Recent diary entries
On Thursday we did a London meet-up which was a bit unusual. A "mapathon" event to improve map coverage in the Philipinnes after the typhoon. Check out the HOT blog post about the typhoon and the Typhoon Haiyan wiki page for general information about this disaster response mapping activity which is being coordinated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.
On the Wednesday I was summoned to broadcasting house, to do an interview about OpenStreetMap Typhoon mapping on BBC radio (Listen to Wednesday's World Business Report and skip ahead to 6:52). Fresh from the excitment of having the BBC pay some attention to us, Grant and I decided we should do an event, so we organised this at very short notice. I asked the ODI if we could host it there in 24 hours time.
I half expected that the event would be a full house, but I really wasn't sure. Turns out we had about 10 people come along, most of whome were seasoned OpenStreetMappers, so not quite the big band of people I was expecting, coming to learn editing for the first time. I guess more notice is needed for most people, and maybe more time to get the word out (what? Why isn't everyone following @OSMLondon!)
However it was worth it for a couple of reasons. Firstly we got a bit of mapping done, got some people mapping for the first time, and some people mapping more confidently (Worrying that you're doing something wrong seems a common problem, but mostly the worrying is not justified. Be bold! Give it a try!)
Secondly we had various special guests...
Heather Leson, fellow H.O.T. board members, was in London again. Happening a lot these days! She still doesn't understand our accents, but she'll learn soon enough :-)
We had Ivan Gayton from MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers). This is one of the most impressively active and effective disaster response aid agencies. Here in London, MSF UK have an office for research, including a small GIS team. I have met with them before, but we need stronger links, so it was great to have Ivan along, and so enthusiastic about our map data. He gave a presentation on one kind of use case they have, analysing the spread of disease using GIS, and in the case of Haiti, using OpenStreetMap data for geocoding.
We were joined by Andrew Braye from the British Red Cross. In the London office they have been actively mapping the philipinnes in OpenStreetMap to help our efforts and to help get maps data ready for their purposes: to equip their teams as they head out there.
GIS teams in aid organisations will naturally work with OpenStreetMap data when it's useful, but OpenStreetMap is about the community. We can do rather unique things like improve maps of an area on request, perhaps by running mapathon events, and we can help them with the unique technical capabilities and challenges around feeding off our community-built ever-improving map. They're not much different from challenges faced by organisations worldwide and across all industries, but these are humanitarian organisations based in London. Let's make sure we OSMLondon people are helping them in whatever way we can.
Another special guest was Dan Cunningham who was scouting for hacking ideas for an upcoming hack4good hackathon event which he organises. In the aftermath of large disasters, groups like this suddenly spring into hacking action, with lots of keen volunteers who don't do much at other times. This seems like a good opportunity for OpenStreetMap to get some improvements made, although it requires hack-weekend sized tasks and there's some coordination overhead. Any improvement to OpenStreetMap, the website, the editors, the downloads, the apps, the stylesheets, the documentation, etc etc... any improvement is is an improvement to H.O.T.'s capabilities in a disaster (it just happens to be an improvement for all the other uses too!) If that kind of thing interests you, please join in with one of the many hack events. In fact the next OpenStreetMap event we had planned in London will be the London Hack Weekend kicking off Friday after next.
With these unexpected special guests we had some important conversations. So, although it wasn't quite the way I expected, the event was a success.
[UPDATE - I've done write up about this event on the Open Data Institute blog. Less OSMy audience]
If you're in London and interested in coming to OpenStreetMap events, we do pub meet-ups very regularly. Follow OSMLondon on twitter. If you're not in London, note that there have been, and will be, a number of similar mapathon events around the world, but of course most of the actual crisis mapping and hacking takes place online. Join in!
It's winter time in London. Time for the OpenStreetMap winter pub meet-ups. Kicking off TONIGHT!
Our last "summer" meet-up was "just a pub" anyway, so this is a smooth transition. Last time we were in the Penderel's Oak in Holborn on a Tuesday. I've been avoiding Tuesdays because I have Portuguese class, but thought I would try to cater to the important subset of our community... "those who like Tuesdays"... while cunningly picking a pub near my Portuguese language school.
Incidentally my language school is this "EC" building (though the school is called "citylit"). In the reception area there used to be a canvas wall-mounted arty picture, about 3 foot wide, and it was OpenStreetMap! Fairly standard rendering except the colours were changed around to be very dark purpley/blue, perhaps done with CloudMade style editor or something. Quite pretty. Sadly it's been taken down now. I thought I had a photo of it... [UPDATE: I've found the photo of it!]
I've no idea how this came to be produced. It's the kind of canvas picture you might buy in IKEA (the biggest retailer of art apparently). The other interesting thing about the EC building is that there's a cheap cheerful spacious cafe hidden at the top of the stairs. I keep thinking it could be a good venue for a laptop oriented meet-up (armchair mapping, or hacking, or a something). I think technically the cafe is only for registered students, but there's nothing to stop other people walking in. It's just very well hidden. I'll add it as a vague possibility for a London event venue.
Speaking of London events, before I go on, let me mention the London Hack Weekend. Matt has organised this to be hosted at the MapQuest London offices on 30th Nov/1st Dec. There will be some food... if you sign up! These are great fun events, no matter how techy you are, so quite sad to be missing it myself. But you should get yourself added to the list. Thanks to MapQuest again for their generous support.
Anyway... so last time... after learning portuguese, I headed to the Penderel's Oak a bit late, and sure enough a good OpenStreetMap gathering was in full swing.
...and so I purchased a cheap weatherspoons ale, pulled up a seat, and joined them. ...and this made me smile:
Andy brought a pile of new leaflets. They're a similar design to the previous ones, but Andy's reworked the map examples, and the explanations a bit. The previous leaflets had illustrations showing mapping a street network from a blank slate, by recording GPS tracks to get the positions of roads. This is not something most new mappers will experience these days (unless they're in a lesser mapped part of the world). So if you look at the design of the new leaflets you'll see a more general "how does OpenStreetMap work" overview, and there's an appearance of the wonderful Mr Globe! Hurray!
On the topic of new user's experience, and not getting to fill in blank spots, Dan Stowell had an interesting way of putting it: "You can help do the weeding but you can't design the garden".
We had quite an extensive discussion about engaging new mappers.
Perhaps we're not doing so well these days at noticing and celebrating eachother's mapping work. Again this is to do with the lack of blank slate mapping work remaining. We used to delight in seeing somebody new coming along a blatting in a whole town, nowadays there's less of this kind of progress to celebrate, but even so, is there a way we can do better a noticing and bigging up the mapping progress that people are achieving.
Another thread of discussion was around selling people on the idea of OpenStreetMap. There's quite a mental leap for people to understand geodata, versus just the visual map, both in terms of understanding the mapping process (raw data input results in the visual map), and in understanding that geodata can be so much more than just one visual map. In general having demonstrable applications of OpenStreetMap is interesting for new users, but particularly if you can start the conversation by listening to what interests them.
We talked about OpenStreetBugs, and are people seeing them and solving them enough to get the cycle working well? Are we tending towards the MapDust problem of too many low quality bug reports?
User:Tallguy was telling us he's worked a lot on bus routes data, but found people have damaged or deleted his route relations over time. Reverting such damage is harder than just re-inputting. Change tracking and reversion tools for relations are a bit difficult. Derick's looked at making bus route relations mapping video, but it involves a lot of processing. Also on the topic of buses, firefishy figured out how to receive live bus movements data for a region in South Africa, by tapping into a feed designed for an android app. He's puzzling through the challenges of showing moving markers on a map, or figuring how to show time estimates for buses approaching a stop. Quite similar to some challenges I've tackled for transportapi.com, although TfL gives the data the other way round so this kind of display (buses going past that pub) is fairly easy.
On the topic of Android we discussed an interesting article which enumerates the various ways in which google exercises quite an evil level of lock-in over the android platform. A platform which people tend to think of as "open". Sounds familiar? People tend to think of google maps as "open" too of course (Yes they really do. Talk to tech people outside of OpenStreetMap circles. Plenty of smart developers will say "but isn't google maps open?") But anyway looking at the different dimensions of google lock-in for the android platform, on page 4 there's a mention of maps (specifically maps APIs for mobile apps). Obviously OpenStreetMap has a role to play offering app developers, and developers of alternate android platforms, with a choice. Also on that page it's interesting to read about how "Android's top-tier location services are now closed source". Of course all of this evilness pales into insignificance compared to Apple's iOS kingdom of evil, but it does make me think, maybe we should really be supporting a more pure form of openness. --- Snap back to reality --- "Ooh there's my iPhone. Shiny."
We also talked about some xkcd comics, and then observed a kind of "xkcd chinese whispers" effect, when someone tries to relay a half-remembered originally hilarious xkcd comic to the group by describing it verbally.
