OpenStreetMap Spatial Data

By Lillian Pierson

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is an open, crowd-sourced alternative to commercial mapping products such as Google Maps and ESRI ArcGIS Online. In OSM, users create, upload, or digitize geographic data into the central repository.

The OSM platform is quite robust. Governments and private companies have started contributing to, and pulling from, the shared datasets. Even corporations as big as Apple are relying on OSM data. Currently, OSM has over 1 million registered users. To illustrate how a person can create data in OSM, imagine that someone links the GPS systems on her mobile phone to the OSM application.

Because of this authorization, OSM can automatically trace the routes of roads while the person travels. Later, this person (or another OSM user) can go into the OSM online platform to verify and label the routes.

The data in OSM isn’t stored as maps, but as geometric and text representations — points, lines, polygons, and map annotation — so all of OSM’s data can be quickly downloaded from the website and easily ­assembled into a cartographic representation via a desktop application.