My most recent surveying and OpenStreetMap edits both took place in the town of Badger, Iowa. A road based on imported data was wrongly shown to cut through a city park. I fixed that and added some of what I learned from a stroll around town.
My first edit to the OpenStreetMap was to mark that a restaurant had gone out of business. I think about obsolescence a lot. When we add features to a map, how long do we expect them to last? It’s exciting adding features to a map, turning a white void into something more defined. Do people get as enthused about removing things that are no more? Buildings catch fire, monuments are wrecked by a freak storm, shops close up for good. When starting a business, there’s motivation to get on a map: you want people to find you. If business someday dries up, however, getting off the map is probably the least of your concerns - even if that means people will be making a trip in vain.
Badger is a small town, 561 people in the 2010 census according to the Wikipedia. On a Friday afternoon, the post office, a gas pump/convenience store, and an insurance agency were the only buildings on the small main street that were clearly open for business. A little further down the street, and not where OpenStreetMap says it should be, the public library is also closed for the day. I was told residents get their groceries and most everything else from Fort Dodge (10 miles away) or Humboldt (12 miles away). Unless you live in Badger, there’s not many reasons to be there.
I sent messages to OpenStreetMap’s “other nearby users” some time ago, and have seen no response. I wonder how many messages they’ve already gotten from others that they haven’t responded to (see footnote 1). It occurs to me that it may be a long time before anybody who lives in or has visited Badger updates the town on OpenStreetMap. Therefore I concentrate on features of the town that look like they’ll be there for a while, such as the city parks (one of which has a trio of disc golf baskets, a pleasant surprise) and ignore those that don’t. I couldn’t make heads or tails of one place on main street: was the diner really “opening soon,” or had somebody just given up on it?
How do you decide what features to map? Does the presence of others nearby affect how you do it? How long do you expect your contributions to last before the physical features you mapped change? If you’re not there to record that change, who will, and when?
(1) A social networking website I once used would tell you what the likelihood was of getting a response from any particular user: whether respond very often, occasionally, or rarely. Similar functionality, if implemented on the OSM website, would reduce the amount of time squandered with trying to contact nearby mappers -- some of whom may be dead, complete hermits, or simply no longer interested in mapping.