If you'd like to play this game ...or even chat about OpenStreetMap ...why not come along to the pub TONIGHT! We had a geomob last week, and someone was recommending The Gun pub in Spitalfields, so I decided we should give it a try. We need a bit of variety. It is rather easterly, but easy to get there on the central line. No excuses now. Sign up on lanyrd (It was looking a bit quiet on there this morning, but I'm pleased to see there's more than two of us going!) More details on the new winter events wiki page. We should probably have gone to this pub as a mapping location. Maybe I'll do a cheeky bit of mapping on the way there. Mapping is allowed.
We've done a set of beginner-oriented walk and talk mapping sessions throughout the mapping season here in London this year. A couple of weeks back we did one in Paddington / Edgware road. It was dark and quite cold, but despite this the event was the most popular one yet! I've given up trying to explain what makes one OSMLondon event more popular than another. It's a mystery.
Gathered outside Edgware Road tube station we had a big group of OpenStreetMap enthusiasts and people who were somewhat new or completely new to OpenStreetMap, all coming for a nice walk round Paddington in the cold and dark! My fiancee came along with one of her workmates, Charis, and we had three others. Johnny, Michael, and Tom (four Toms attending in total I believe?)
I actually published a route in advance for the mapping walk & talk (using the "umap" tool. Anyone tried that? Quite handy for annotating the map with things like this) But we didn't stick to that route plan. Actually we didn't even start on that route. I was more organised than usual and did some pre-mapping of building outlines the night before, so I knew we needed to get a closer look at new developments by Edgware Road station. This new building has some very funky tile decoration on the outside. Still behind construction fences, but it looks like they'll be cleared away pretty soon (remap!)
With this pre-mapping approach you might expect it takes away all the surprises, but looking at aerial imagery, you can only guess at where the missing shops and POIs will turn out to be. We found a little pocket of unmapped bits n bobs on this corner. On Edgware Road it was fairly obvious we'd find lots more. Lots of interesting arabic shops but the favourite was "Discount Drug Store" which sold... a variety of suitcases and bags. Amusing nonsensical name which we laughed at quite loudly, even though the shopkeeper was standing outside. Our gang of OpenStreetMappers terrorising the neighbourhood!
After that we split up to do mapping in two smaller groups. Alpha squadron went down Saint Michael's Street while the other lot went down Star Street. Nothing much to report, but y'know, you have to check these boring streets, otherwise who's going to map Miky Star Community Nursery?
As mentioned, I was organised about doing pre-mapping this time, and I think this works well. Here's an animation showing the building outlines appearing, followed by the surveyed data phases (Click to see it bigger) :
It was a bit cold for mapping and we were glad to arrive at the pub to warm up!
I didn't make any notes on what was discussed in the pub. It appears there was some duscussion of invalid polygons. Lively and fun discussions as ever. Hopefully all the new folks enjoyed it too!
As you can see from the outdoor photos, there really wasn't much daylight to speak of. Next Sunday the clocks go back heralding the official end of all after-work before-pub mapping shininigans, but there's the more straightforward format: after-work pub! And that's exactly what we'll be doing...
TONIGHT! Join us in the Penderel's Oak in Holborn from 7p.m. All the details on the wiki. If you do want to do some mapping, take note of the notes or make right some keep rights. As always you can sign up on lanyrd if you want to help make the event look more popular. It always looks a bit quiet on there. But it is just a pub, so you can just turn up.
We've had a few OpenStreetMap events lately which I didn't report back on yet. The big one of course. State of the map, up in Birmingham. I'll come back to that, but also quite a few London events (The next London event is this coming Thursday)
There were the pre-SOTM drinks with the MapBox guys. Strongroom bar was less annoyingly crowded than I remembered it, so that was good. I shall have to go back there (pretty close to my office) Having said that, we did have quite a crowd made up of OSMers getting together before the conference, and some other Shoreditch start-up tech community type folks.
There was a couple of guys who had printed OSM maps onto little cards as a conceptual experiment in sharing city information with friends. Interesting idea I thought. Can't find it online though. Mysterious. At this meet-up I full of the usual pre-SOTM excitement, plus I was excited at having just taken delivery of loads polo shirts.
An earlier OSMLondon event was our meet-up and mapping session in Victoria. I've avoided the Victoria area for mapping parties in the past because it has been well mapped for a long time. I'm not sure why actually. I mean I wasn't able to determine one particular user who has mapped the area. Maybe I could by looking at historical data somehow. Or I guess it's possible the area has been quite collaboratively mapped by various waves of fly-by mappers commuting out the station there.
In any case, Billy suggested going to Victoria, pointing out that there's some new construction coming to completion in the area. Some construction is still ongoing, so they'll be significant mapping todo in the coming months, but we managed to add a few things including a little waitrose newly appearing in the shiny new block there. Before that we were checking the buildings in the streets to the south of that, and before that we met to set off from outside "Westminster Cathedral" which I don't think I'd ever seen/noticed before. This whole part of London is pretty unfamiliar to me.
And we went to an unfamiliar pub too. Hopefully everyone who came looking for us did find us hidden upstairs at The Windsor Castle. Upstairs was very spacious and quiet. Perhaps a little too quiet actually. It felt like we should whisper quietly about maps to eachother, but we had some beers so that didn't last long.
If I'm looking at the right set of minutes, we talked about a lot of Mapnik stuff. Width as a variable in stylesheets, and in particular the idea of adjusting motorway widths by number lanes (lanes tag). Andy Allan's openstreetmap-carto work has come to fruition now with it being used on the main OSM tile server. OpenStreetMap.fr are also using openstreetmap-carto stylesheets. Christian Quest did some of his own customisations but he forked from quite an early version apparently. We talked about vector tiles which Mapbox and Mapnik developers have been working on. It's an intermediate representation generated by Mapnik, rather than something Mapnik just reads from as a datasource. For Mapbox it's a way of doing their nifty flexible style infrastructure with no need for database style disk interactions. ...was the gist of the Andy's explanation I think. We also talked about banning potlatch, OSMPlus non-video-coverage, and something about POI shop mapping.
And we had along User:Rovastar who has an interesting little personal mission to improve the coverage of all the football clubs (sport=soccer that is). He's in London for a while, so he came along for his first face-to-face encounter with OpenStreetMappers, and enjoyed it... we know because he's been back! (in fact you can see him in the photo of the Mapbox gathering above)
He was also back more recently for the Cheshire Cheese pub meet-up. I think this pub is a nice one to bring overseas visitors to because it's superdooper-old-and-traditional. It was built (excavated) by some beer-addled monks back in the days of kings and queens and dragons. So with Kate Chapman and Heather Leson in town this pub seemed like a good choice. Nice to have some face-to-face time with fellow H.O.T. board members. Come to think of it we probably should've steered discussion topics onto humanitarian mapping a little more, but we also had a lively crowd of London OSMers. Maybe the echoing low-rooved chamber made it see more lively. I did note down a discussion we had about tasks.hotosm.org (check out this tool if you haven't already. On there at the moment there's a few mapping jobs set up in response to specific aid agencies requests. It's easy to help!) We discussed an interesting kind of user psychology problem with the tool. It has a button "Mark Task As Done". People tend to only click this button if they have mapped every last thing in the square area including building outlines. Now sometimes that is the aim, but when we've tried to use the tool differently e.g. to map large areas quickly with some basic map information e.g. just main roads, or just finding villages, people seem more reluctant to take the bold step of marking their square done. Also people don't tend to mark a square as done, unless they did it themselves. We want people to look out for squares which are already mapped or which have no mapping to do, and click 'Done' on them, but people don't tend to do this so much. These factors combined, mean that the tool doesn't work as well as it might for tracking progress or for directing people to obvious mapping work.
Meanwhile there was a discussion verging on blazing row about "armchair mapping". We have some very dedicated surveying mappers in London, who are very anti armchair mapping. I knew that putting Rovastar around the same table as these people had the potential for some lively discussion, and I was secretly looking forward to it because it's always bothered me that people in the community hold quite opposing views on armchair mapping without really airing them to eachother properly. My attempt to rectify this a little while back, was to present the issues and some guidelines on the Armchair Mapping wiki page. I invite everyone to discuss and work towards consensus there, but aside from Rovastar on the talk page, that hasn't really happened much. For example how do the OpenStreetMap.US editathons fit in with this? They don't seem to be following the guidelines for event organisers but then... as stated, the guidelines need not apply so strictly in an area of the world where there's not much of a community of on-the-ground survey mappers. As US OpenStreetMapping builds momentum, which it has done spectacularly this past year, they'll no doubt see more surveyors having issues with armchair mappers I guess it's up to them, but I don't think the decision should be that the guidelines don't apply at all there (after all the guidelines don't say "don't do it")
Besides those big topics we discussed the passed SOTM conference (more on that later) and FOSS4G in Nottingham. We also talked about wikimedia's OpenGlam and a project at the british library to do with digital sound clips.
