Over the passed year, the Belgian community was involved in organizing 10 mapathons. It is an incredibly easy thing to do, once you have the documentation in order. And once you realize you should do as little as possible - just find people who have a location and a recruiting network.

Some time ago, Pascal Neis wrote an article about new mappers recruited through classic channels, and humanitarian mapping. I asked and got a changeset dump of all the people who participated in our mapathons.

Here’s some stats about that.

Overal, 1925 unique mappers participated in our mapathons, of which 328 were new mappers.

First, did we manage to turn them into returning mappers? Well… As could have been predicted by Pascal’s depressing numbers: not really. The data used was from December 2016. You can clearly see that the percentage having more than one mapping day drops as we approach December. That simply means you need to wait a bit before you can do a decent analysis.


Say we give people 3 months, then we only look at the edits from September and before. We got 23% percent of people to map more than once! 10% mapped 3 days or more. Unfortunately, that’s even slightly worse than the international average. Maybe we just worked for a more difficult audience :)

We usually tell people to map something in their own neighborhood before starting on the mission. Less than 21 of them did so. And in fact, only 4 of the 328 have more than one Belgian mapping day. As a comparison, we had 2059 people mapping for the first time in Belgium in 2016.

Even if that all sounds thoroughly depressing, it should be noted that organizing mapathons still is a great way to build a community, even if it doesn’t show in these numbers. The mapathon movement was crucial in turning mappers into organizing volunteers. Especially the two interuniversity mapathons (with 200 participants last year and over 300 this year) are momentum-building moments. For the State of the Map in Brussels, we somehow managed to recruit 20 Belgian mappers to help out. That would have been impossible without the mapathons.

Apart from that, the constant confrontation with people who don’t have any idea about OpenStreetMap, is a stark reminder that we should all keep up the missionary work.

Comment from SimonPoole on 12 April 2017 at 17:01

To be fair, all such events, with humanitarian twist or not, are woefully inefficient as a recruitment tool (as in essentially have no effect). I don’t know if this was different before 2010 or so, but it clearly has been so for years.

Comment from smsm1 on 13 April 2017 at 16:03

Having run many mapping events in the past, I agree they are a not a great way of getting more people involved long term. However they can be a useful way for the current community to come together and collaborate in person. Most people just don’t get the point of why someone would want to spend time editing a map.

Comment from majkaz on 27 April 2017 at 08:24

It might be that the type of people who become long-term mapper isn’t the same as the type going to a mapathon if you look at the majority of the participants. Mapping is somewhat solitary activity, and a mapathon is here more of an exception than a rule. You cannot expect people looking for a crowd when they are doing something to continue on their own - they will go and find another community project where all the work is done this way. You get perhaps a few people here or there, but most of them would miss the crowd.

And most people are tugged in too many directions - the long-term mapper is a rather rare sight everywhere. The odds are stacked against getting somebody like this from a mapathon. It is the same as getting long-term mapper from a user you recruit through a mobile app - just the total number of users is much higher there, giving you a better chance thanks to this. It might be a time to start looking at a mapathon not as a venue where you go looking for completely new mappers, but as an opportunity to get the already mapping newbies (the new mappers from mobile apps) to learn more, to introduce them to another form of mapping. The problem still stays how to get these in.

Comment from SimonPoole on 28 April 2017 at 09:28

@majkaz there is no indication that or osmand or whatever are a source of any larger mappers at all, and are just as bad, if not worse, than mapathons in that respect. Even though we a churning an order of magnitude more users through such apps than through mapathons.

The above is just a negative if you are trying to sell an app as the saviour of OSM, for the rest it just means we should set our expectations right and not make special concessions because the numbers seem to be so large. And also it doesn’t mean that the contributions of such contributors are not useful, just that it doesn’t help with expanding and rejuvenating the base of core OSM contributors, the couple of 10’000 people, that do > 90% of all work in OSM. That is our main challenge and what we should be concentrating on.

Comment from majkaz on 28 April 2017 at 11:32

@SimonPoole Agree, but what I meant to say is - get somehow the “pre-sifted” users from the mobile platform, the new users who started to map like this and are still mapping after some time, who didn’t stop after getting the few shops/pubs/houses in and left again. And get them up to the next level from mapping simple POIs. In the large number of users of mobile apps, there are some (tiny, tiny percentage) who stay, but who won’t be looking for more by themselves. And these would be good candidates if we could reach them.

Comment from SimonPoole on 28 April 2017 at 12:22

@majkaz well locally (that is Switzerland) we do continue to write a welcome message to every new contributor, regardless of what they are using. But I don’t kid myself that we are really reaching any of the or whatever users.

Comment from joost schouppe on 2 May 2017 at 13:06

Well I’m brewing on a little article about our welcoming project. As we don’t do it all the time, we have an almost experimental setting going on to see if it has any effect.Which it doesn’t seem to have on first inspection. The problem with all this stuff is that you can’t expect it to have a real statistical impact; but your investment might occasionally have a huge return when you make the difference in turning a non-mapper to a heavy contributor. One or two of those outweigh your own time investment by a landslide. Thinking about one of the current OSM Belgium board members: he was recruited during a mapathon, but he’s not in the statistics above. Why? Because he was so interested in the whole thing that he made an edit a few days in advance, hence was not “a mapathon recruited mapper” in the above definition.

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