance of building a community, and the key to growth in organzing mapping parties.

Direct connections to other people were very welcome. The opportunity was taken to develop regional connections, in Easter Europe, and especially in South America. I was surprised by the number of program applicants from South America, and their energy is going to help accelerate OSM there. Many of the guys are interested in technical issues, and it always helps to have personal connections with other developers.

One immediate result from SOTM was Flickr increasing their coverage to Hanoi, Havana, and Santiago. Hanoi was added just in time for the first Hanoi mapping party.

More on future directions in the next post.


The Romantic Mappers of State of the Map

Has it really already been a month since the amazing State of the Map 2009?!

One of the most exciting, inspiring conferences I’ve been involved in. And one of the most well documented conferences. The wiki has links to all the media, including many full presentation slides/videos .. definitely worth exploring. My feelings are shared with Tim Waters (getting awesomely un-British-ly emotional), Aaron Cope who said “hard to ever imagine a world without Open Street Maps”, Uncle Ed Parsons, and more.

On the first time business day, some big announcements, such a Yahoo! saying “that by the end of 2010 we would remove all proprietary sources from our place data, looking to OSM’s open data to help us replace our proprietary data”, and Geocommons open-sourced Geocoder.

Sold out attendance by 250 folks, a great venue, great city. Inspiration. Just a success. Thanks everyone.

My presentation on Free and Open Palestine was well received, thanks to SOTM for giving the stage to tell this story. On video.

Was great that my JumpStart colleague Jeff Haack could come out to Amsterdam, giving us some time to look at the future of mapping on the edges.

Despite being “all grown up and serious”, OpenStreetMap and State of the Map is just fun. This is perhaps the key creative point to the entire success of the project.

I was especially excited to help put together Cakes! In mapping parties, the Cake refers to the division of a city into sections for mappings. With the OSM license, we were able to make these actual eatable delicious sweet cakes. Thanks to Geocommons for sponsoring cakes, Matt Amos for generating the images, and the SOTM organizing team for arranging with the local bakers/printers.

Mike Collinson organized the 2009 SOTM poetry competition. How great is it that our geek community is full of poets! I didn’t submit anything this time, but have been known to write a poem when the occasion called for it!

Sunday morning, the secret “geo celebrity” was everyone .. it was a “Lazy OSM” session led by Nick. I stumbled in a little late Sunday morning, so missed the fun .. Chippy captured the LazyOSM tweets. The idea came out at WhereCamp (#lazygeo) and again at CrisisCamp (#lazycrisis) .. everyone has a long list of ideas they will never work on, so why not just lazily release to the world to implement, in a live setting. You have 140 characters or less to describe your idea, followed by rapid responses from the crowd. Everything is tweeted. The rapid, shallow rush through the unfulfilled dreams of participant brings up the entire range, from shining brilliant ideas, to the dark side of worst fears when it comes to technology.

The closing Dutch auction was such an amazing performance by Henk Hoff. I definitely got swept up in the moment, and big on keychains, posters, and a banner. Have plans to take these to all corners of the globe. The Foundation earned more money in that half hour than all our merchandising all year (we better improve that!).

Finally, I rapidly set up a Gigapan unit and captured a dimly lit but complete zoomable portrait of SOTM attendees.

This is all without even mentioning the Scholarship program, my main and continuing focus of the events. More next.


Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Next. And also wine.

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Camp Roberts takes place quarterly. The first Crisis Mapping Conference takes place in October .. I was fortunate to find a too brief moment to catch up with co-organizer Patrick Meier in Paso Robles. The Hackistan code sprint looks to be taking place in October. We’re working on holding events in Africa around the AfricaGIS conference, and do some follow up activities with the SOTM Scholarship recipients, especially incorporating Walking Papers in slum mapping.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team is working hard to take stock of what resources, materials, and organization we’ll need to fully engage with the emergency response community. Great ally Nicolas Chavent, formerly of the UNJLC, had joined to help with his tremendous experience.