For our next London event they'll be more mappy chit chat, but also a pre-pub little mapping session. All the details on the wiki page. You may think there's not much mapping left to do in the area, and there isn't, but there's enough for a short mapping intro. That's the idea. We'd like to welcome along new people, so if you know any one who knows anyone who would be interested in trying out OpenStreetMapping, pass on the link: http://bit.ly/londonosm9 and get them to get in touch with me about Thursday evening.
We're out mapping again TONIGHT! Join us for the next London summer event in Victoria area. It's also quite close to Westminster area. We're starting outside Westminster cathedral in fact. So we should get some people from government involved, or some cops from scotland yard perhaps.
The last thing we did was the OpenStreetMap aniversary party. Sadly I missed it, but it looks like fun was had, and maybe Grant's email campaign attracted some new faces?
The last thing we did which I was at, was a mapping evening around the area south of Baker Street, starting from a little park called Paddington Square Gardens I met with Roger the bus driver and Nick the architect and we went on a look around the area. OSM mapping has taken me to new and interesting parts of London many times before, and this was no exception. The park itself was a new one on me, but also we found various little rows of frightfully smart shops e.g. Chiltern Street is full of wedding dress shops. And there's a good bit of out-of-date bing imagery here due to a recent demolition.
Nick was a new face, while Roger the bus driver has been along to our events before, and was showing us his military efficiency paper-mapping approaches.
Also in the pub...
We had various dicussions on various tables, none of which I wrote down unfortunately. Andy was hatching some ambitious plans to motivate more exhaustive mapping of suburbs, by laying some easter eggs to find. So if you happen to add a particular test building into OpenStreetMap with address data, then you win something. There would be several (or many) of these test buildings around London's suburbs, which would have to be known to the system. This means they would have to be mapped by the organisers, without actually being mapped if you see what I mean. It would take some doing, but hopefully less doing than the actual mapping of the whole of London's suburbs (which is a lot of doing). I think it could be fun, but I've tended to prioritise my detailed mapping efforts (and ecouraged others to) in central London. And even with this modest (!) aim, we're not succeeding very quickly. There are plenty of buildings and addresses not mapped yet within the centre (the congestion charging zone say). ...but it would be good to have a renewed mapping focus led by somebody.
So tonight.... Lovely weather for a spot of sunny evening mapping! We'll be discussing mapping ideas in the pub again no doubt, also discussing who to vote for in the foundation board elections.
...and I have an exciting thing to show people!
All the details of tonights event are on the wiki. Head on down to Victoria, and bring a friend.
The OpenStreetMap Anniversary party is happening TOMORROW! In London it's happening at the Dogget's coat and Badge on the South Bank from 12:30. That's the same venue as last year. Remember last year?
It's quite nice in the back garden if the sun comes out. My recollection of that evening is a little hazy. I don't think I wrote a diary entry about it, because I couldn't remember what happened :-) ...It was a good party.
I'm sorry I've neglected to promote this. The anniversary party is supposed to be the BIG one. ...but sadly I can't make it myself :-( I have wedding organisation commitments this weekend, and I know I'm not the only one. Gah! This is what happens. Next we'll all be having babies, and then how will we get to the pub?
But I'm sure they'll be a good sized group of people having fun without me. Usually if you multiply the number of people signed up on lanyrd by at least two, that's the number of people who end up coming along, so that aint bad! And I guess there will be some good merriment in various other locations around the world, and some code sprinting too apparently. The burning question is... who will have the best cake?!
The last London meet-up was the Queens Head pub which is here near Kings Cross. It was quite a long time ago now.
From what I remember of the Queen's Head pub, it was a good meet-up. Nobody from the OKFN "open data meet-up" came to say hello to us, which was my reason picking this pub. Useless! We also didn't manage to get a table, so sat in a strange circle instead. But on the plus side, there was a map on the wall! A beer map of America. Later we went for burritos in Kings Cross station.
Between now and then, we've had a heatwave here in London. I should probably have organised some lovely mapping evenings in the sunshine, but a heatwave causes various things to go wrong for me. The main thing is I don't feel like drinking tea because it's too hot, so I've spent the past few weeks feeling caffeine deficient. It aint pretty. Also it turns out my home internet cuts out when it's too hot. Mega heat fail!
To add to the fails, I've also managed to lose the photos from the last meet-up. You'll have to see a photo from last time we were in Kings Cross having burritos and imagine different people sat there :-) I'm getting used to using an iPhone as my main camera, but on this occasion I clicked delete then import, instead of import then delete. How very incompetent. I'll tell you what. Here's a stunning picture I took this morning instead (shop=variety_store) :
- UPDATE! I had a nagging niggling hope that maybe my iPhone, baffling contraption that it is, had squirrelled away a copy of the photos somewhere. After scratching my head for a few days, pondering the various weird syncing things that my phone sometimes does, I gave up on that hope, but a month later and I've discovered the 'photos' app :-) So in a thrilling twist of events ...I can now reveal photos of us sitting around eating burritos in Kings Cross station! (more on flickr)
We have a mapping evening tonight! As is now the routine, I've tried to describe the event in a way which doesn't sound to complicated and scary to newcomers, because it really isn't. Every time we've done this so far, we have just about managed to attract a number of people greater than zero. But maybe I shouldn't speak too soon! I have had one new person email me about tonight. Please pass on the message if you know of any other Londoners who may be interested in our mapping demo session. It might be quite an interesting part of London to explore, setting off from Paddington Street Gardens
A couple of weeks ago we had a London mapping evening around Camden. Derick was off mapping a different slice of cake and Andrew and I were mapping with a new person, and having a good chat about OpenStreetMap as we went.
Camden's an area I know pretty well, and it's quite well mapped already I thought, but maybe in need a refresh, and it's starting to be on the border of London's building outline overage, so we can start to take it that next level of detail. Down the backstreets there's always new surprises to uncover too. I haven't added the data yet but one of the buildings we encountered was made out of a bus.
In the pub we had an unusual gathering. Mainly unusual because there was no TomH and no Firefishy. But we did have Shaun journeying in from Ipswich to join us, and we had two new faces. One who had joined in with mapping, and one who we had met at #geomob previously.
The Cobden is a pub I have been curious about. Turns out it's not ideal. We all crammed around a table and shouted at eachother because this it was a bit loud, and then ate Thai food, which is always amusing in a pub. While doing that we talked about...
Public transport tagging schemes. Apparently there's a new one. Personally I've not really tried to get my head around any of the existing ones much.
We talked about imports, and good ways of doing them as "community imports" e.g. using a snapshot server or basic checklist approach. I need to try out the TODO list plugin some time. It's on my todo list :-) The UK food hygiene rating system dataset could be of interest as a checklist dataset. It doesn't have precise coordinates, but it does have a lot of POI data. Hopefully people will coordinate any such efforts on that wiki page.
Shaun was using an app called "outside", but I can't seem to find it now. We also generally arsing around with phones. We came up with a way to do a pub visualisation of recent data changes. Two phones side-by-side running MapsWithMe with different data up-dated-ness. Tada!
We had Willie with us, at the end of his visit, just before he had to head back to Brazil. So we were looking at the Brazil map, including his home town of Feira de Santana (well mapped) including a very circular ring road.
Derick and I have both visited Foz do Iguaçu which somehow looks unimpressive on the map. Maybe we need a surface tag to make a massive patch of white there. surface=tumultous_roaring_whitewater :-)
We talked about the challenge of routing in a circle. It has been done by the cyclestreets guys
And finally the idea of "OSM dating" came up because OSM singletons are intelligent sociable and have a keen sense of... where they are in the world. More desirable than your average online dating pot-luck apparently (It was a woman suggesting this)
So there you have it. I'm not sure if any follow on action has been taken to bring about the "OSM dating" idea, but maybe at tonight's pub meet-up they'll be lots of new people looking to hook up with a map enthusiast, and all sorts of flirting going on. Just imagine what you could be missing out on if you don't come along!
Join us tonight in the Queen's Head pub from 7pm. Later on I'm hoping we may see some OKFN people, if they come to the same pub after their OpenData event.
So who's coming mapping TONIGHT?? London mapping party in Camden
We've had a few pub meet-ups lately which I didn't write anything about in my diary. This is kind of deliberate. As we move to a mapping evening <-> pub meet-up alternating timetable, I was hoping to talk more about mapping and less about pubs. I was also hoping to spend a bit less time writing diary entries. It is actually quite time consuming dear reader. KathleenD said in her SOTM.US presentation about organising OSM meet-ups that you should be willing to chill out and take a break if it's no longer fun any more.
But no! Meet-ups must be documented! ...well OK I'm going to document some recent London pub shenanigans very briefly. The truth is, the longer we stay in a pub, the more interesting OpenStreetMappy discussions we get into
Way back in the beginning of May we had a good pub meet-up in the Penderel's Oak. I took some notes at this meet-up but I didn't actually take any photos, but there was this one. Tee hee. I'm disappointed SplashMaps haven't used this in their publicity. So we talked about SplashMaps a bit. We also discussed...
