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  • Dennis Irorere, Federal University Tech Akure

Why OpenStreetMap?

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

The cost of mapping is increasing. This includes the fact that private companies like Google Maps and Bing Maps are capitalizing on this fact and making huge profits from the world of geotechnology.

Every time I tell someone about OpenStreetMap, they inevitably ask "Why not use Google Maps?"

From a practical standpoint, it's a reasonable question, but ultimately this is not just a matter of practicality, but of what kind of society we want to live in.

Looking at the topic in a 2008 talk on OpenStreetMap by Serge Wroclawski where he gave his first MappingDC meeting.

Business of Geography

Everyone is looking to be a definitive source. Looking how much Google spends annually, that’s about $1B maintaining their maps, and that does not include the $1.5B Google spent buying the navigation company Waze. Google is far from the only company trying to own "everywhere", as Nokia purchased Navteq and TomTom and Tele Atlas try to merge. All of these companies want to become the definitive source of what's on the ground.

That's because what's on the ground has become big business. With GPSes in every car, and a smartphone in every pocket, the market for telling you where you are and where to go has become fierce.

With all these companies, why do we need a project like OpenStreetMap? The answer is simply that as a society, no one company should have a monopoly on place, just as no one company had a monopoly on time in the 1800s. Place is a shared resource, and when you give all that power to a single entity, you are giving them the power not only to tell you about your location, but to shape it.

In summary, there are three concerns: who decides what gets shown on the map, who decides where you are and where you should go, and personal privacy.

OpenStreetmap the Solution

OpenStreetMap is both neutral and transparent in terms of map content, OpenStreetMap is a wiki-like map that anyone in the world can edit. If a place is missing from the map, it can be added in by a store owner or even a customer. In terms of display (rendering), each person or company who creates a map is free to render it how they like, but the main map on uses FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) rendering software and a liberally licensed stylesheet which anyone can build on.

In other words, anyone who cares can always create their own maps based on the same data.

Similarly, while the most popular routing programs for OpenStreetMap are FLOSS, even if a company chooses another software stack, a user is always free to use their own routing software; it would be easy to compare routing results based on the same data to find anomalies.

And lastly, with OpenStreetMap data a user is free to download some, or all of the map offline. This means that it's possible to use OpenStreetMap data to navigate without giving your location away to anyone at all.

OpenStreetMap respects communities and respects people. If you're not already contributing to OSM, consider helping out. If you're already a contributor: thank you.

Likewise, I want to thank the USAID GeoCenter and YouthMappers for this opportunity.


My name is Dennis Irorere, and I'm a student in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at the Federal University of Technology Akure, Nigeria. I serve as

the YouthMappers Akure chapter Coordinator. GIS as a tool for spatial analysis has been very useful to me. I have been mapping from my first year in my Institution where I started with ArcGIS and now currently QGIS with implementation of GRASS GIS. I find mapping very interesting because it's an artistic Science that makes interpretation for the development and facilitation of informed decisions possible.

I started with OpenStreetMap just recently, and I have found it very useful and interesting because I get to help other nations with mapping of their nations and helping to make good informed decisions.

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