A Mapper in the Spotlight: Clifford Snow

Posted by escada on 29 October 2015 in English.

We have been interviewing Belgian mappers for a year now. Since I still like the concept, I want to extend it outside our little Belgian community. Therefore I will contact mappers from all over the world. I have compiled a list of some 30 names now of people that I met on different mailing lists and fora. From time to time I will contact one, and ask her or him to answer a few questions. The focus will be on individual mappers, unlike the very interesting interviews conducted by OpenCage, that focus more on developers and country profiles.

We start with Clifford Snow. I met him on the talk-us mailing list and we exchanged a few ideas about a presentation on OSM earlier this year.

Clifford Snow

Who are you ?

I map as Glassman. I worked in telecom operations for a number of years and even spend 10 years trying to make money blowing glass. I didn’t succeed at making money but I did come away with a nice nickname and a love for glass art. I live with my wife in Mount Vernon, Skagit County, Washington State in the US. I have lived all over the US and once in Canada and Turkey. Washington State is by far the best location.

When and how did you discover OpenStreetMap ?

While I had heard about OSM, it wasn’t until I attended the Bellingham WA LinuxfestNW conference that I fell in love with the project. Even when you attend a conference with a large number of tracks you occasionally find yourself with some time slots where nothing appeals to you. Since I had heard of OSM, I decided to fill the time by listening to Hurricane Coast’s OSM presentation. Thanks to Hurricane, I’ve been having fun with OSM ever since. Four years later, I gave my first presentation at the Bellingham LinuxfestNW on the power of crowdsourcing maps using OSM. I had been editing for just a few months when driving back from the gym I noticed a street closure with signs up that said this segment of road was being made into a one-way street. I went home and made the change. That is when I became addicted to the power of OSM. Anyone can fix a problem, make a correction or add a new feature.

What do you map ? Is there any difference with your early days ?

Shortly after I started editing my first purchase was a Garmin eTrex20 handheld gps unit. I still use it today. I love to take short hikes to add trails. Just last week I spotted a new trail. It had been completed the week before. It was a short segment but by documenting it I know others will be able to take advantage of it. Early on I attempted to import some roads in Tucson from TIGER data. Not reading the import instructions resulted in a horrible mess. I probably spent more time cleaning up my mistakes than if I had done it manually. The mailing list did help me with pointers on how to correct the mistakes. That experience helped me later on with the Seattle building and address import.

How do you map ?

My favorite app is GoMap!! for iOS devices. Since I’m an android user, that means having to borrow my wife’s iPad which usually comes with strings attached. When not using GoMap!!, I like pencil and paper. Just a notepad to get addresses, names, phone numbers, etc. with sketches to help remember the layout. I also like asking retail stores for a business card. That often leads to a conversation about OpenStreetMap and sometimes free treats from ice cream shops! Businesses like that you are adding them to a map, even if it’s a map they have never heard of. I do like to participate in armchair map-a-thons such as Maproulette’s Battlegrid or the Fix U.S. Railway Crossings, or with the newest JOSM plugin, MissingRoads. These bite size tasks are the perfect break to our daily routines.

Where do you map ?

I mostly map locally. This summer we took a month long road trip mapping along the way. We spend enough time in Northern Minnesota to map Nisswa, MN. It is a small town that lives off tourists. Shop owners were excited about getting their business listed. When introducing new people to OSM we start by having them map something in their local neighborhood, then we talk about the area we are mapping which ranges from nearby cities to HOT tasks.

What is your biggest achievement as mapper ?

Probably being part of the team that imported Seattle’s buildings and addresses. We took on Steve Coast’s call to add addresses to OSM. Locally we concluded that manually adding of addresses is too boring. No one was excited about walking streets to collect addresses. With the King County and the City of Seattle’s open data, we were able to not only import all of the buildings and addresses but we helped build a stronger local OSM community. With Jeff Meyer, a devoted group of local open source GIS enthusiasts from, and local OSM mappers we completed the task of adding every building and address. Not only that but we gave back address corrections to the county. (Which they still haven’t fixed. Paul I’m talking to you.)