- Legal nonsense. Was my JOSM printout on the table an "insubstantial extract"? We haven't established a community expectation of what that term means.
- SOTMUS (this was before SOTMUS)
- U.S. customs and how Firefishy is now a U.K. citizen
- Derick talked about the seemingly simple task of going from lat/lon to timezone in PHP.
- Boundaries with awkward enclaves caused by noblemen winning and losing land parcels over the gambling table!
- Is "Notes" doomed? Being open to un-logged-in users, will it get flooded with nonsense? Do we need to make it less attractive to people behaving like dicks? or is already not that exciting?
hmmm we got more and more serious towards the end there hey?
After that we had the big Marble Arch mapping party, which was great fun!
More recently then we had the blue posts pub meet-up. Didn't take any notes, but I can inform you that it was an awesome pub meet-up! We actually attracted quite a lot of new faces to the upstairs room of the Blue posts.
Raymond Kenny of mapsdata.co.uk was there talking about this new OpenStreetMappy start-up, and about the idea of getting an OpenStreetMap Middle East group going.
We met wille who is a keen OSMer visiting London from Brasil for a few weeks. After being made welcome by some Brazillian mappers myself, on a trip over there, I'm keen to return the favour. I quite like this idea of enjoying our global community, and OpenStreetMap globe trotting. I hope any OSMers visiting London will feel welcome to hook up with us at an OSMLondon pub meet-up!
Good to see Sam Leach too. Didn't get chance to talk much, but we've met before. He's looking at interesting Open Data opportunities after coming out of academia where he was working on a project to control balloon mounted telescopes which circle over the arctic. Had you any idea such a thing existed??
I had to leave before the burritos sadly :-(
Finally we had a impromptu mackerski pub meet-up at the Monkey Puzzle. The mighty mackerski was over from Dublin visiting. A.K.A. Dermot McNally of the OSM foundation board.
At the monkey puzzle we enjoyed the last the evening sunshine:
...and the monkey puzzle pies.
Matt (another OSM foundation board member) was there too. We got talking about Ireland and England's special relationship through the ages, until I said "Enough about politics! Let's talk about the OSM foundation". After this subtle segway, we talked extensively about something very important... I think it was to do with OSMPlus and more generally how to structure peripheral organisations around the OSMF. ...but I'm afraid I was completely drunk at the time.
So that was a pub round-up, but tonight is a MAPPING PARTY. Sign-ups were looking a bit on the quiet side, but I can confirm I have at least one person meeting me outside the Odeon cinema in Camden. We'll be going for a guided walking talking mapping session. Less people means more attention. So if you're in the area and fancy joining, better head there now! (My number O7979815O13) It might even be sunny!
I've made a video. Check it out ...but be warned. It's kind of dull, until 6 minutes 22 second in, when the mapping goes TURBO!
The sped up mapping effect is quite fun. I might have to try that again some time. But the idea of the video was to show how (or at least give a rough idea of how) we go about adding in the data, because we did the usual mapping party thing with beginners, of only demonstrating collection of data. ...I'm talking about at the Marble Arch Mapping Party two weeks ago.
Contributing to OpenStreetMap (usually/always for me) comes in two very different stages: Collecting data, and Inputting data. This is a challenge when it comes to teaching new people, because you don't get a good understanding of what data to collect until you've delved into the OpenStreetMap data using an editor. Unfortunately the cart comes before the horse at a typical mapping party. In fact worse, the cart is left without a horse. We don't usually have the benefit of a computer room or somewhere sensible to bring out laptops and have a serious editing session, and in the event of having lots of new folks to teach, we're left only teaching them half the process. Obviously if no new folks turn up then this doesn't matter. But this was not the case two weeks ago...
As I described previously, I was making a conscious effort to do something a bit different and a bit more welcoming to newcomers for this event. Meeting under the arch of Marble Arch, I was worried I'd be there on my own, but no! Thanks to all the usual OSM faces who decided to make the effort to be there in case they could help (or maybe in case something really exciting was going to happen). Some unusual faces too. Wasn't expecting to see RichardF. ...And some new faces! which was the point of the exercise. We did OK at attracting new folks. If we include the new folks who were jet-lagged and went straight to the pub (disgraceful!) and other new folks who only caught up at the end... we had quite a few!
Our concerted effort to attract new folks was inspired by an academic paper which analysed OpenStreetMap London meet-ups and concluded that we were bad at attracting (and retaining) them. This paper popped up out of nowhere, written by some people we had never met, as I described previously. Happily this situation resolved itself! It was fantastic to meet the authors, especially Desi Hristova who joined us on our walking talking tour of Marble Arch. It was fun to show them the truth behind the stats of an OpenStreetMap mapping party. They said they will be giving some presentations about their work, so I'm imagining a slide deck full of serious stats followed by sudden digression into pub photos!
So the people who wrote about the mapping parties, and about attendance of new people at mapping parties, then attended the mapping parties. Self-referential! particularly as they significantly boosted the number of new people who were at the mapping party. The question is... will we retain these new people? Also how many new people will come to our next event.
Well as a matter of fact, our next event is TONIGHT! Although in the new scheme of alternating event formats, tonight's one is not a "beginner friendly mapping party", but a "social pub meet-up". We do have the next mapping party scheduled in for Thursday 14th June and I'd like to try to promote this to new people again (any help appreciated). but I'm afraid I didn't pick a location yet. We will discuss this in the pub tonight! New folks are also welcome at the pub of course, and there are in fact a few of them expected! See you in the Blue Posts from 7pm. Details on the wiki
This will be a very beginner-friendly introduction to mapping. So if you're in London come along, and tell all your friends. Anyone who's never tried OpenStreetMapping, or curious about other ways of doing it. All you people lurking following @OSMLondon ... Come tomorrow evening!
OSMLondon events have always been wide-open for beginners to come along to, but I'm stressing this aspect in the tomorrows event. This is part of an exciting new event formula in which we alternate "pub meet-ups" and "mapping parties".
Last month we met at the Iron Duke pub with the intention of kicking off the mapping season. This is a good spot for some of the mapping priorities of central London, and I'm pleased that Derick managed to fill in some awesome details around St James Street. For my part I had signed up for a slice of cake to the South, but I spent so long in the office preparing a print-out of building outlines to check... that it go too late so I just went the pub (ohhh! That's cheating!) It was the daylight confusing me.
Outside the pub (in the new evening daylight) the hot topic of conversation was...
Amazing and slightly weird that these people have analysed this in such detail. It feels a bit like somebody wrote a ten page academic paper about my personal bad habits. It's weird that they do all of this without ever attending a mapping party themselves, but we figured it was a scientific analysis in which the scientist decides to avoid interfering with their subjects!
In judging the participation and retention rates of mapping parties, their data source was raw edit data in OpenStreetMap. Can't argue with that. But the analysis seemed to me to have a few holes. They've looked at the location and times of mapping parties over the years, based on the wiki records. They did observe that in the summer of 2008 we had a lot mapping parties. This was actually a mapping blitz. A "marathon" of epic proportions, with evening mapping happening in far-flung locations, and happening every week. We were filling in obvious gaps in the map at that time. I imagine this yields some clear and easy to correlate editing data. These days there's fewer obvious juicy gaps to tackle. As a result mapping parties have largely been in central London, a bit less frequent, and probably attracting a bit less participation in actual mapping. I like to think that these days London's map attracts more casual localised contributions from people dotted around London. The character of mapping party events has changed massively over the years. I'm not sure if this has been properly accounted for in their analysis.
In analysing edits they used a 48hour time window. Justifying it as follows: "We found that in 40% of mapping parties the peak of activity was on the day of the event, while in 89% of cases the peak activity was within 30 hours after the party. In 99% of cases, the peak activity was within 48 hours, after which the daily edits stabilise to the norm previously observed."
That's pretty interesting, but certainly doesn't fit with my own editing patterns these days. I quite often wait several days before inputting data. Also these days I often add more data (more objects) tracing building outlines in preparation for a mapping evening, with only minor tweaks and additions afterwards. Back in 2008 however, I was probably quite diligent about adding the data in (new streets!) soon after, particularly as we needed to be ready to do it all again the following week! Also back then I imagine that editing activity would have stood out a lot more from the lesser background editing.
So I had those quibbles, however reading on, there's definitely some very thorough and valid approaches. For example "OSM users greatly differ in terms of the amount of contributions they make, and over what timespan. In order to quantify the impact of mapping parties on different types of users, we have grouped them based on the number of contributions they made in the six months prior to each party". So I'll be in their "Group 4" heavy contributors category. They go on to say that these users don't actually get much mapping done at mapping parties "We cross checked the names of some of these contributors against what is publicly available in OSM wikis, and found that many of these users take on organisational roles, visiting an area prior to the party, creating ‘cake diagrams’, and identifying ‘problems’ they wish the party to fix." ...Got me down to a tee. And I think there's quite a few other OSMLondoners who probably managed to wheedle their way into the heavy contributors category despite never really bothering with any mapping at the London events.
