Everyone has their own reason for contributing to OpenStreetMap. Maybe you wanted a better map for your favourite activity - hiking, cycling, skiing. Maybe you were using a site or device with OSM data, and found it lacking. Maybe a friend got you involved. Maybe you believe in our aims as an open project. Or maybe you just thought it was cool.

What was your reason?

I’m giving a talk at State of the Map US in just over a week, in which I’d like to share people’s stories as to why they contribute. I’d love to hear yours.

You can post in the comments here, drop me a line at, send me an OSM message, or reply on Twitter. (Anonymity offered if you want!)

Comment from trolleway on 28 May 2015 at 14:28

I started contribyting to OSM because there are many pedestrian crossings through railway lines in Moscow - official and unofficial, witch not shown on any official and internet maps. Only local residents know how to use it.

Comment from Vincent de Phily on 28 May 2015 at 14:46

I bought a trekking GPS for my honey moon, but the official maps for my destination (India) were expensive and only available via snail-mail. Back to my home country (Ireland) after 6 weeks with a map-less GPS, I found that topografic maps for Ireland were downloadable, but still twice the price of the device itself. Searching some more I found OSM and put it on my device. Started contributing after a few months, including trekking paths that I knew weren’t available anywhere else, and was hooked.

Comment from Sanderd17 on 28 May 2015 at 14:55

When I got my first android smartphone, it had a GPS, but mobile internet was slow and expensive. So I bumped into MapDroyd ( which offered offline map rendering for free. Coming from paper maps, that certainly was enough for me ;)

However, when checking out the maps, I saw that my own street had missing parts, next to many other missing streets. Luckily, the app had clear credits, so I could figure out that the maps came from a Wikipedia-like project called OpenStreetMap, and I started tracing roads. At the start, that was done just by running a tracking app in the car, uploading the traces to OSM, and tracing them in Potlatch (adding details from memory).

When the streets I often took were mapped, I also started using the bike to map streets I don’t need (like dead-end streets), and more dedicated apps like OSMTracker (that could take pictures).

So I started contributing for some reasons:

  1. The project had data that was usable enough to navigate like on paper maps

  2. There were enough holes in the data to clearly see what could be improved

  3. There were free tools available that used the data with clear credits

Comment from EdLoach on 28 May 2015 at 15:06

A friend mapped his village and mentioned having done so on social media. I looked at the map of Clacton and thought “I could do that”, asked my friend’s advice about what GPS device to get, then while waiting for it to arrive corrected some road name spellings in Wolverhampton where I used to live. 6.5 years later and it is still possible to improve the map locally - with a push I think Tendring might be address complete this year (I’ve surveyed the “missing” bits of 2 more part surveyed parishes yesterday and today - just now need to get around to entering the information).

Comment from kocio on 28 May 2015 at 15:09

I was already Linux citizen journalist and an active Wikipedian, so OSM was just next interesting project to try contributing to. I started with streets and house numbers in my hometown and today I mostly like micromapping it with shops and services (because I never remember such details as opening hours!) or other local amenities to reflect real space better and try to make default map style better suited for this task (I designed and proposed a few icons lately), because it’s fun and I think many average users would also like to have the most detailed map of their neighborhood possible. I also try to translate tools like JOSM or Wiki pages, because I use it a lot and I want to lower the entry barrier for other mappers.

Comment from Smurphboy on 28 May 2015 at 15:42

I’d watched OSM with great interest and used the maps on my smartphone (probably an Nokia N95 at the time…) but I didn’t start to contribute until I took up cycling again.

Before OSM finding a decent cyclable path or somewhere to lock up your bike safely was a case of scouring OS maps, finding pdfs on council websites or knowing the right cycling group. Now OSM is pretty much the best source of cycle routes, cycle parking (my particular fetish is getting as much of the cycle parking in Bristol mapped), and other useful points of interest for a cyclist, like bike shops and water fountains.