Tangent, of course Burning Man is coming up, and Burning Man Earth will be on the playa in full. Here’s an early version of our map. Using very much the same toolkit and approach as Camp Roberts .. agile programming with great frameworks like GeoDjango, offline apps, open data, lightweight APIs .. we’re building out the digital nervous system of Black Rock City. BRC has always been a place for experimentation, a living one week urban laboratory in the harshest of environments. It’s the birth place of the Headmap manifesto. The fun we have out there is going to have beneficial reflections on the “default world”.

A little specific tech for the next Camp Roberts

We’re not done of course. The grid overlay on Walking Papers need tweaking, and probably migration to a real coordinate system. There are standard emergency iconography and schemas, and we need to get proper mapping in place, as we have for the UNSDI-t. My feeling is that OSM tags need a little bit of structured around them, but not explicitly in them, to provide better flow between the Map Features descriptions, tagging process, rendered icons, configuration options in editors, and mapping to other systems. OAuth and OpenID need fleshing out so that things like GeoChat can fully post updates on behalf of OSM mappers. In the long term, the tools for synchronizing OSM from multiple sources are needed, something approaching multimaster-sync, but based in better UI tools for sorting through geographic change and conflicts.

And we definitely need an icon for Kitfoxes!

With all the imagery processing happening, OpenAerialMap was mourned again. The NGA imagery is free to use, but it’s only usable form right now is a drive on the way to Afghanistan. There are lots of ideas on how to relaunch and scale up OAM, and there may be some efforts in the space in the near future.

Finally I have to give thanks (and gloat about) our accommodation for the week. Josh’s buddy Steve Martell runs Kaleidos Wine, and he generously offered space on his vineyard for us to camp, as well as quite a few glasses of wine. It was absolutely killer hanging out there, playing with the dogs and enjoying the incredible view. We also got a tour of the Firestone Brewery from their friend Matthew Brynildson, and that was just incredible. Yea, those 08:00 briefings were pretty blurry for us.

Paso Robles is lovely. If you get down there, check out the Kaliedos tasting room .. fun spot, great unpretentious wine.


Camp Roberts, Open Works

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OpenStreetMap was just one node in the flow. Through GeoWeb standards .. tiles, GeoRSS, KML .. Sahana was also receiving SMS updates, and DevelopmentSeed built an impressive election monitoring app for Afghanistan.

One piece we didn’t have time to implement was feedback from OSM into Google. Turns out, Sean Wholtman on the enterprise team has developed a process to bring OSM data into Google Fusion! Very eager to see how that develops for Google and OSM.


Preparing for my presentation at the Camp Roberts mapping party, I looked up the above back-of-the-napkin image from my presentation at SOTM two years ago, OpenStreetMap, a disaster waiting to happen. The reflection on the present data integration, data flow, and policy, was startling. Pre-deploy vector and imagery data is gathered. During response, remote sensors in the form of satellite imagery, UAVs (and kites!) are pulled in. Reports are received via SMS and radio. Data is shared among local components, and with the greater web, via lightweight standards. And boggling to me, paper is a two-way medium!

Camp Roberts fulfilled the rough blurry vision of this sketch. Amazing.

But this was just an exercise, right? Turns out all our work is getting immediate use in Afghanistan. Todd Huffman brought a MacMini and portable drive for us to install our work on. The drive got all the imagery. Andrew Turner had already set up the Mini as a GeoCommons appliance, and loaded up loads of data sets for Afghanistan, and locally produced OSM tiles. Walking Papers is there now too.

That MacMini will be installed in the only bar in Eastern Afghanistan. It’s a gathering place for everyone working in the region, from government, NGOs, military and locals. In a social space is a system for social data. This is part of Star-Tides mission, to provide technological solutions that make humanitarian response more effective. Todd is also intending to incorporate Walking Papers in his work with young Afghani geeks at the Fab Lab Afghanistan hacker space, and with construction projects.

Surprising to me, there was simply very little questioning of the crowd sourced approach to data. It was well understood to be effective, and that issues like vandalism and quality are being addressed. The simple proof is that OSM provides the best map of Jalalabad, mostly contributed by Todd. The model works.

final thoughts in the next post


There is a Kitfox. More on OpenStreetMap at Camp Roberts

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The starting point was 50 cm imagery of Aghanistan, released by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Todd Huffman, known to me from the Beer for Data program, negotiated free use of the invaluable imagery. OpenStreetMap’s response to Gaza demonstrates just one application of the power of easily available imagery. The US government, and many other governments, purchase this imagery with our tax money, and it’s totally reasonable and to be expected that such imagery should be put to its widest possible use in times of crisis.

