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(Not) Finding Communities

Posted by mikelmaron on 15 February 2013 in English.

I often get asked for connections to local OSM mappers and communities, or a listing of countries in a region with strong OSM presence. Depending on the place, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.

Today, I was asked about Jordan. It’s proven hard.

That’s a place where I have a little direct experience ( and some history of direct connections. I know there hasn’t been a strong local effort, but there have been a few individual locals, and some interesting events. So I went about trying to finding people.

First stop OSM History Tab. This quickly proved useless as mostly it captured recent, big, global efforts.

I then tried the beta OWL History Browser. This work has been lately pushed by Pawel, with some UI ideas from MapBox, and building on the infrastructure developed by Matt Amos. It’s looking awesome, and I hope that the hard last steps to make it production ready get a push soon. As of now, it’s offline, so no use for my current needs.

Then over to ITO Map. I created an area for Amman, and it created a nice visualization of the top mappers. Clicking through to their OSM profiles, I can see their details, and the history of the mapping. Turns out the top mappers are all foreign, tracing from imagery globally; which is awesome, but not helpful for local community connection. A dozen folks down, and someone who looks to be local, though inactive. One gap here is that ITO is created statistics only for the last revision of every object in the area, not for all time; so it doesn’t pick up the historic top mappers. I think that the license redaction hit this area hard, so there has been a lot of remapping. (correction: lyx, who’s been heavily involved remote mapping, says that Jordan wasn’t hit hard by redaction bot, just never much data to begin with)

Pascal’s work on Results Map seems promising. But here again the issue is that most everyone positioned here is a global mapper to some extent. Would be nice to be able to filter to those people who seem to focus on an area.

In OSM itself, you can specify your home location, and on your profile it will show mappers near you. I’m based in DC, and can’t easily browse other areas. So I repositioned myself in Amman (had to search for Amman on main page, and cut/paste permalink into boxes; map widget itself can’t zoom out or search). This brings up a bunch of folks who only mapped 0-2 times, signed up in 2009/2010 (must have been a workshop).

I then tried WikiProject Jordan. Sometimes you’ll see links here to country websites, discussion lists, forums. Nothing like that for Jordan. There’s one active mapper listed there, again a global mapper. But I’m trying to connect with them via the OSM messaging feature.

Yet, I’m absolutely sure I have connected with Jordanian mappers. I checked my Friends list (a totally underused feature) on OSM, and I don’t see anyone I recognize from Jordan. There’s no way to tag or group friends here anyway.

Then, checked my OSM messaging inbox/outbox. At last. One set of emails from a global mapper working on redaction, and one from a mapper actually in Amman! Checking his profile, well he hasn’t been active since 2010, hardly mapped at all, and didn’t accept the CTs. Dropping a message just in case.

Finally, searching through my mail archives for “Jordan OpenStreetMap”. A bunch of email from when JumpStart tried to get going there. Otherwise, a couple rounds of emails about events in Amman from a few years ago, where there was some small OSM presence: Tactical Tech held “Visualising Women’s Rights in the Arab World”, and Unicef/MobileActive held a Mobile Innovation workshop where Jeffrey Warren did some kite mapping. These were more regionally focused events, so didn’t leave much of a local OSM footprint.

And that’s where it is. Maybe there’s no one active in Jordan locally. Or maybe it’s just difficult to reach a nascent community, either already doing OSM, or interested but not in OSM yet; community building is tough work, takes a lot of direct relationships and understanding. No matter, I think OSM tools can be a lot better. Connection around a place is diffused across tons of tools, none of which work particularly well for the general purpose. I have a lot of ideas on how to improve the notion of places and groups, overdue to write that up. At least today’s search serves as a guide for how tricky it is right now.


Comment from mikelmaron on 15 February 2013 at 18:00

A note from lyx…

I did just read your blog entry. The only mapper currently active in Jordan that I know of would be user “cabal”, who is from the Netherlands but AFAIK in Jordan currently (or at least until very recently). The country was not really hit hard by redaction, because there was not that much data to be redacted to begin with. About 85% of the countries data now has been added by me, not all from imagery but some from GPS tracks that I took when I spent a few weeks there. Unfortunately I did not have the time to collect street names, so even the data added from local visits remains mostly nameless.

Geographic names (villages, mountain peeks etc.) in Jordan have been added byuser Metehyi, apparently by importing data from GNIS(?) and translating it into Arabic. Unfortunately the location data in that dataset was very inprecise; I have improved it where I could but much of it is still off by hundreds of meters.

I think user cabal is trying to get a few locals and/or expats into mapping; don’t know if he had any success so far.

Comment from Richard on 18 February 2013 at 21:16

Coincidentally I’ve just (yesterday) come back from a nine-day cycling holiday in Jordan. Took my GPS everywhere i went. Uploaded the tracks to OSM this evening and… Every. Single. Road. was already mapped.

Comment from mikelmaron on 1 March 2013 at 20:37

Richard, hope you collected some POI also!

Comment from mikelmaron on 8 May 2013 at 17:37

Another nice way to keep track of changes

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