The State-of-the-Map EU conference, 15-17 July, Vienna

I attended the 1st European State-of-the-Map conference of the OpenStreetMap project in Vienna, 15-17 July. It’s an accidental continuation of the OSS-Watch’s workshop on context-aware mobile technologies in early July.

Maps are omnipresent in everyday life now: increasingly, we use GPS and paper maps to navigate when travelling, and we receive information through visualising data on maps – nearly all forms of data (may it be governmental administrative data, transactional data, or user-generated data) can be overlaid on maps and turned into useful information. The ubiquity and utility of maps in contemporary society emphasises the importance of studying how maps and mapping technologies are socio-technically constructed.

From a phenomenological perspective, I’m particularly interested in the motivations and mundane practices of the OSM mappers – how they engage with the Map and mapping. Attending this conference thus allowed me to continue my data collection in the OSM community (initiated last year in the SotM 2010 conference in Girona and initial analysis of the data has been published in a paper titled “A Qualitative Enquiry into OpenStreetMap Making” in the journal New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia). For example, I have observed that many mappers are involved in a growing popularity (or made-aware phenomenon) of “citizen scientists”, using maps as a tool to document, share, retrieve and display their discoveries. Many mappers are also tool developers (e.g., Potlatch2, Mapnik, some other APIs or web services based on OSM). That said, the core members of the community are unavoidably technically savvy; casual mappers remain marginalised, locating at the peripheral of the community.

The programme of the conference was diverse and interesting. It demonstrated that OSM’s important practical implications for everyday life (e.g., humanitarian mapping, mapping for the blind or the disabled, user participation in the case of “amateur aerial surveying” for example, application in everyday lives such as traffic control or optimised delivery), and the community’s effort in making the map more useful (e.g., routing, HCI user-interface improvement, improved rendering and editing tools). But it was Kinya Inoue, a devoted mapper based at Fukushima, Japan, who gave the most moving talk about the status of Japanese OSM before and after the earthquake and tsunami happened on 11 March 2011. It showed that

I gave a lightening talk introducing Maxamundo and Sukey projects as swell (video filmed by a kind volunteer available).

The social gathering was well-organised – antique trams took us to a beer garden in the outskirt of the city which served decent food and drinks. That certainly helped socialising.

The closing ceremony was again hosted by the talented Henk Hoff. At this year’s auction, someone even offered in Bitcoin. Gregory Marler’s funny video “Fly Me to SotM” secured him a trip to the State of the Map 2011 in Denver. And with attendees laughing, the SotM-EU conference ended on a high note.

Title: "bits4free: How OpenStreetMap represents the World. What makes a crowdsourcing project successful?"

q/intessenz, an interesting Viennese organisation fighting for digital rights and internet liberty, organised a pre-conference panel discussion on Thursday evening with Steve Coast at the Museumsquartier, Museumsplatz 1, titled “bits4free: How OpenStreetMap represents the World. What makes a crowdsourcing project successful?”

Andrzej Zaborowski’s OSM kite hanged high in the foyer

Andrzej Zaborowski’s OSM kite hanged high in the foyer

Unable to land – On my way back from Vienna to Manchester, the captain was having trouble with landing. Initially, we were about to land 10 minutes earlier than expected arrival time. But the captain had been making circles on the sky, and then aborted landing once, and then after 20 minutes, we finally landed. In the end, we arrived later than scheduled arrival time. You can see the plane drawing circles in the following series of photos.


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