Geotagged at theRadisson Blu hotel, Berlin (52.519648,13.40258)

The Missing Manual For OpenStreetMap?

The first computer I used at work was powerful for its day (though pitifully underpowered compared to the phone that's sitting in my pocket at the moment) but was somewhat unfriendly by today's standards. You sat down at a terminal (not a PC, they hadn't been invented) and were presented with a command line prompt that said "Username:", pass that barrier to entry and it said "Password:". Armed with the right combination of username and password you would be rewarded with a flashing cursor preceded by a dollar sign as a prompt ... $. If you wanted help you couldn't browse the web (it hadn't been invented) nor ask in a mailing list (the Internet was in its early days and you probably didn't have access). Instead you consulted the big, heavy, ring bound, bright orange documentation set; these were the heady days of DEC and VAX/VMS.

The computer I'm writing this on still needs a username and password but is easy to use, graphical, intuitive and comes with multiple web sites, discussion and documentation sites and mailing lists to ask questions in. But to get the most of today's computers you still need a book sometimes, which is why David Pogue's Mac OS X: The Missing Manual is still one of the most well thumbed books I have, 8 years and multiple editions later. There's a version for Windows too.

So what does this have to do with OpenStreetMap? Bear with me ... there are parallels to be drawn.

OpenStreetMap Book Cover

OpenStreetMap is easy to use, graphical (on the website), comes with multiple discussion and documentation sites and well supported mailing lists; you can always find the answer to your question. But sometimes you don't know what the question is. Sometimes you just want to read a book.

OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing The Free Map Of The World is that book ... consider it the Missing Manual if you will.

Originally written in German by mailing list stalwarts Frederik Ramm and Jochen Topf in 2008 (names which will be familiar to anyone who's spent any time on the OSM mailing lists), the book was translated into English with Steve Chilton (chair of the UK's Society of Cartographers) towards the end of 2010. A translation would be impressive enough but the English version also comes with expanded sections and all of the content, examples and illustrations have been revisited, revised and updated.

Whether you're an OSM expert or you just want to see how one of the largest voluntary, crowd sourced projects on the face of the Internet works this is a worthy and valuable addition to your bookshelf. While no OSM expert I considered myself fairly well versed in how to use OpenStreetMap. Reading the book was a salient lesson on just how much I didn't know; the section on GPS was an education in itself.

The book also provides a well written and easy to understand explanation of what you can and what you can't do with OSM's wealth of geographic data and answers so many of the questions on data licensing that crop up again and again in conversations around OSM and on the mailing lists.

As a written work, the OpenStreetMap book works on multiple levels. You can dip into it, select the parts that interest you, get distracted by reading about stuff you didn't think you'd want to know or you can read it from cover to cover.

  • If you want to contribute data to OpenStreetMap ... this is the book for you
  • If you want to use OpenStreetMap data to create maps ... this is the book for you
  • If you want to integrate OpenStreetMap data into a web site ... this is the book for you
  • If you consider yourself as a fully paid up geo nerd who lives and breathes open data ... this is the book for you. No ... really

One final thought; the old adage about the Internet being an information hose pipe holds true where OpenStreetMap is concerned. The volume of information and data is simply staggering. You can find your way through all of this information by yourself. Or you can just read a well written, well thought out book instead. Even in today's online world there's still a place for the feeling you get from holding a book in your hands and leafing back and forwards through the pages. My copy of this book is still reasonably pristine, despite being hauled on and off planes and read from cover to cover. I can't guarantee it'll stay that way for long.

Gary Gale

I'm Gary ... a Husband, Father, CTO at Kamma, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user