No Man's Land

Posted by dhrasmus on 21 January 2013 in English (English)

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.

Location: 1st St SE, Badger, Webster County, Iowa, 50516, United States of America

Comment from Rovastar on 21 January 2013 at 20:00

Realistically there will be very few regular mappers compared to the million+ signed up users. Maybe tens of thousands a month.

So pinging them to get in touch (at the moment unlikely) for a village in Mid USA. The US is, in reality, still a new OSM frontier, but changing fast in recent times as more people start to use OSM (There are lots of US mapping startups like Mapbox promoting and pushing the boundaries and US centric sites like Craig's list, USAToday, etc getting OSM maps on there sites all these led to more users contributing) .

The UK has a lot of mappers and a mature map now but there are many, many cities of 200,000+ people that have no regular local mappers, let alone "hardcore" local mappers that add the majority of the map.

But if this all sounds like doom and gloom only a year or two ago there was only the basic map in my own local area (Derby, UK) but it is vibrant now.

But the best advice for mapping is go at your own pace.

It is sensible to map things that could not disappear overnight, roads, footpaths, parks, woods, etc as these will likely stay for decades, so I always mapped those first. Then major features hospitals, schools, supermarkets, etc. Once you have these then go for further details.

Everyone only have so much time to dedicate to mapping so do what you think is best and/or what interests you.

Comment from Nakaner on 22 January 2013 at 22:48

I get less messages form other users (about one per month), mostly if they have a question about my mappings. When I organized a mapping party a few months ago, I wrote messages to all the users near to me who have edited something in the last three months. I think that only these users are active and will respond. About the half of them did so.

Do you know about the TIGER import? If not, just visit

You write at "If I upload GPS traces as "public", will people besides me work from those, or map editors stick to their own traces?" My answer: When downloading tracks in editors like Potlatch or JOSM you always download all available tracks in a specific area. You cannot decide if you only want to download your own tracks. When adjusting Bing images I use all available tracks. If there are several tracks at one street, I average all tracks.

If you have other questions, just write me a message. I am one of the users who respond :-)

Comment from bryceco on 23 January 2013 at 05:19

When mapping, especially places where I expect things to change a lot, I'm not so concerned with capturing an exact snapshot of the neighborhood but rather capturing the flavor of the area. As a traveler I don't care so much about the exact restaurant but rather where to find a collection of restaurants from which to choose. And I assume that if a business fails it will be replaced by a similar business. A newer restaurant or a newer dry cleaner, or a newer gas station, but not something completely different. So especially in rural areas you can approach it this way.

Login to leave a comment