These groupings also allowed them to scientifically conclude what we already know, that we suck at retaining newcomers. In this graph we score quite well on retaining experienced mappers (pink and blue), but pretty hopelessly with the newbies (red and grey)
CONCLUSION! "mapping parties do cause an increased editing activity during the events themselves; they also sustain engagement over time, though mostly for already active contributors; however, they largely fail on their third goal of engaging new-comers. After just a week following the party, these users stop contributing to OSM and do not come back to other mapping parties again"
In our huddle of "Group 4" retained mappers outside the Iron Duke pub, we had a good chat about all these things ...then we went for burritos
So it is with these things in mind, that I've shifted the way the events are organised just a little bit. Alternating "pub meet-ups" and "mapping parties" Not a major shift, but half the time we'll just call it what it is, a "pub meet-up" in which people who know each-other are meeting-up. We don't preclude newcomers of course, but we face the fact that it will most likely be the usual crowd (Nothing wrong with that. It's always fun!). But then for the "mapping parties" we try to angle it a little more towards newbies. I'm not under any illusions that this small change will make much difference, but it's probably taking things in the right direction. Also if I can chill out on the promotion effort and the cake diagram drawing effort for some of the events, that will be welcome, and maybe I'll have more time to do better promotion of these less frequent "mapping party" events.... was the plan... but I didn't get much time this time around. Promotion is a job for everyone though. Please reach out to people who may be interested, and pass on the link: http://bit.ly/londonosm9
...and I'll see you tomorrow evening for a beginner-friendly mapping session!
Boom! summer has arrived!
Well spring time at least. And most importantly, daylight hours after work. This means it's mapping time again. We'll be heading out mapping TONIGHT in the Mayfair area
I'm falling behind with... well everything in my life right now, because I've had holiday sandwiched between lots of work. But I've cranked out a mapcraft cake diagram. I've also laid down an invite for any new folks to get in touch with me if they'd like a demonstration of the kind of mapping data I tend to collect while roaming the streets of London. We'll be doing this mapping from around 6pm until 7pm when we'll be meeting at the pub. From them onwards it will be... a good old casual social meet-up!
We haven't had one in a while, and yet I didn't get around to writing up my notes on things we chatted about at two previous pub meet-ups back in March:
Crosse Keyes pub near Bank 7th March
We talked about whether there would ever be an open version of google street view. There's openstreetview.org which isn't really it. Obviously stitched together photos of every street is a mammoth undertaking. With the prevalence of smartphones there is a increasing capacity for people to be able to swipe their phone across a panorama, and not only gather lots of pixels, but also use the phone's CPU power to do stitching/resizing and even image recognition e.g. gather the names of all the shops on this street in a single swipe. Boom. Mega-rapid mapping. That's still science fiction at the moment, but maybe things will go that way, and hopefully OpenStreetMap can steer this in an open data way.
That got us onto talking about UAVs and quadcopters. The technology's not there yet, but maybe one day we'll able to send out a mini quadcopter drone down every street at slightly above head-height to read all the shop signs. For now UAVs might start to be useful for getting aerial imagery, but even there, I haven't seen much success yet. We're interested in this for HOT disaster mapping. It seems like open hardware initiatives like [http://www.openrelief.org](openrelief.org) might come up with something cool (and cheaper) but compare with the niftiness of something like sensefly (commercial).
We got talking about cycling. Having been cycling in London for over two years now I can rant and rave with the rest of them, although I don't follow things like the announcement from Boris which everyone was excited about.
As well as a cycling, Andy was talking rendering again, and handling of coastlines. Jochen's coastline downloads offer an "inverted" approach, letting you assume a land background and then paint on polygon areas of water.
We talked about bug tracking within OSM. We have a lot of very old "wont fix" bugs. Design ideas which are sort of left dangling for possible future reference. We talked about the Trac versus github situation. It's unfortunate we've ended up with bugs in two different places (for the main website codebase) Can't quite remember the reasons and solutions for that.
Grant wanted to announce that OpenStreetMap's SVN will be shutdown and discontinued at the end of May, because most developers (and more importantly the repo maintainers) are preferring git over SVN, and most sub-projects have been migrated onto git already. Don't know if Grant has announced that yet. Maybe I just did :-/
We got talking about OSM data archaeology. Grant had been delving around seeing who had copies of really old database backups, from the very early days of the project before the planet files and planet file archiving was regularised. The records are patchy back then.
Finally we were talking about recruitment into the OpenStreetMap Foundation working groups. We urgently need to do some of this (not least into CWG). We need some new folks to help us make things happen within the foundation. This means attracting the right kind of talent, but also as Andy was saying, we need to stop "fishing from a small pond" of people we know, who are already busy with OpenStreetMap stuff. I would say that this is one of the key challenges for the foundation right now.
And we ate "dragon" curries!
Monkey puzzle in Paddington 21st March
I brought along an old map poster which Matt had created back in 2009(?). This is fun because we can play "spot the rendering configuration mistake". It's difficult enough to spot, while at the same time quite glaringly obvious. It made it even more fun when Matt showed up at the pub. He's never going to hear the end of it.
Grant was stressed out after a couple of difficult sessions doing hardware upgrades/alterations on the main OpenStreetMap servers. Some issue almost meant he was not being able to the main database sever back up again. But it's OK. phew! We're going to be needing some new hardware again to keep things running smoothly.
We talked about road classification tagging. The old physical properties versus grid significance debate. We get this with African roads, but I always remember the road round Iceland as the best example. It's a dirt track in places, and yet it's the one and only road looping around the island, so in that sense it's a very significant road and deserves its primary/trunk tag. Paul was giving the example of Brick Lane as an unusual classification quirk here in London. By our rules we follow the government classification. It's a B road. It's a highway=secondary, and yet Brick Lane is actually a pedestrian clogged pokey little alleyway compared to what drivers might expect of a B road.
We talked about "facebook search", and some of the weird privacy issues hitting the tech news as result of that.
We talked about Nokia's funky 3D view... which isn't working for me just at the moment.
We talked about interactions in the community over IRC and wiki edits, sometimes somebody who is quite sensible/intelligent on IRC can be a nutter when editing wiki pages ...or vice versa. But often moving from slower channels onto IRC is a good way of turning a big flaming tit-for-tat debate into a reasonable discussion. (if you've never tried IRC, it's not really as geeky and mysterious as it sounds) ...of course, if you can, the best thing is a face-to-face pub meet-up!
And that's a wrap on the winter pub meet-ups of 2012-2013. Since then I've been mega-busy and on holiday in Brazil (did a little bit of mapping there). The weather is amazingly different on return to London. Before I was cycling to work in my wind-proof cycle jacket, with my face hurting in the cold. Now I can cycle in just a T-shirt and OSM hi-vis jacket. And the daylight... So much daylight after work.
Time to kick off the mapping! I didn't sketch my buildings yet but I plan to fill some annoying building gaps in this Mayfair area. In fact I'll be very disappointed if we can't nail that this summer. If you're in London, and you fancy a bit of that, or a bit of chit-chat on techy or less techy topics... come join in with the first London summer mapping (and pub) event 2013!
The next London pub meet-up is tonight! Join us at the Crosse Keys pub from 7pm. As usual we'd love to have some new folks come along.
We had a french lady called Victoire joined us last time at the Blue Posts. She was interested in getting started with OSM and learning more about how humanitarian organisations can work with it. So we were talking through all of that.
The advice I always stress while bombarding new folks with all sorts of OSM info, is that you have to try editing. Maybe you're interested in using OSM data, or getting involved in other ways, or spreading the word to others. Maybe you have ideas about contributing data sets, or engaging mappers to input particular types of map data, but step number one in understanding how to go about any of those things... have a go at mapping. Learn the basics of OpenStreetMap editing, and add something to the map yourself. Happily when I bumped into Victoire at an ICT4D event last week, she said she had taken this advice, working through the (the soon to be revamped) learnosm.org instructions and doing some edits with JOSM.
We also talked about IRC. If you think it's a mysterious super-geeky thing, you're not alone, but it's really not that hard. Go to irc.openstreetmap.org, pick a nickname (like your real name for example), Login, ignore the mysterious super-geeky mess that appears on the screen, and just type "hello" down the bottom there! IRC is a great place for friendly chit-chat or to fire a quick a question if you're stuck on something while editing perhaps.
We talked about the OSM leaflets. A new version (which we now need) can be quite similar design-wise. Obviously the license and the maps need a refresh, but we also need newer content for some of the instructions. How to map a street network from scratch using GPS is, in my opinion, not the most relevant mapping lesson convey to the majority of people who will receive this leaflet. Adding a restaurant POI might be a better lesson (because things have moved on since the leaflets were first created!)