Comment from ColinMarquardt on 28 May 2015 at 15:47

In 2006/2007, both Dan Karran and I lived in Stuttgart, Germany, and while we never met, I somehow ended up following his activities in OSM, and soon after did the first edits myself (with segments still, oh my). Back then, a mapper in OSM was god-like, creating entire towns and autobahns etc. out of nothing, and every Wednesday, they would magically appear. Soon OSM became usable as the main map on Garmins, and also the osm2pgsql/mapnik toolchain improved so much that any layman could create their own map style, which I did as (thanks again Ian Dees for hosting early versions of it). And these days, when you go on vacation to a place where you feel not enough hiking trails are mapped (, you add them from the Bing aerial images, and a few days later have them on whatever device you bring along.

Comment from dawidi on 28 May 2015 at 16:08

My first “mapping project” was surveying anthills with my father in a very anthill-rich forest for a local nature conservation club. For the first survey in 1994 (when I was 12), we made a custom coordinate system by putting in numbered wooden poles every 50 meters and measuring from there; the data was then plotted with a GW-BASIC program. For the comparison survey in 2000 (shortly after SA was switched off) we used a borrowed GPS and I rendered the “map” in VisualBasic; this time we also included a few of the forest tracks for orientation.

I remember a situation around that time where I was stuck with my bike in the middle of a muddy forest due to an outdated paper map, thinking: “Having a digital map on a GPSr on my bike would be way cool… there should be an online community where people share their own maps made from their tracklogs, like they share mp3s on Napster [those were the days], but legally. On such a map any missing, superfluous or erroneous ways could be fixed instantly and everyone would profit from that.” Of course back then, my borrowed GPSr could only display a tracklog, but no maps, and I didn’t have a data cable for saving the tracks yet (didn’t know it would’ve been easy to make one myself).

In 2006, I got into Geocaching, bought my first mapping GPS, and shortly after, noticed the OSM project. With my home town mapped as little more than a named node next to a motorway intersection at the time, basically every road I cycled down and then traced in JOSM was “my discovery”, which was quite addictive for a while - until, with others joining in, my town was suddenly mostly complete and the initial “race” was over :-) These days I usually only edit the map when I was on vacation abroad and noticed missing things, or when a construction site in my town makes significant progress - rather often finding that someone else beat me to it…

Comment from ToeBee on 28 May 2015 at 19:55

My OSM journey started when I bought a second bicycle. I already had a simple $10 bike computer on my mountain bike but I wanted a way to track rides on my road bike as well. Instead of dealing with two different wheel magnet devices, I got a GPS based Garmin Edge cycle computer to use on both bicycles.

After a few rides I realized that the trails in and around my city (Manhattan, KS) didn’t exist in any existing map provider’s database. I thought to myself “I really should be able to use this GPS data my Garmin is collecting to add these trails to a map.” From there I landed on

But my first edit was not directly bicycle related. The roads in this area were all unimproved TIGER data and were so far off that I had to realign my entire neighborhood before I could even add the bicycle trail I originally wanted to put in. And once you start fixing TIGER data, it is hard to stop!

In addition to adding data to the map, I have used my skills as an IT professional to improve OSM related software. I have also performed some more complex map edits like fixing up admin boundaries across most of the US, dealing with various TIGER messes and creating route relations for highway networks. But I still frequently make edits and/or notes from my phone as I visit new places or notice errors while using OsmAnd to navigate.

Comment from maning on 29 May 2015 at 01:42


Here’s my patch as GPS tracks.

I started mapping late 2006. Back then, OSM in the Philippines was completely blank. Maybe I made the first node? At first I struggled with everything, from borrowing GPSr to understanding the tools. I even tried to create a Garmin data cable since it is very expensive to buy a new one.

data cable

Perhaps the most stupid thing I did when I was starting was, without understanding any of the schema and API, I hand edited an OSM file because I had difficulty uploading with my flaky dial-up connection. I turned out that I completely messed up the map because I unintentionally removed negative ID values to the original data upload using JOSM! Fortunately, the talk list back then was very friendly and helped me fix it. ;)

Here’s a few other mapping stories.

I was nearly attacked by 4 dogs trying to map an private residential area.


Nearly got into a heated argument with a group of illegal loggers while mapping the forests of Sierra Madre.


