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  • Leigh Seitz, College of William & Mary

Tech Tips for Better Mapping

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

Welcome to Tech Tips! Today we will be posting a technical tip to help us all become better and more efficient mappers. Our first Tech tip will feature JOSM, a tool to edit OpenStreetMap!

My name is Leigh, and I’m a senior at the College of William & Mary. I’m the founder and president of the YouthMappers Chapter at W&M, poignantly named “All Over the Map!” All of our members come from different backgrounds and disciplines, but we all share a desire to use geospatial technology in our respective fields. Because this is a relatively new chapter, we’ve all had to do a deep dive into what it means to be a mapping club, and the open source tools that are at our disposal. I’m currently interning at the GeoCenter at USAID, using OpenStreetMap on a daily basis and expanding the YouthMappers network.

YouthMappers chapters are notorious for holding mapathons. It’s actually one common activity to meet the requirements of a YouthMappers chapter. However, in most mapathons, the ID editor is usually the preferred tool to edit OpenStreetMap. ID editor is great for first time mappers, as the interactive display makes tagging buildings and roads easier, but it may be hard to get the hang of. In order to continue a road, you have to click on the end node, then hit the “continue the line” button in order to keep going. It’s also very difficult to pan across the screen while continuously tracing. ID editor has its keyboard shortcuts, but few mapathons teach this to their new mappers.

ID Editor vs JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap)


This summer, working as an intern at USAID’s GeoCenter, I had to edit a lot of OpenStreetMap (OSM) data. I started using JOSM, another popular editing tool, and realized that this was the answer to a lot of frustration I felt when using ID Editor. JOSM stands for Java OpenStreetMap, but deceivingly, it requires no computer science knowledge at all. The software download is free, and a mouse (not keypad) makes it easier to use. The right button of a mouse can scroll while the left button allows you to trace. This amazing feature means that you don’t have to switch back and forth from tracing tool to scroll!

While the preset tags may be hard to figure out at first glance, all it takes is 5 minutes to orient yourself with the JOSM editor. There are also additional plugins that can be downloaded to increase the efficiency of your mapping. The building plugin lets you easily trace, tag, and square buildings in just a few clicks. JOSM is a user oriented tool, so a lot of the plugins were created by members of the OpenStreetMap community. I think that JOSM should be used more for mapathons because it allows users to edit more quickly and precisely, boosting the total number of edits in a mapathon.

The point of a mapathon is to teach people to map and map an area quickly, right? JOSM is the perfect tool for this. I’ve included links to a few tutorials below to introduce yourself to JOSM, but believe me, when you start using it, your OSM edits won’t be the same.


If you have an idea for a tech tip to share, please email

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