We discussed the idea of an "OpenStreetMap App Of The Year" award, and how that might work. We have a bewildering choice of iOS and Android apps, and (like other bewildering choices OpenStreetMap offers) some way of highlighting the best would be good.
For conversations about London attractions I have never visited, or something more OpenStreetMap related... join us in the pub tonight! The Crosse Keyes pub has one massive room in an old bank building. We'll have to put a sign up to help people find the OpenStreetMap table. See you there!
First of all... It's the London OpenStreetMap pub meet-up TONIGHT. Come join us!
I've been working a bit more on the map embedding examples I have on my website. For a long time that URL would take you to an apache directory listing of a bunch of files, including various junk experiments. But I kept linking people to it in discussions, and it was getting a bit embarrassing. Time to tidy it up a bit.
More recently I've set this up to use URL rewriting, give nice ".view.html" URLs and simultaneously fix problems with relative file references. I've also set it up to pull out some explanatory text from the HTML file. I know there's a tonne of other approaches to this using jsfiddle, github gists or others, but I'm quite pleased with the result for my own website.
The examples themselves... need some work still. Some excuses/caveats:
- They started life as bunch of little junk files/experiments, and they kind of still are.
- They're generally intended to be very minimal, illustrating one particular trick while not doing other things (even things that arguably you should always do) although I haven't been consistent with this.
- Some of them are examples lifted directly from tutorials or example resources on other websites e.g. the OSM wiki, and I've deliberately not changed anything (even where I'd like to) so we can cross-link for consistency.
- Giving credit to OpenStreetMap is another area I may not have been entirely consistent with. In general I would say that examples like this should really follow the [instructions on the copyrights page](a href="http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright) to the letter. In many examples I'm doing the minimal thing, and sticking with defaults. In particular note that the OpenLayers developers have not rolled out the default OSM credit text change to the hosted OpenLayers yet. Not sure when that's on the roadmap for. I don't think we need stress about it. The other thing is, I have been meaning to put together a set of examples/code/graphics for giving really awesome credit to OpenStreetMap. Alex Barth beat me to this idea recently. Basically the same idea, though I was imagining it slightly differently.
All said and done, there's a fair amount of wrongness in my examples, and I guess you can contact me if you'd like to suggest fixes. They're far from perfect, but taking on board everyone's feedback might count against simplicity. And besides we have the wiki for that. It's quite interesting to look at what's happened to the 'OpenLayers Simple Example' wiki page which I created way back in September 2007. At the time I predicted problems, and I wrote a section at the bottom begging people not add stuff to it which makes it more complicated. Since then various people have done just that, but there have been a few nice simplification edits too. I think a bold edit or two would whip it into shape, but maybe only in line with the way I see it, and only until somebody else edits it because they see it differently. Providing simple examples is not an exact science.
Discuss at the pub TONIGHT!? We're at the Blue Posts near Tottenham Court Road station from 7pm onwards (possibly hidden upstairs!)
We just had the London OpenStreetMap Hack weekend, and I think I'm right in saying this was the biggest OpenStreetMap hack weekend ever!
Big thanks to the Open Data Institute, who provided the venue, and also sponsored the event. The ODI are funded by the technology strategy board to promote and support open data initiatives, and there are surely non more deserving than our London-born global not-for-profit project. However the ODI are particularly keen on supporting innovation which drives UK economic growth. I'll be writing on the ODI blog soon, about ways in which OpenStreetMap does this (UPDATE: blog post on the ODI site now)
The ODI is also... my office. I work every day at a desk there doing placr.co.uk open transport data stuff. It was quite exciting holding an OpenStreetMap hack weekend at my place of work, but it did mean I had to get up early to be the first one there.
On the Saturday it felt like things got off to a slow/awkward start. I think this format could be improved by somehow unleashing people (those who need inspiration) on some simple hack ideas, but then maintaining lists of simple hack ideas presents a problem for developer engagement in general, which we didn't really solve yet.
I think it's true of any hack weekend, that you can get more out of it if you sneakily come along with some already-underway hack idea. Personally I had quite a few ideas, though non already underway as such. I started by working with Dan Stowell on merging in a pull request to XAPI URL Builder to add a 'Live Query' tab, which is pretty nice.
I then tried to order pizza online, and found myself having to hack the HTML form of the pizza website in order to let me submit without filling it in again. Pizza hack!
After pizzas we had "workshops and presentations". This worked pretty well because the event was well enough attended to make it worthwhile. Having said that, I was hoping to give the event broader reach, with more "OSM outsider" developers coming along to learn more. I gave my opentech presentation on the basics of the OpenStreetMap developer ecosystem with such an audience in mind, but to an audience who didn't really learn much from it. But hopefully at least if gave some ideas for how to explain OpenStreetMap.
Next Andy Allan gave a workshop on using TileMill. His enthusiasm for cartography rubbed off on a few people, and quite a lot of us installed TileMill and had a play over the course of the weekend. It's very easy to get started with shapefiles (e.g. osm shapefile downloads). I think Dan Stowell got as far as getting the openstreetmap-carto style running (this requires PostGIS and osm2pgsql)
Lots of other hacking went on besides. There's a list of stuff which got hacked on the wiki. With so many people attending, we found it was quite natural to gather people round for a presentations and show & tell session on the Sunday afternoon. As I've said before, the real benefit of these events is in sharing ideas, but in the past we haven't had sufficient people to create the audience-speaker dynamic. I think it's really great that we managed to do it this time. Thanks to the cyclestreets guys for kicking that off with an update on their work.
Having said that, the most exciting hacking was by TomH who was keeping himself to himself, while he progressed the 'Notes' branch. Having 'report a problem' on the OpenStreetMap homepage will be a signficant change when it happens.
We also awarded a bottle of Yorkshire beer to Ben Abelshausen, who was over from Belgium for the weekend. He gave a very interesting and impressive presentation on his system 'OsmSharp', a routing system for solving travelling salesman-like problems which he has been working for his masters thesis, but also as a project for a company who are now actively using the software to plan delivery routes. Ben is now hoping to do OpenStreetMap consulting work around these kinds of ideas.
Oh and we all went to the pub ...three times
The weekend kicked off on Friday with pub drinks. This was the convening spot for some of our international visitors, and we had a good chat including spending a long time puzzling over how to design a ReCAPTCHA-like system which gets people to solve a useful task for OpenStreetMap, while also (and this is the difficult bit) functioning as a bullet-proof captcha. I had a nice idea involving categorising aerial imagery tiles, but it didn't present enough answer permutations to be uncrackable through brute force automated requests. Other ideas were too difficult for human users to succeed at quickly. Tricky.
On the Saturday we had a bigger pub session. SteveC generously gave us £50 to get some beers in. It was such a big gathering that this stretched to just less than the first round of beers! The fox is nice, but a bit pricey. That certainly goes for the food too. Clearly I haven't done my duty and sussed out good cheap pubs around my office, because on the Sunday we resorted to the whetherspoons in Liverpool Street station (which I quite like)
After three nights of pubs and two days of hacking I've been feeling pretty exhausted, but it's such good fun, and triggers so many ideas, I hope we can repeat it again some time soon. Thanks again to the Open Data Institute for hosting and sponsoring.
No rest though. Thursday night is #geomob night at the BCS on the Strand, where there'll be some OpenStreetMap folks attending and some geotalks featuring OpenStreetMap (Dan Karran's bombsight.org for sure. I'd guess also Simon Willison's talk). For more OpenStreetMap events Follow @OSMLondon on twitter
Two big events coming up in London:
TODAY (Saturday) we're having a big lunchtime pub meet up. hbogner is visiting with a whole team of Croatian OpenStreetMappers. Nine of them I think! They've been doing some kind of OSM workshop in rural Wales, the bit which just got the heaviest snow, but I'm sure that wont stop them getting back to London this morning, and we can meet with them to drink beer in the traditional english environment of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.
I'm sorry I've arranged this at rather short notice. I was umming and aahing because it clashes with something else I have this evening. This is the only reason it's a lunchtime event actually, so if people want to carry on the merriment into the evening, or arrange a follow-on session at a different pub, I'm sure the Croatian folks won't complain! I will be aiming to get there before 1pm though. Should be fun. For a while there I wasn't sure if the Croatians had managed to find out about the event I'd set up. But it's OK. They're good to go. But I seem to be the only Londoner signed up on lanyrd so far! Looking forward to it anyway.
The other big event is the next London OpenStreetMap Hack Weekend. Feb 2nd 3rd. This looks set to be an international gathering too, with Emacsen flying in from the States, Ben from Belgium, and Katie from Germany. Again we need more Londoners signing up, but I know you all don't like to commit until the last minute. The Open Data Institute are hosting and sponsoring! This will be a great venue for this I'm sure. It has "Open Data" in its name, and it's a nice space. Check it out (we can get set up in the 'boardroom' there). Please consider coming along even if you're a little bit scared by the word "hacking". It'll be fun I promise!