More stories here.

Alt text

Comment from bdhurkett on 29 May 2015 at 03:58

I don’t know if I could narrow it down to a single reason - contributing to and improving an open map is good enough by itself, but I wrote a little about some other reasons a while ago.

Comment from Endres Pelka on 29 May 2015 at 08:42

Back in 2013, I was using an Android app for viewing offline maps. There was a notice that the map data for this app comes from OpenStreetMap. From curiosity, I checked what OpenStreetMap is. Being already a Wikipedia contributor and having an inclination to wander around and explore my surroundings, I immediately found the project idea brilliant. Checking the map data of my hometown and thinking “what a mess!” I decided to share some local knowledge and to try doing some edits.

Before contributing my first changes, I carefully studied tutorials in OpenStreetMap Wiki. I was terribly afraid I might break some valuable data by mistake.

Comment from Reitstoen on 29 May 2015 at 08:57

I started using maps from Openstreetmap via (free hiking maps for Garmin devices covering Europe) when i began mountainbiking back in 2009. But finding that some trails and features were missing in my area, I started contributing to Openstreetmap. Since then I have made an effort in trying to find any and every trail that is missing in the OSM database, and also adding a lot of other objects via satellite images etc.

Two years ago (spring of 2013) I extended my contribution by creating a dedicated mountainbike map, showing difficulty (mtb:scale) using color coded trails and highlighting good trails (class:bicycle:mtb).

The map only cover Norway, and can be found at A project that would be impossible without Openstreetmap. This is why I love Openstreetmap, and have even donated to the project. Recommend everyone to do the same! :) screenshot

Comment from Polyglot on 29 May 2015 at 17:45

To give back to the free software community I’ve been contributing a lot to Wiktionary. That was fun for a while, until I found I was mostly warding off vandals.

In 2007 I discovered OSM and I thought: oh, I’m so late to have found this. Contributing to OSM is very rewarding. Even back when the map was only rerendered once a week, instead of in a few minutes.

We go out and relive the experience while adding what we saw to the DB. Naturally I started to work on our cycle node networks, then later the hiking node networks as they were rolled out. What’s interesting is that it has many facets, going out, converting the survey, programming some scripts for automating the boring parts like checking our fragile route relations.

Over the past few years I got very involved in mapping public transport. Getting on the bus and adding stops little by little, at first. Then, after finally receiving permission, adding all the stops for almost the whole country and having the route relations auto generated (with the correct stop sequences for all variations). Now the job has become to connect the dots between those stops by adding the ways to the route relations.

In the mean time Mapillary came along. This has made it more fun again to go out and ‘map’ the world the ‘photographic way’. Collecting raw source data, which can subsequently be used to more precisely position items on a rainy day (bus stops which can’t be seen on the aerial imagery in my case…).

Having said all that, well it’s a major time sink. That much is for sure. Still it feels more useful than getting ‘addicted’ to some on-line game.

Oh, and it’s fun, of course. The day it’s not fun anymore, or my interests shift once more, it may be game over.


Comment from nmixter on 30 May 2015 at 01:04

I started mapping because the newspaper I was working for at the time needed good maps they could use in print for things like locating accidents, crimes, fires etc. Since the newspaper was relatively small and the maps weren’t used frequently they didn’t want to pay the huge licensing fees charged by ESRI and others. There were some services we looked at that would create a one-time custom map that we could scale and use however we wanted. The quality on these was descent. Then I found, and I saw what could be done with it. The original Tiger data was mostly accurate for a base layer but was off or lacking in a few areas. So I started spending time on my own and some company time when I could updating the map. As a result, we were were able to create several stylized maps that could be used for different locations. Now mapping has become more of an obsession as I map trails, buildings, landuse and more to make the map the best, most accurate it can be.

Comment from joost schouppe on 30 May 2015 at 18:42

I travel a lot abd like hiking and driving myself. A smartphone can do both, and OSM maps were the cheapest good solution. Started with Osmand because it also makes tracks, still using that. I knew you could edit the map, and soon learned that it was a lot of fun too.

