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Join the Mapping Crowd

Friday, December 19, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Nathan Swartzendruber
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Mapping Looks Like This

You can help in the fight against Ebola by drawing the maps that groups (including Doctors Without Borders) use on the ground in West Africa. How, you ask?

Open a web browser and visit, where mapping needs are organized as "tasks." Create an account, and your browser loads the mapping tools you'll need, right there on the page. From satellite imagery provided by the project, you'll trace features like roads and buildings.

Even trace makes it sound more difficult than it is, since you aren't drawing by hand. Clicking with the mouse creates a point (called a node) on the screen. Keep clicking and the software connects the dots. Outline and label a building: done. Step out a jagged line and label a road: done.

Here's a satellite image of rural Sierra Leone. You could zoom in a good bit more than this to see more detail, but this is the view.

HOT satellite image

For this task, mappers were instructed to trace roads, residential areas and schools. Roads are labeled by their size, from footpaths to vehicular. Residential areas tightly outline buildings that are grouped together (it's faster than outlining individual structures and can help estimate population size). Schools are usually adjacent to open fields, used for recreation, that can also be used to land a helicopter if needed.

Here is the tracing of this image. You can see the full-size image and more mapping examples at Blake's OpenStreetMap Mapping Tips page.

HOT vector overlay

Zooming in more is necessary to trace things accurately, and attention to detail is plainly important (the footpath is nearly invisible here). But this segment can be completed in a few minutes, especially as you get more comfortable with what you're looking at and looking for.

When you begin to map a section, the system locks that square so that only you can edit within it. It gives you two hours before automatically unlocking, time enough to get a lot accomplished. You can (and should) save your work along the way. Put in however much time you choose to. Every bit helps!

If there were only a few people mapping, it would be hard to see any progress on a larger scale. But with thousands of people contributing, you can see maps take shape in just a few days.

If you're ready to get started, watch the tutorial on using the in-browser map editor at LearnOSM or MapGive. Or, if you want to learn more, contact Nathan at (513) 751-4422 or Happy mapping!

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