OpenStreetMap

Journey searching for a facade survey app

Posted by Lejun on 24 October 2021 in English (English). Last updated on 25 October 2021.

Objective

For a while now I’ve been contributing in smallish countryside cities. While not small through their surface area nor their population count, they have a low proportion of active OpenStreetMap contributors and their urban development share a common pattern that is “downtown commercial arteries” leading me to classify them as “countryside cities” rather than “modern evolved and distributed cities”. Those commercial arteries are defined by a street network of mixed uses buildings with shops at ground level and housing at higher levels ; Walking down one of these street, one could model the facade as a succession of doors allowing access to either a shop or housings and that’s exactly what I am looking a software for.

Criterias

I have searched and tested multiple solutions in my journey but haven’t quite found the ideal one so far. The criterias I am looking for are as follows:

  • Lightweight: I’m one of those still using old hardware limited both in memory and performance ;
  • Offline map: I’m a cheap guy, allow me to cache the mapping area through WiFi before leaving home ;
  • “Notes” creation rather than Waypoints: Most of the apps allows you to create “waypoints” on a GPS trace, while those have their use I definitely can’t use those as GPS function is rather battery intensive and high-rise buildings, or simply clouds, highly affects signal quality. Given a map (see aforementioned point) I would rather be allowed to pinpoint a location and add my own tags to it. Those data could then be exported to a computer to be processed through comparison with OpenStreetMap data.

While not dealbreaking, the app use could be extended through an uncluttered UI and workflow, a customizable presets to one-tap buttons function could make themed mapping parties a breeze, and pictures/voice records.

Tested solutions

Below are some solutions I tested with no success so far.

“Utility” solutions

Three applications stood out for their uses, having clear aims, they offer both mapping function and lightweightness. Sadly, none of them fill all my criterias.

  • Keypad Mapper 3: The last version of the Keypad Mapper suite, last updated in 2013, is explicitly oriented toward house numbering. While offering rather interesting functions such as “relative to position note location”, it doesn’t offer presets nor pinpoint function. It is GPS dependent and while one could use the pad to write comments instead of housenumbers the process would be painfully slow. Moreover, there seems to be an issue with the app making users share cell towers location to CellTowerID. While I do contribute to this database too, I would rather have the choice to do so ;
  • OSMTracker: One of the KeypadMapper successors, while not being perfect offers more flexibility and uses. As I see it, the application follows the same workflow of a buttons-filled screen but with the possibility to create presets. The so called custom layouts, while rather difficult to create, can easily be shared to multiple devices. The only downside in my opinion is the once again “waypoint GPS dependent” function rather than a pinpoint one ;
  • StreetComplete: While having many benefits, StreetComplete is too limited for my use. Its main aim could be described as “data refinement” rather than mapping. Furthermore, it only offers limited offline functions ;
  • GeoNotes (Suggested by GOwin): The closest app to what I’m searching so far. It is indeed very lightweight and run smoothly on my device allowing me to take notes and pictures to export. On the other hand it still insists on having my position without the option to disable it and offer no offline map. I still decided to keep it and give it a try in the future with a few workaround for the two point aforementioned. One can decide to not give it the permission to search for location, an option to disable it would still be welcomed for less tech-vocab users and experimenting different methods. It’s still possible to use WiFi at home to cache an area data, Not sure about the memory cap but will certainly test it.

“Maps” solutions

These solutions deliver a map-like experience, which can be extended with some freemapping functions at the cost of ressources use and device bloating. Using those for mapping require prior mapping experience and can be clunky for first time users.

  • Organic Maps: A fork developped by the MapsMe team, without any editing capabilities. I find it quite interesting in its own category, that is an offline map, and could use it as my main smartphone map application given some refinement. One thing I disliked while testing it is the absence of option to turn off GPS, launching the app automatically starts location search even before acquiring map data (that needs to be downloaded at first use). I have high expectations for this app in the future if given the option to turn off GPS (using it as a map exclusively) and some refinement to the search function ;
  • OSMAnd: One of Android OpenStreetMap based bigshots and my main smartphone map application. It offers both a map and editing functions but I find it quite cluttered and ressources heavy. Not using it daily, I often find myself lost in the interface. Some links directing to the same content while important ones are scattered among minor ones. I would prefer a standalone application to this, more lightweighted that could be installed on devices for mapping parties.

“Editors” solutions

Fully fledged map editors offer limitless tagging possibilities to users at the cost of being too complex for beginners and ressources intensive. I would rather have a lightweight data surveyal tool and a power editor at home than having under my, more often than not, frozen fingers a tool capable of nuking entire OpenStreetMap areas given an hazardous tap.

  • Vespucci: The community goldstandard OpenStreetMap mobile editor, offers a complete contribution solution on a smartphone. Tried it once and instantly made my device freeze and reboot, potentially because its ressource consumption or my device being outdated. For the glimpse I caught of the user interface, it seemed very bloated on my small screened device ;
  • OsmGo! (Suggested by jambamkin): While not being what I’m looking for it’s nonetheless interesting. I see it as a kind of light iD with more than enough editing capabilities to work with POIs and nodes. It doesn’t seem to feature offline maps nor export function thus wouldn’t fit in my expected workflow.

Special cases

JOSM

My computer editor of choice for its capabilities and extensive addons library. On top of not being keen of the idea of laptop surveying, it would not be an acceptable solution for mapping parties and beginners. I would still use it to process surveys data, comparing with OpenStreetMap database.

Pen & Paper

Of course, the simplest, most accessible and lowtech answer would be to grab a pen and some paper onto which one could have printed the building footprint through OpenStreetMap. Using some kind of code it’s rather easy to have “presets”. Unfortunately that process is too time consuming, tinkering heavy and beginner unfriendly in my opinion.