So those are some upcoming events.
We were in the pub not so long ago for our first London meet-up of 2013 at the Monkey Puzzle. The pub was unusually crowded. Clearly after their spectacular switch2osm on their website, more people are managing to navigate to this pub, or perhaps just attracted to the pub due to the sheer classiness of its website map. Anyway it was busy, but everyone who got there before me did a fine job of grabbing a good table, this time in the room with ye olde map on the wall.
Ed Freyfogle from Nestoria was there, so we got talking about the property market, and the business of cleaning up data coming from estate agent listings, and the business of click-through money making with zoopla. I share an office with a startup called Locatable who do this too, and in a very map-based manner. Don't worry. They have promised me they will switch to OpenStreetMap :-)
Richard Fairhurst was in London for the day, so of course he should swing by the OSMLondon meet-up! He and Andy sounded like they were having an interesting chat about the future of OSM editor development. They worked together on some of the latest developments of Potlatch 2 in flex, and there's lots more that could be done there to bring some of the advanced features to their full potential, but it seems like iD is the future.
I was showing off my new christmas pressie, a Kindle Fire. It's a very capable tablet device, somewhat hobbled by amazon's custom android O.S. The homescreen interfaces are nice to use, but it very cleverly directs you buy stuff from them. Mostly annoyingly though, you can't get on "google play" to download whichever apps you like. The amazon appstore has a much reduced subset. Searching for "OpenStreetMap" finds a handful including Skobbler's Forevermaps, and MapsWithMe.
Now Derick has been recommending MapsWithMe for a while, but I only just got around to trying it at Christmas time, and I have to say... it's awesome! My new favourite app. I only have the free 'lite' version, but it's a really nice fluid offline vector map browsing interface. Grant was noticing that they're doing very well on download stats, including doing really well at getting people to pay £3.09 for the pro version. Making money from OpenStreetMap? Whatever next!
We talked about the evils of imports, the France Cadastre debate again, and closer to home, the practice of copying in street names from Ordnance Survey open data. I'm a little suspicious of the progress we're seeing on ITO's street names comparison map now. Everything's turning blue, which is good news, but are people going out and surveying these streets? If we just copy in names from O.S. open data "we're in danger of doing ourselves down" was how RichardF puts it. We should aim to create a richer more exciting dataset with a community of local OpenStreetMap enthusiasts maintaining it.
I really like Pascal Neis' Overview of OpenStreetMap Contributors map, which adds the little user icons (they look like babies) based on the centre of their active areas. I was saying in the pub, that in a way this is more like what the users home location map should present. A view of who is nearby, and genuinely active there. The home locations map has a weird kind of clutter problem which means it doesn't really help connect new people to nearby mappers.
We talked about landuse mapping. The confusion created by TimSC's crude mapping approach of blatting in areas of landuse based on looking at aerial imagery (and often getting classifications completely wrong). Also we discussed the general problems of landuse classification. Commercial vs Retail vs Industrial. Areas tend to be a bit of both. Edge cases are more common than not.
Speaking of landuse mapping "Rendering of Farmland not 'Light' enough?" Yes! Longtime bugbear of mine. We should make the big brown stains fade to the background a lot more in my opinion (on the 'standard' style)
Speaking of the 'standard' style, we had Steve Chilton in the pub with us. Lots of conversations about rendering including Andy Allan chatting to him about his carto port of the OSM stylesheets, and how Tilemill designing would work if we were to adopt this on the main tile servers.
Speaking of the main tile servers, we talked about the "operations" side of things, and the vision for scaling onto new servers for load balancing and/or failover. We've got quite a few tile caches now, and these are starting take the vast majority of the load, but they're pointing to one "parent" server doing actual rendering. Yevaud is churning out an average of 6 metatiles per second. OSM U.S. may be providing some servers which could be arranged to split the rendering load, but then the caching approach becomes more complex if we try to avoid two servers rendering the same meta-tile.
As well as my kindle, I also got a new bike for christmas, so I was showing that off too, but we didn't hang around too long outside the pub before heading home, because it's mighty cold this time of year.
Today we're having a spot of snow, but don't let that put you off. The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a warm cosy pub. Just the place for an OpenStreetMap lunch! All the details on the wiki
We had an awesome hack weekend in December, but last time we had a regular pub session was way back in November. We went to the Parcel Yard pub in the new bit of Kings Cross station.
In the pub we talked about ...random topics which I wrote down at the time. Does anyone remember what we said about "floods in the tube", and "airoplane radars"? And at the end of the list I have written down "weight loss solutions". I don't remember that converation at all. Maybe we came up with some brilliant medical breakthrough, but I'm afraid I didn't write down any more detail. The cure for obesity is lost forever.
We talked about OpenMeatMap.org, a map locating fine meat produce from butchers, farmers markets, and other meat outlets. ...which sadly doesn't exist. But it should!
We talked about MapRoulette.org and fixing up TIGER mess. (Oh that's cool. I've just noticed my little tutorial video is linked from there directly now)
Someone (don't remember who) was browsing the OpenStreetMap.org front page map (newly converted to leaflet.js) using his android phone and we observed a bizarre squidgy dragging effect which has never been seen before or since. You have to see this little video to see the squidgyness. It was a pretty cool bug in a "you couldn't do that if you tried" kind of way.
We also had a fairly extensive discussion covering some interesting more serious topics:
Back in November the French cadastre import of building data (Import semi-automatique des bâtiments) was causing some agro because the Data Working Group had blocked some french users who were bulk importing without following the guidelines. Many French users are taking part in the 'semi-automatic' merging in of building data. Some users took this too far, importing too many objects too quickly. In these cases it was a bulk import, but without following bulk import rules (in particular not creating a separate user account for this). Blocking users is always liable to trigger some agro, but somehow this escalated into a French community versus DWG battle on the mailing lists. Matt (of the DWG) was giving his perspective on this in the pub. Here's a thing I noticed from a wiki perspective (I always like the wiki perspective) Looking into the debate after it flared up, I was surprised to find that the french language wiki page about this import carried no cautionary information, about it not being intended as a bulk import, and about the problems of bulk imports. The warning on there now was only added when I pointed this out. Some users will get the wrong idea if you don't give guidelines and just say "hey everyone join in with uploading this data".
We moved on to talking about the OpenStreetMap foundation, and particularly the Management Team. The MT group lost steam a bit. We discussed reasons for that. MT meetings have always been voice calls, rather than IRC meetings, which some people prefer, but voice calls can feel like very hard work sometimes. More fundamentally it was felt MT doesn't have enough authority (or doesn't feel itself to have enough authority) to make decisions, and isn't properly looped into a the chain of command. Personally I think the management team would work better along with many other working groups, if we could generally make these roles and responsibilities more desirable coveted positions somehow. We, at the OSMF, need to figure out better ways of recruiting people from the wider project. We discussed this because Matt (OSMF board) was organising a re-boot of the management team.
I realised we were giving Matt a bit of a grilling in his capacity as board and DWG member, during these conversations which were unusually serious for the pub. But we made it up to him by going for his favourite... burritos!.
See the majestic timetable of Kings Cross station in the background there. No? Well ok. But you have to admit the roof is quite nice here:
The Parcel Yard pub is kind of hidden at the back of this new bit of King Cross station, and has none of the skankiness you often get in station pubs, perhaps because the beers are a bit pricey. Quite nice pub though. And good proximity to burritos. Perhaps we'll go again.
But not tonight. Tonight we're going to Paddington, and no the station this time. We'll be in the good old Monkey Puzzle. All the details on the wiki. If all of this serious and not so serious OpenStreetMaptastic conversation sounds like your kind of thing, or you're just curious about the basic idea of OpenStreetMap... if you are one of the 1 million, or even if you're not... come join us in the pub!
1 million users! Woosh! Welcome to 2013. This is going to be a good year.
1 million is a big number. My uncle is a retired school teacher, and he has this great story. He told a classroom full of school kids "1 million is a big number. Between all of us, d'you think we could draw one million dots?". He showed them how to draw a block of 100 dots on a piece of paper in a neat 10x10 grid, then they raced to see who could draw 1000 dots as a row a 10 of these blocks. Some kids did it very quickly. Some kids took a bit longer and did them in colourful stripes. "Not bad" he said "If we add them all up, working together, you've drawn a lot of dots, but if you lot can draw 1 million dots I will eat this banana whole, including the skin!". Excited by this prospect, the kids all feverishly carried on drawing dots, but at the end of the lesson they added them up and found they had only done about 200,000 dots. Good progress, but they had a long way to go to reach a million. Lesson learned. 1 million is a very big number.
...but a couple of girls went home that night and carried on drawing dots. Two months later they presented my uncle with a box piled high with dots on paper all carefully arranged in colourful checkered grids. My uncle (now retired) showed me this box which he had kept ever since. It's a true story.
