Cool Toys Pic of the Day – OpenStreetMap

Open Street Map

Photo attribution:

In their own words:
“OpenStreetMap is a free, editable map of the whole world. Unlike proprietary datasets like Google Map Maker, the OpenStreetMap license allows free access to the full map dataset. This massive amount of data can be downloaded in full, but also is available in
immediately-useful forms like maps and commercial services.

The main way that users participate in OpenStreetMap (OSM) is by editing the map. With a free user account, you can make improvements to the map that fix issues and add data for everyone. Some users take GPS units on walks, drives, or cycling trips to record tracks that can then be imported to OpenStreetMap. Others help out by tracing roads and features they find in satellite imagery into the map.”

OSM has a nearly unlimited number of uses as a research and
collaborative tool. This came to my attention when a fellow classmate noted that he was going to be using it to study the use of interactive technology in the rural areas of West Virginia (from which he hails) compared to other rural areas in the United States. He is going to be contributing and studying the number of contributions for specific areas throughout this semester.

If you are new to OpenStreetMap, there are several tools you can use to become more familiar with participation through editing or use of one of the services based on OSM data. Tools include:

a wiki

a free online book

research resources

OSM based services

There are as many uses as there are users. They ranged the gamut from health and fitness services (such as bike/hike routes, ski routes, and whitewater routes) to accessibility and special populations services (such as wheelchair accessibility surveys) and LGBTQ friendly businesses.

Here are a few examples of services that caught my eye:

Crowd Map

This is a service that has free subscriptions and allows users to input data on the run. The service then takes that data and gives a visualization overlay on a map as well as real time data analysis tools. Although it was developed to crowdsource disaster and crisis information, the potential for educational use is exciting. Students could create citizen science maps based on their observations of trees or wildlife or they could do street interviews and record quotes to the map.

Old Oakland

This is a project that shows historical maps of Oakland, California layered on top of current maps of the area. This could be used by a variety of cultural heritage institutions to give more visceral platform with which to contextualize history. This could be particularly powerful if combined with Augmented Reality applications as part of a local history tour.


Finally, this is a service that allows users to mark businesses and buildings at levels of wheelchair accessibility. Anyone can participate and it is available for iPhone and Android as well as online. This means you can contribute to collaborative mapping technology from anywhere.

This is a guest post by Chris Bulin (@Arduanne), a graduate student assistant at the Taubman Health Sciences Library.


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