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10 years

Posted by maning on 16 January 2016 in English.

This week, I just realized it’s been 10 years since I signed up for an OSM account! I never realized I continue to contribute and learn from this community. Some personal anecdotes of the past 10 years below.

My earliest fieldmapping in OSM. CC-BY-SA

The signup

Around 2004-05, I was doing my MS research on forest fragmentation. Back then, we had to do all our remote sensing analysis in the university lab because we only use proprietary software which we can’t use at home. For my research, I decide to use FOSS tools so that I can do it outside the lab. I stumbled into GRASS GIS and QGIS and started compiling from source. Through trial and error, I learned enough of the tools that I can do any mapping related using FOSS. Armed with new found knowledge, I started looking for free geographic data. Surely, if there are free tools you can also get free data. The only free data I found was LANDSAT imagery and low resolution Digital Chart of the World. I continued my quest and later found out about OpenStreetMap. I signed-up hoping I can get data for the Philippines. Only to find out that nothing not even a country name node exist! :(

But OSM gave me one hope, you can create your own data! So I decided, if I can’t get free data, let’s build it from scratch and share to anyone!

I tried using the online JAVA applet editor, but it was too painful. It was very slow and I can’t find any features to trace from the coarse LANDSAT imagery.

Metro Manila early coverage. CC-BY-SA

GPS rigging

Nearly 10 months later, I discovered JOSM which you can use offline and upload later. This encouraged me to start doodling nodes/segments/ways but there’s nothing much you can do with a smudgy LANDSAT imagery. The only way I can contribute more is to get a GPS device. So I borrowed one, those good old yellow Etrex. I had to rig a data cable from old credit card and PS/2 mouse to get the data from the device.

DIY GPS data cable

Know, I can contribute more, I started walking around my neighborhood and tried to map as much as I can. My mapping patch started to take shape. First roads, then POIs and so on.

GPS tracks around Marikina, mostly mine. CC-BY-SA

As I map my own little patch, I hang around the talk@osm list asking n00bs questions. I found out that in the UK, there is am a small but active community around the project. They organize mapping parties, meetups in pubs, etc. I realized we should also build a local community here. I tried shouting to the list if there are other Filipino or anyone mapping the Philippines. One guy replied, it was Mike Collinson. It turned put he travels a lot in the Philippines and was also looking for fellow mappers. He started the PH wiki page and we setup the mailinglist.

When Yahoo! gave permission to use their imagery for tracing, more contributors started mapping in Metro Manila and more people joined our mailinglist.

I was able to save some money and finally bought a Garmin device where you can load custom maps. I experimented with mkgmap and started building our own OSM derived Garmin maps for anyone can download for free.

OSM in Garmin. CC-BY-SA

During one of Mike’s trip to Manila, we met and talked about how to sustain build the local community. GPS was really expensive at that time so we decided if we can get some and share to anyone interested so they can map their own neighborhood. I applied for the GPStogo program by OSMF and was able to get 4 GT-31 loggers.


GPStogo units.

Building the community

We slowly grew and started doing outreach to other interest groups, first with GPS enthusiasts to demo how they can use the map in their own devices. Later with universities and mapping groups.

Rally, teaching university students how to use a GPS. CC-BY-SA

We ran mapping parties and piggyback on other events to promote the project.


First Mapping Party, Tagaytay City. CC-BY-SA

The map continues to grow as well as the community. Despite all this, we get criticisms from so called professionals:

“I suggest that you should invite a mapping professional into your group. Mapping is not a kiddy thing. It requires knowledge on Geometric Geodesy and GPS Systematic Errors. Without the required knowledge, doing mapping is just like wearing a blindfold blindly.”

Humanitarian mapping

Most of the volunteers see this OSMing as something fun. We use it mostly for our personal travels. It wasn’t until Typhoon Ondoy when we realized we can use the data for disaster response.

Mapaction’s first use of OSM data in the Philippines during Typhoon Ondoy/Ketsana, CC-BY-SA

This started my passion for contributing to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. First for every disaster in my country,

OSM poster maps during Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. Photo by Joe Lowry-IOM.

and later, to other parts of the world.

Lower Shire Mapping Team, Malawi. Emir Hartato, CC BY-SA

I learned a lot from this project and continues to share to those who want to listen. Whenever there is chance, I talk to events and conferences about the project. I’ve met and collaborated with many people within my community and around the world.

SOTM-PH Lightning talk at SOTM 2011 in Denver.


More than 3 months ago, I started working with the data team at Mapbox. I moved to Bangalore to join a young group OSMers improving the map daily. Although we sometimes receive criticisms from a few community members being paid mappers, I know my team cares about the project as much as any other OSM contributor.

Being away from home, I cannot contribute to the Philippines as much as I would like to other than fixing and cleaning my previous cruft, I maintain my connections with the local community through the list and chat.

PS. FYI, I have 3 OSM accounts, 1, 2, 3.

Talk to the community! We have several channels: the mailinglist, FB - page and group, G+, Chat.


Comment from russdeffner on 16 January 2016 at 15:14

Great story Maning, it’s been a pleasure to work with and learn from you!

Comment from aHaSaN on 16 January 2016 at 16:30

wow! amazing and inspiring story. thanks for sharing.

Comment from Glassman on 16 January 2016 at 17:12

Thanks for sharing and your 10 year commitment to OSM.

Comment from Chetan_Gowda on 16 January 2016 at 17:29

Surely, if there are free tools you can also get free data.

Cool words!!

Comment from Rps333 on 16 January 2016 at 18:32

Great story.

Comment from GOwin on 17 January 2016 at 07:38

Congratulations, Maning! Cheers, and we look forward to anther decade of mapping.

Comment from escada on 17 January 2016 at 10:28

Hats off to you Maning. Amazing work

Comment from PlaneMad on 18 January 2016 at 05:05

if I can’t get free data, let’s build it from scratch and share to anyone!

And when I think back, this was probably the line of thought that got me involved as well.

Amazing work Maning, its so great to see how all these efforts from various parts of the world have been the threads to help weave this beautiful carpet for everyone. Can’t even imagine what we will see in another 10 years!

Comment from marczoutendijk on 18 January 2016 at 16:36

Inspiring story!

Comment from Harry Wood on 20 January 2016 at 20:47

Happy 10year OSMversary Maning! Ooh. I’m just noticing mine is coming up next month. It’s been a fun 10 years hey?

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 26 January 2016 at 15:30

“I signed-up hoping I can get data for the Philippines. Only to find out that nothing not even a country name node exist! :( “

Ouch. In my case my surprise was “wait, nobody thought about properly mapping amenity=bicycle_parking in my city”?

Comment from Abdul Rahman Majeedi on 31 January 2016 at 05:56

Inspiring story, Congratulation for the whole decade with OSM.

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