The Google Enterprise team brought a Google Fusion server, and processed that imagery into Spherical Mercator tiles. With just a little config, everyone was able to incorporate these tiles in their systems (Andrew, you could also highlight tiles as an enabling GeoWeb standard).


Walking Papers blew everyone’s minds. It’s fair to say that paper was the highest tech on display, and emergency responders and other observers coming through the exercises were inevitably intrigued by the possibilities. We got a great deal done in intense coding sessions to make WP more ready for emergency response, most crucially decoupling WP from web services that may not be available in an emergency, or may simply be too expensive to access over satellite data connections common in these situations.

The OSM rails app and tile rendering system were straightforward to take offline, and run locally. Walking Papers took some hacking. The print and scan storage was optionally disengaged from S3. Aaron’s ws-compose went through heavy modification to work with configurable, local tile sources, and allow for overlay of multiple layers. We took the Google processed imagery, overlayed semi-transparent tiles from the local OSM server, and published both in the WP pdf. Our hacking was captured on this github branch, and with some work will make it back into the main codebase.

Walking Papers are meant to be scanned and then digitized into OSM. Camp Roberts threw up another usage scenario: a remote team prints out WP before deployment, but only has access to low-bandwidth communications, like SMS, to report back changes to the map. We worked closely with the InSTEDD team to integrate with GeoChat. On each WP print, a 100×100 grid is overlayed. Along with the bounding box of the paper, this 4 character coordinate can be translated into a fairly accurate lat/long.

When a WP is printed, the local GeoChat server is pinged with the paper ID and the bbox. Their SMS gateway and server was installed at the forward operating base, which provided internet connectivity and solar power, completely off the grid. During the field exercise, SMS reports were sent to GeoChat, including the paper ID and grid coordinate, along with text description and tags. Certain tags trigger GeoChat to pass the message on to the local OSM server, in the form of a changeset with one new node.

Simply, via Walking Papers and GeoChat, OpenStreetMap can now be updated with just a text message!


From there, OpenStreetMap generates new tiles. These tiles are automatically incorporated in other tools. Sahana users automatically see the Kitfox report. Now imagine that this a report of a bridge out, a collapsed building, a shelter for refugees. We have extremely easy to update and share base mapping. This is a big deal.

The OSM server was also producing Shapefiles, KML, Garmin maps, all of which have unexplored potential in disaster response.

The roundup in the next post…

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OpenStreetMap at the Camp Roberts Disaster Response Experiments

An extraordinary week at the Camp Roberts experiments. Simply .. the Open approach to disaster response is becoming a reality.

John Crowley of Star-Tides, who many of us met at CrisisCamp (and I still haven’t written up that amazing weekend, it’s been that kind of summer) assembled a stellar crew of developers and thinkers from Google, DevelopmentSeed, InSTEDD, Sahana, TerraPan, and OpenStreetMap. Bring together these projects and talented individuals, poke and prod them with interestingly mis-congruent to agile development, Army style 08:00 daily briefings and “hot washes”, and the amazing collaborations develop.

Though a completely different world, it all had a similar feel to the week long locative arts workshop in Nottingham, organized by Ben Russell, that originally delivered me to OpenStreetMap. That journey, from art to emergency, says everything about the rapid changes Open source, data, and standards are triggering in the most crucial parts of our world.

Eric Gunderson captured the experience with brilliant photos.


Josh Livni and Mike Migurski generously took days out of their intensely creative day jobs to hack, brainstorm, and have a great time down in Paso Robles.


There is a Kitfox

This image says it all. The Kit fox is a threatened species in California, and specifically on the Camp Roberts base the fine for accidental killing is over $100k! This does lead to a lot of grumbled joking, but rather effectively raises awareness of its plight. It became a kind of mascot for our field tests.

The journey of this little report is a result of integration and data sharing among all our systems, rapid development, micro-power and UAVs, and an open data sharing policy that just a couple years ago were just back of the napkin drawings.

The dusty details in the next post…