...and yes, he had to eat a banana whole, including the skin.
I'm not sure what the lesson is from this. Maybe "never underestimate the power of bored kids", or "if you ever thought editing OpenStreetMap was a pointless waste of time, people do more pointless things", or how about this lesson "A massive task might just be possible if you have lots of people helping out and a few very dedicated people getting really into it".
Anyway 1 million is big. The above graph is from osmstats.altogetherlost.com. It shows us blasting over the 1 million user mark some time in the small hours of yesterday morning. This morning's raw stats report clearly show us over the line. The graph shows a downturn at the beginning of the week, which isn't usually possible in the count of registered users. This is caused by the sysadmins doing a clear out of some spam user registrations. They've done this before in the past, and they wanted to do it again in advance of the 1 million users announcement.
Whenever we do announcements about the number of users we have, people are quick to complain that this is misleading. This number includes people who signed up, but didn't make a single edit to the map data. That is no small component of the total, in fact it's a very large component. About 2/3rds of signed up users never get as far as clicking the 'save' button on a map edit. 2/3rds! This is based on Pascal Neis' analysis of this from a couple of years back, but I'm assuming this ratio hasn't changed much.
So we might say a less misleading figure to look at, is the number of users who made a least one change, but this quickly leads to the next question "Should we really count users of OpenStreetMap who have only made a single edit before disappearing?", and then we're into different ways of measuring activity. People have done this analysis. Andy Robinson has been re-plotting this graph since the early days, showing a "rolling week" measure of node editing activity, currently fluctuating around the 8000 mark. We have to measure the size of a community somehow. There's no doubt this 8000 figure is a more down-to-earth realistic figure than the over-blown 1 million figure we're singing and shouting about. But why take a 1 week rolling count? Why look at node editing? There's lots of different ways of aggregating these stats, all with different quirks. The fact is, the least arbitrary measure we have available to us is the cold hard simple count of user sign-ups, and today this is showing a big fat 1 million! Yes we're singing and shouting about it. Guess what? We're trying to promote OpenStreetMap. Nothing wrong with that, so please join in!
But the revelation that 2/3rds of sign ups do not edit, is a frustration for people who work on improving OpenStreetMap. I like it when the discussion comes around, because it leads to inward-looking self-criticism. What are we doing wrong? I would urge people to think of the zero-editors as part of the long-tail distribution of our community. I'll explain what I mean some other time, but basically we shouldn't beat ourselves up about it too much. But self-criticism is good. It leads to conclusions like:
- OpenStreetMap editing software needs to be easier for beginners,
- Documentation needs to be better for beginners
- Editing on mobile needs to be easier
- The website needs "social" features for welcoming and helping new users
- We need simple bug submitting and workflows around fixing them.
- We need to make contributing fun, like a game, with microtasks.
The good news is that we're tackling things on all these fronts. We saw some great progress in 2012, and we're set to see exciting announcements in 2013. In particular...
- We may soon go live with a "Report a problem" link on the OpenStreetMap homepage. 'notes' branch
- In 2012 we've seen the PushPin OSM app brings easy OSM editing to iPhone.
- In 2012 we've seen MapRoulette challenges breaking TIGER fixup in to interesting little microtasks. Now we're seeing the 'Kort' presenting KeepRight bugs as a fun little game.
- switch2osm.org launched at the beginning of 2012, providing targeted documentation on using OpenStreetMap for web developers. RichardF was the main man behind this, and he's itching to do something similar again. Meanwhile learnosm.org is set to receive a facelift very soon.
It's things like this which will improve our "conversion rate", moving people from signing up to making edits, and allow us to really tap into our 1 million strong army of registered OpenStreetMappers. That's why 2013 is going to be a good year.
As usual the run up to Christmas seems to be building up to a crescendo of chaos for me. But that's the way we like it. Some of the Hack Weekend promotion was a little hurried/non-existant, but even so we did alright.
We had a lovely venue courtesy of 10gen the MongoDB company where Derick works. Our venue requirements are pretty simple, but this funky warehouse office in Shoreditch surpassed them. Thanks to 10gen for that, and to Derick for helping me run the event.
And we had pizza!
I arranged for pizzas and other snacks courtesy of placr.co.uk, the little transport open data company where I work. I wrote a post about this on the placr blog, and about some ideas for railway data hacking. One of my hacks for the weekend was to tweak the replication diff updating scripts to try to make this run robustly on the placr server. I'm not as expert at running download servers as the geofabrik guys. Hope it doesn't become too much of a pain in the ass, and I hope that I and other developers will be able to chain some other railway ideas onto it.
Speaking of OSM railways data, we got chatting about TrainLord, which is pretty awesome use of this data. It's a game. It's not that easy to get started, but I will admit I found the idea of lording it over the East Coast mainline to be quite appealing, and so I've spent rather longer playing it that I should have done (which is probably what makes a good game) and unfortunately discussion lead to playing TrainLord instead of hacking at least some of the time!
But apart from that, there was some hacking going on (This list is also on the wiki page):
- TomH worked on Notes (formerly known as OpenStreetBugs) and converting it OpenLayers -> Leaflet. See activity on github
- Robert Scott showed us a tool he's been building which process GPS traces and compares routes with those from OSRM to discover where streets seem missing or oneways are wrong (assuming it's trace taken while driving) [UPDATE. It's described on the wiki now]
- Derick worked on his "year of edits" video animation, and made a MongoDB powered XAPI-like system to help power Tom Morris' thing
- Tom Morris worked on osmcheckin a foursquare-like checkin system for OSM POIS
- Andy Allan worked on openstreetmap-carto a port of the OpenStreetMap 'standard' stylesheet into the more compactly elegant 'carto' stylesheet format.
- Adrian nw3biz learned some OpenLayers markers tricks following my marker popups example
- I made some improvements to XAPI URL Builder to make it output osmosis commands for data filtering, to offer an alternative to hitting XAPI.
I did that hack quite quickly, but spent the rest of the time being distracted by TrainLord, taking pictures of myself eating pizza, and watching nice previews of hacks other people were working on. A hack weekend really needs to involve people feeding ideas off eachother, and there was plenty of that going on. All in all, a pretty fun way to spend a weekend!
I hope to do it again soon. In fact we'll probably get something together for January or February. If you know of a good venue, and/or a company who would like to sponsor the pizzas for this kind of event (or a different kind of event!) let me know.
We've got quite a range of London events upcoming in various stages of planning:
Thu 22nd - geomob - They've just announced the line-up. Six different geo-presentations followed by pub. This is always a fun geo crowd, and usually a fair few OpenStreetMappers in attendance.
Sat 24th / Sun 25th - London branch of Operation Cowboy - This one is being organised by Tom Morris. He's yet to confirm the venue, but has a plan. I hope this can be a good "training" event, at which people can go and learn or share tips about OpenStreetMap editing (That should be the focus I think. Not so sure about the "cowboy" ideas) But it's not my event! Somebody else is organising something. Hurray! For that reason alone, I'd encourage everyone to support it. It will need experienced mappers and of course lots of inexperienced mappers to sign up to it. Tom has been promoting it to the wikipedians, but there's probably quite a few other people who have been waiting for a non-pub related non-hacking mapping related OpenStreetMap event. How to get the word out to those people? I've pondered training kind of event formats for a long time. Hope it works well.
Sat 1st & Sun 2nd December - Hack Weekend. The dates are not necessarily set yet, but this seems like the most likely weekend. It means it'll clash with Sanitation Hackathon (a humanitarian tech event), but it's the best weekend for OpenStreetMap hacker availability. If you're within range of London and interested in the technical side of OpenStreetMap ("internal" development or just using OSM data) then keep this weekend free. More details to come very soon hopefully.
And finally the Christmas Party 2012. We've got a wiki page so far at least. We should probably pick a date.
Phew! So thats the upcoming stuff.
The last London winter pub meet-up was at the Blue Posts. We had a small gathering but with a couple of new folks.
Aimee was along to learn about OSM and get ideas for possible projects. She's looking to do something map related for her MSC. We discussed "circular routing", choosing a route to go on a circular cycle/walk taking in some sights before looping back. The cyclestreets guys have done some work along these lines.
We also had Jack along. He was investigating the various ins and outs of running your own tile server (The kind of things introduced here on switch2osm). Andy was able to give him plenty of pointers. In particular he was asking about memory and other requirements when renting virtual machines, which is something Andy knows all about from running OpenCycleMap and transport map.
Also here's Andy with a banana:
We went for burritos later, and I forgot my bank card behind the bar, so we just had to go back and have more beers after that. No choice!
So tonight we'll be at the pub again. All the details on the wiki. We'll be in the Parcel Yard pub in the new bit of Kings Cross station. Something a bit different. Easy access for people entering/leaving London on the train! Come join us at this and/or any of the other events mentioned above.