Why do yo map ? What motivates you ?

OSM is very empowering. One of our greatest strengths is the ease that you can tackle a problem without having to get “permission.” If power lines are missing, you can add them. Can’t find handicap parking, add them. Looking for hiking trails, just add them. Opportunities are not just local. If you want to get involved in communications, fund raising, etc. you just have to jump in.

Do you have contact with other mappers ?

Chase Stephens and I host the Seattle OSM Meetup Group. We have over 400 people signed up for our meetups. Each month we try to hold a meetup in different parts of Seattle. Last year we held a Meetup for OSM’s 10th Anniversary in Seattle with presentations and a kite aerial mapping demonstration. We are constantly trying to find ways to find new mappers.

Do you use OpenStreetMap yourself ?

Right now I’m trying to learn how to build map tiles to show my communities sidewalks. Every sidewalk and every crosswalk has been inventoried, now I’m looking to tell the story of how walkable my city is through maps. Using elevation data and OSM data, I hope to show the city where sidewalks are in abundance and where they are needed.

I am active in CUGOS, an active open source GIS community that meets monthly in Seattle and a QGIS local user group that we started this summer. At a typical CUGOS meeting, people talk about their projects and how they use open source software to solve their problems. We also talk about drones. We’ve even flown a large drone in a small meeting room.

To conclude, is there anything else you want to mention ?

One of the struggles facing OSM is the lack of gender diversity. We are experiencing the same problem on a local level. Our Meetup group attracts women, but not to our mapping parties. What we should be doing differently to attract and retain more women? I think we could start by getting to know our new users better. I’d like to see OSM start surveying members to try help us learn how to attract and retain new members.

Thanks a lot for this interview, Clifford.


Comment from Alan Bragg on 30 October 2015 at 12:49

You picked a great mentor to start your “outside Belgium” interviews. I met Clifford at the 2015 SOTM in NYC. You’ll have a wonderful conversation if you seek him out in a crowd.

Comment from escada on 30 October 2015 at 14:55

Alan, I’m glad you liked my choice. I think I’ve met several interesting people on the mailing lists and fora, so it was hard to pick a first one.

Comment from joost schouppe on 1 November 2015 at 08:36

So Seattle has a 3.5 million population and 400 Meetup members. Belgium has 10 million and 133. Do you have an especially thriving local community or is the cliché of the USA not having many mappers simply not true?

Comment from Glassman on 1 November 2015 at 19:11

Seattle has a very active open source geo community. While most are not regular OSM contributors they do participate in project such as our Seattle buildings and address import. More recently we held a HOT mapathon for Nepal. We had a large turnout of GIS professions plus some students. I often provide the quote, for every one hundred people we introduce to OSM, one becomes an active contributor. Of course I pulled that number from thin air, but it feels right.

So while we have an active community in Seattle, it’s not typical of the rest of the US. Looking at Washington State, most of the editors are concentrated around the Seattle metropolitan area. The Eastern and Western part of the state need more mappers. My guess is that is true of much of the US. We are OK in big cities but could use more contributors in rural parts of the country.

It’s hard to compare Seattle to Belgium. Our Meetup is mostly people from our county which has about 2M people in 6,000 km2 compared to 1.8M people in 1,600 km² if we look at just Brussels.

Lately I’ve noticed a number of new mappers that are concentrating on hiking paths. We have some great trails in Washington. If you seen the movie, Wild, the Pacific Crest Trails goes through the state. As far as I know, our meetup group had nothing to do with their interest.

We are trying to get cyclist involved. Seattle has an active cycling community; it is rated in the top 5 nationwide. A couple of us have tentatively been invited to do a presentation at their annual gathering in 2016. Mapillary has offered some bike mounts that we can give away.

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