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  • Forrest Melvin, George Washington University

Opening up to Open Source Mapping

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

As a part of the YouthMappers GeoCenter Virtual Internship this summer I was exposed to a variety of new technologies that have opened the door to the OpenSource world. During my time as an undergrad in Geography with a minor in Geospatial Technology, I became comfortable with a variety of GIS and remote sensing applications like ArcMap, ENVI, ErdasImagine, and eCognition software. I believed that the professional world of geography was full of these exclusive and costly software products. But after beginning my master’s degree at George Washington University I was introduced to the world of OpenSource and further, through this internship I was exposed to what a fantastic resource OpenSource applications are.

I participated in a few Mapathons held by the Humanitarian Mapping Society at GW this past spring and got the hang of editing in OpenStreetMap using iDEditor. I had heard of JOSM (Java OpenStreetMap) a few times but had never worked with it. Then during first few weeks of this internship we had a section during our weekly meeting called “Tech-Tips”. The first tech-tip was a presentation on JOSM. Our presenter discussed some of the values to using JOSM over iDEditor to map. These benefits include; JOSM’s mapping shortcuts, potential to improve mapping accuracy, the validation tool, and plethora of useful plug-ins.

So I started watching some tutorials on JOSM and began using it to map! It is so easy to create new roads and buildings and tagging features is even simpler than with iDEditor. Later I decided I wanted to validate tiles to help finish projects that our team had been working on. So, I added the validation plug-in and educated myself a little online with the proper way to improve and then validate completed OSM tiles and began validating!

Any questions I had about editing or validating in JOSM could be answered online the OpenStreetMap wikis. OpenStreetMap wiki is representative of the OpenSource software as a whole. People post and edit directions and information about everything related to OpenStreetMap.

People from all over the world have access to this treasure trove of information and utilizing this resource anyone can properly teach themselves how to add, edit, and improve data online. Numerous people and organizations also post helpful videos online in the same open and sharing manner. The video I used to learn JOSM was a video put out by USAID for training interns a few years ago!

Our YouthMappers/GeoCenter Virtual Internship team worked together and with the help from other online mappers to complete 1 entire mapping task (Deere) for the President’s Malaria Initiative’s Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) plan in Mozambique and contributed significantly to the mapping of 4 other tasks; Mulombo, Milange I, II, and III. Myself and a number of fellow YouthMappers/GeoCenter Interns had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2nd Annual White House Mapathon where the tasks in Milange, Mozambique for Indoor Residual Spraying were highlighted as well as Missing America mapping projects in rural areas of Texas and Maine. This event was used to increase awareness of open mapping for humanitarian purposes among a variety of governmental and non-governmental representatives. This event not only informed people of what good is being done in this capacity but was also a chance to teach everyone who participated how to use OpenStreetMap so they are a part of that good!

OpenSource software applications are awesome in that they are accessible to everyone and everyone working with them has the common goal to improve the geographic knowledge of the world. This internship working with the GeoCenter and YouthMappers has introduced me to the awesome world of OpenSource that goes beyond OpenStreetMap into dozens of online resources for sharing geographic information that can open doors to the international geographic communities! I have also discovered that having experience with OpenStreetMap and other online geographic sharing applications like JOSM, Mapbox, GoogEarthPro, GitHub, CartoDB, and many others are skills that employers are looking for in today’s competitive geographic and cartographic market!


Photos and screenshots by Forrest Melvin and Patricia Solís.

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