The L.A. Times on Volunteer Mapping

Another article about OpenStreetMap, this time in the Los Angeles Times, which counterpoints it with Google’s crowdsourcing efforts (via OpenGeoData).

Articles like these make the point — correctly, I think — that engaged local users can produce a map that can be more accurate than that produced by commercial data providers. What’s often left unsaid, however, is the state of the map when there are no engaged local users — even when there’s lots of high-resolution imagery to trace from.

For example, I’ve spent a surprising amount of time recently working on the OSM maps of Regina, Saskatchewan and Saint John, New Brunswick, both of which had (and continue to have) painfully incomplete or poorly done street data. These are not small towns — both metropolitan areas have between one and two hundred thousand people — but they haven’t yet had a critical mass of volunteers taking to the streets.

Any congratulatory rhetoric about how much OSM users (usually zee Germans) have accomplished should, I think, be tempered by how very much there still is left to be done. And however superior OSM may be in certain locations, there are still vast tracts of the world where the commercial online maps kick its free-as-in-speech ass hard.

Previously: Ars Technica on OpenStreetMap; Washington Post on OpenStreetMap.