OpenStreetMap = the Wikipedia of Maps

Maps are necessary; they essentially represent the world in a more comprehensible way. Mapping has always had a preeminent means of recording and communicating information about location and spatial characteristics of the natural world, society and culture (Lambert, Ysebaert & Zanin, 2013). However, for most people, the use of maps mostly extends to navigation and google maps as the answer. The problem with this is that when one company takes monopoly over one industry, they take monopoly over the information you’re given and shape it (Wroclawski, 2014).

Openstreetmap is one example of a relatively new mapping program launched in 2004 that places emphasis on local knowledge in generating data from roads and trails to cafes and slums across the globe and is one that is steadily growing, having registered half a million members by 2011 (Neis & Zipf, 2012). The platform uses aerial imagery, GPS devices, and low-tech field maps and is built and driven by a community of mappers (Openstreetmap, 2016). For many Openstreetmap may be foreign because of the domination of google maps that is programed onto almost every technological device, however, it is openstreetmaps that offers something far more inclusive.

The benefit of Openstreetmap lies in its ability to show what google maps doesn’t. Because it is a free, editable map, viewers are given access to disaster prone areas, rural landscapes and communities that have been previously excluded from most mapping software largely because of lack of knowledge or difficulty in GPS access. Openstreetmaps has been particularly praised for its ability to show areas such as slums and disaster hit that have required rescue teams and food and supply access. One particular example was ‘Project Haiti’, which highlighted the significance of Openstreetmaps after the 2010 earthquake. Within 48 hours, Openstreetmaps had provided high resolution images of the area post earthquake, and after the first month 600 people had contributed information to Openstreetmap. Openstreetmap became the default map for rescue teams and humanitarian mapping non-government organizations, including the United Nations (HOT, 2011).

Below is a sequence of maps that demonstrates the work of the contributors behind Openstreetmaps and the effect in which they had on Haiti and the global aid effort.


OSM at the time of the earthquake


OSM after a couple of days


OSM after some months

Openstreetmaps interest to not only promote equity through showing even the smallest scale locations but also in its ability to maintain privacy makes it unmatched. While Google is spending $1 billion annually on maintaining maps, the multi billion-dollar industry also sells much of its data back to third parties (Sawers, 2014). Openstreetmaps however, being a non-for-profit, free service that is essentially helping with the promotion from small businesses to communities, doesn’t reveal any personal information such as current location and also gives the data earned back to the community for the benefit of other products and services (Sawers, 2014).

All in all, there is no doubt that Openstreetmap has become the more equitable choice of maps in properly representing communities, it is one that prides itself on respecting people, communities and privacy.


Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team (HOT), 2011, ‘Haiti’, Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team (HOT), viewed 2 April 2016,

Lambert, N, Ysebaert, R & Zanin, C, 2013, ‘Mapping Guide- Cartography in ESPON’, ESPON 2013 Database, viewed 2 April 2016,

Neis, P, Zipf, A, 2012, ‘Analyzing the contributor Activity of a Volunteered Geogrpahic Information Project- The Case of Openstretmap’, International Journal of Geo-Information (ISPRS), vol.1, no.2, p.146, viewed 2 April 2016,

Openstreetmap, 2016, ‘About Openstreetmaps’, Openstreetmap, viewed 2 April 2016,

Sawers, P, 2014, ‘The rise of Openstreetmap: a quest to conquer Google’s mapping empire’, The Next Web, viewed 2 April 2016,

Wroclawski, S, 2014, ‘Why the World Needs Openstreetmap’,, viewed 2 April 2016,





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