Mapillary/KartaView

Until recently, I considered buying an action cam to survey street facades and upload pictures to Mapillary and/or KartaView (previously known as OpenStreetCam). The two of them are the most known survey pictures hosting services, and while sharing them under open licences they aren’t fully opensource. The aquisition of Mapillary by Facebook back in 2020 has been a major dealbreaker to me while looking for a decentralized and fairer internet and the idea will be undefinitely pending until the next Mapillary.

Conclusion

During my journey I searched for a way to make street surveyal easier. So far, one have to stop at each doorstep to take notes while hoping to have a precise enough GPS signal. My main take on it would be to completely ditch the use of GPS location service for an offline map marker system. So far I found offline maps or marker solutions, but none offered both of them. The closest is GeoNotes, courtesy of GOwin, which isn’t perfect but fine enough for fieldtesting (I’ll try to come back and give an update once that’s done). Once again, the ideal workflow as I see it would be a lightweight smartphone application that allows its user to describe elements’ succession while walking down a street before exporting it to a computer for further processing. I am by no mean expert in UI, UX, software development nor even GIS. This diary entry simply aims to share my idea upon making data surveyal easier through a basic application that could be further extended by users feedback.

Edit: Formatting, typo and moved JOSM to “special cases” as someone who, didn’t liked me putting it next to Vespucci in the “Editor” category, nagged me to do so. Also added some users’ suggestions.

Location: Rue Battant, Besançon, Doubs, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Metropolitan France, 25000, France

Comment from GOwin on 25 October 2021 at 04:20

Organics Maps is a fork of Maps.Me, and I believe it’s being developed by a different team altogether. It’s also possible to edit with Organics Maps, but their main difference is that it has removed parts of the code that has privacy issues, or considered intrusive. Functionally, they’re the same and most users will find it hard to to distinguish between the two.

I think the app you’re describing fits GeoNotes, at least on Android. It doesn’t do any direct editing, but since you can work with JOSM, I think it’s something you should check out.

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 October 2021 at 06:46

Care to share what device (+ Android version) you are using?

Comment from jambamkin on 25 October 2021 at 07:08

OSMGo! probably doesn’t quite fit your use case, but is worth considering.

Comment from Lejun on 25 October 2021 at 07:29

@GOwin: You’re right I should have emphasised the fork aspect of Organic Maps, I’ll correct that. Regarding the team behind it the Readme state that it was “developed with love by MapsWithMe (MapsMe) founders and our community”

GeoNotes looks really interesting, I’ll go check it !

@SimonPoole: Absolutely. I’m on a 2013 Sony XperiaM C1904 running LineageOS 14.1 (Android 7.1.2) last updated on 2018.

@jambamkin: Until now I never distinguished OSMGo! from Go Map!! and didn’t look at it. You’re right, it is interesting but lacks an Export feature that would allow me to further process surveyal data before uploading.

Comment from orthocircular on 25 October 2021 at 07:47

Sounds like you’re wanting a GIS survey app like OpenMapKit or GeoMapper.

Comment from Lejun on 25 October 2021 at 08:13

@orthocircular: GeoMapper doesn’t seem opensource which is important to me. Is OpenMapKit still maintained? Moreover its documentation looks kinda complex for my use.

Comment from GOwin on 25 October 2021 at 08:31

Another app you might find interesting is OSM contributor, which you can find from the app store.

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 October 2021 at 08:45

@Lejun there is no particular reason Vespucci shouldn’t work with your device (rebooting is in any case an OS bug and has nothing to do with the app). You will be limited by the heap size to a small number of layers, but you probably wouldn’t want to overdue that in any case because of the device being quite slow. We regularly test releases on a 1GB device, and two devices with older Android versions than you are running and it runs just fine.

In tag-only mode there is no danger of deleting objects inadvertently (not that that would seem to be a real danger to start with), but you can still add new ones, alternatively you can simply filter out stuff you don’t want to be able to edit.

With a bit of added complexity you can get full offline editing, both OSM data and background layers, see https://vespucci.io/tutorials/offline/

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 October 2021 at 08:49

PS: “, a customizable presets to one-tap buttons function could make themed mapping parties a breeze” You know that Vespucci has had preset based filters since ages? Giving you a themed editor with a couple of clicks.

Comment from Lejun on 25 October 2021 at 10:13

@SimonPoole: Well, guess it’s time for me to try and get on the Vespucci bandwagon once more

Comment from SimonPoole on 25 October 2021 at 10:20

@Lejun your requirements conflict a bit with themselves, so I can’t tell if it is actually a solution that you would be happy with, in any case if your phone crashes again we should have a look at that. But maybe just using a camera app that gives you orientation in the exif data (for example Open Camera) would be the better solution (orientation makes it easier to determine what you were looking at).

Comment from tordans on 31 October 2021 at 19:30

It could be worth creating a theme for https://github.com/pietervdvn/MapComplete for your usecase. That would allow for a single-purpose mobile editing experience (with build in visualisation). However, it is a browser app, so offline support is limited.

Comment from tordans on 31 October 2021 at 19:32

It could be worth creating a theme for https://github.com/pietervdvn/MapComplete for your usecase.

Pieter Vander Vennet’s talk on this years SOTM gives a good overview: https://media.ccc.de/v/sotm2021-9448-introduction-and-review-of-mapcomplete

Comment from SimonPoole on 31 October 2021 at 20:03

Themed mapping apps are IMHO the emperors new clothes of OSM. As a movement we want our contributors to be effective as possible when they are doing the most expensive activity we have, that is surveying outside. There is probably a role for them for groups that aren’t really interested in OSM, but that’s about it.


Login to leave a comment