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Opening A New Door: OpenStreetMap

Mapping has always been of significance within our society. From such maps, we are able to navigate ourselves, gain knowledge of what builds up a city or area and correctly estimate distances and directions. Though until recently, the art of mapping the Earth was “the preserve of highly skilled, well-equipped, and organised individuals and grounds” (Haklay, M, 2008, p. 1). Enter OpenStreetMaps, an online community of mappers who contribute to an online mapping source, maintaining and adding information and places (trails, roads, cafes) and more, to communities all around the world.

Now, as of previous years, digital maps have been created and founded by major corporations, such as Google. Google on average, spends $1bn per annum on map maintenance, becoming apparently clear that this monopoly would have unprecedented influence over mapping communities. But isn’t this wrong? Should one company really be in control of deciding what is and isn’t important enough to be placed on a map? By having one large monopoly in charge of the way we map our communities and societies, “you are giving them the power not only to tell you about your location, but to shape it” (Wroclawski, S, 2014). OpenStreetMaps however, ultimately provides an open network, allowing anybody to use the maps for any purpose, as long as credit and support is evident. This will furthermore allow audiences access to maps which are more accurate and objective in the areas and places which build up the maps.

Another major significance about this Wikipedia styled map is that your privacy and location settings remained protected. Under such monopoly owned mapping applications, such as Google Maps and Apple, locational information is collected every time a user accesses their applications. From here, that “information is used to improve their map accuracy, but Google has already announced that is going to use this information to track the correlation between searches and where you go” (Wroclawski, S, 2014). In short, the very device that you are using to access these platforms is dobbing you into the tracking services of huge online companies – or are they more like stalkers? You decide.

One relevant example which shows the significance of OpenStreetMaps is ‘Project Haiti‘. The earthquake which hit Haiti in 2010 had devastating impacts. Within days, charities had been set up and individuals and organisations arrived to start the process of regeneration, though OpenStreetMaps also played an imperative role.  “Within hours of the event people were adding detail to the map, but on January 14th high resolution sattelite imagery of Haiti was made freely available and the Crisis Mapping community were able to trace roads, damaged buildings, and enter camps of displaced people into OpenStreetMap” (ITOWorld at TED Talks 2010). Below is a animation of Haiti, with each flash representing a new edit to the Haiti OpenStreetMap.

It really does seem to me that what the world needs now is maps. Open maps.


Haklay, M, 2008, OpenStreetMap: User Generated Street Maps, University College London, viewed 16th April, 2015, <http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/13849/1/13849.pdf&gt;

Wroclawski, S, 2014, ‘Why the world needs OpenStreetMaps’, The Guardian, 14th January, viewed 16th April, 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/14/why-the-world-needs-openstreetmap&gt;


  1. Hi Blake,

    I absolutely love the idea that we have the ability to use and adapt these Open Street Maps. I’m glad Google Maps’ audience have to provide evidence, otherwise these maps would be less reliable. Due to the fact that these maps are controlled by one ‘monopoly man’ these maps can become bias. I suppose we then question how could a map be bias? Streets are set, houses placed where they are placed, how is there room for an opinion/ point of view? Like you said, they ultimately have the ability to add or not add certain locations, buildings, roads.

    I’ve always ‘seen’ maps as source of information, the ability to get from A to B, but they can actually be so much more. Your Haiti example, demonstrates how society came together to show on a map working hospitals and undamaged roads. After the earthquake, if there wasn’t these alteration to the Haiti Open Street Map, people in Haiti would not know where to take the wounded or how to get there. These maps were so much more than a standard everyday map, they became a life source. Another example is the HarrassMap ( http://harassmap.org/en/ ), which shows all the places in Egypt where individuals have been harassed. Collaborating this data informs other citizens what streets to avoid so they don’t get harassed. This type of information is so incredible invaluable, it potentially stops/ prevents sexual harassment and spreads awareness among society!

    You asked us if we thought the companies were stalkers…. do you think they are??

    loved the post, and the inclusion of the video! Can’t wait to read your next post! 🙂

    • Thanks Maddy!

      Harass maps is another great example! Thanks for reminding me! I would definitely have gone into that as an extra example, had I had a larger word limit!

      It really is incredible to think that maps have such profound impact on our perceptions of our communities. Did you actually know that when looking on Google Maps at UOW, the first coffee shop to show up is Panizzi and no others appear! It is just odd that they show somethings whilst hiding other.

      I definitely do think it is kind of stalking. I mean – they know where you are? When you are there? How far you have travelled? Sounds a little stalkerish to me.

      Thanks heaps – I really appreciate the comment! Best of luck with the assessment!

      – B

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