Comment from bhousel on 3 June 2015 at 01:30

I started contributing to iD because I wanted to learn JavaScript…

Comment from Bryce C Nesbitt on 5 June 2015 at 06:52

My interest in OpenSttreetMap started an an interest in promoting certain specific features (one for a non-profit “make the world better” reason, the other for commercial reasons). OSM was just another place to get the word out. The interest in those specific features matured into more general purpose mapping and data cleanup.

Enthusiasts of any specific thing, from water parks to abandoned race tracks, have great potential as new mappers.

Comment from Adityo on 6 June 2015 at 06:39

I learning OpenStreetMap when Kate Chapman come to my country (Indonesia) to teach my university about OpenStreetMap. Since the training i feel amazed that we can add our information freely and it’s for everyone. I studied Geography in my university and i know its hard to get base data like roads and building block in my country. And OpenStreetMap its such an alternative for our data.

I love OpenStreetMap because: 1. Its FREE and OPEN 2. We can improve our area by ourself. Not waiting somebody do mapping survey in our area 3. So much improvement we can do from OpenStreetMap! Want to make tourism map? Just map the PoI! Want to help disaster? Just map using OpenStreetMap!

Comment from max331 on 10 June 2015 at 18:36

My interest in OSM started had two reasons:

  1. I was looking for a GPS Navigation System for my notebook with good coverage of europe
  2. I was travelling through african countries, which have very bad coverage in commercial navigation products.

Comment from Christouf0676 on 11 June 2015 at 07:21

French IGN maps in my area are so bad and so expensive that I decided to do the work myself. OpenStreetMap gives me professionnal-grade tools to add mountain bike and hiking trails easily.

And a few days later I get beautiful updated maps for my G…… GPS for free !

Comment from jasonez on 13 June 2015 at 18:20

Empecé con OSM para mejorar la cartografía para reusarla en los navegadores Garmin después de observar que las actualizaciones de carreteras poco importantes o de zonas de poca población tardaban demasiado o nunca se realizaban. Después fue por mejorar la base de datos incorporando esa informacion que a uno le gustaria tener cuando sale de viaje y a veces no encuentra: atm, restaurantes, comercios, farmacias, hospitales. También por mejorar los senderos de montaña a lo cual me dedico mucho.

Comment from malenki on 23 October 2015 at 13:10

A little late, but better late than never. ;)

I got to know OSM this way: In 2007 I went by bicycle to Paris. To have the journey in maps on the internet I spend days clicking around at Google Maps which were limited to 24 waypoints (A-Z). As I planned my trip for 2008 (cycling to Istanbul) I looked for easier ways to diplay the travelled way and found GPS-Loggers suitable for me. And while I read about them trying to find out which one would fit best somewhere I read about OpenStreetMap. Regrettably I don’t remember more details.

What I remember very well was my first edit. After clicking “edit” flash stuff was loading. I clicked somewhere and suddenly was dragging around a line with the mouse pointer. Clicking around I couldn’t get rid of the line, not to mention enhance the map. So I crossed my fingers and closed the tab hoping I hadn’t made too much damage. Looking for a better editing tool I found JOSM and am stuck with it since.

Back then my region was quite bare so before starting my trip to Istanbul I already had mapped some highways in my town.

Now, about eight years later, I have made more then 10.000 edits, amongst them a bunch for HOT, filed ~170 bugs against JOSM (most of them are solved) and a lot of other OSM tools, helped translating JOSM, iD,, set up an OSM affiliate account for which generates meanwhile a nice monthly venue for OSM and now and then organised an OSM booth at some Linux and Outdoor gatherings. Once I even lectured about holidays with OpenStreetMap :).

Tent with lake and Mountains I still love to travel remote regions and OSM is a very useful help. I use it and its tools to prepare the journey, while travelling and back home I add a lot of data collected while being abroad.

But lately it seems there are more mappers using dubious map sources (to be euphemistic), don’t name their sources and lack a lot in communication. Finding this out and warding it off consumes quite some energy and time I’d prefer to use for mapping myself “good” data. This takes out quite some of the fun of contributing to OSM.

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