Understanding OpenStreetMap

With over 6 million registered users, the OpenStreetMap project and community is huge. Whilst our homepage sets out what OpenStreetMap is, it can be difficult to know where to start or who to contact. This page is designed to help individuals and organisations with their first steps in OpenStreetMap.

How to approach OpenStreetMap?

OpenStreetMap is the fully open map of the world. Anyone may contribute to it, and anyone may use the data. As an individual or an organisation it can sometimes be daunting to know how to start. We’re here to help to you along the way.

Whether you work for an organisation or are an individual, you should approach OpenStreetMap in much the same way. That is, start the basics and get comfortable with these before jumping in further. If in doubt, reach out to the community or to us for help.

So what are the basics?

If you break it down into it’s most basic concepts, OpenStreetMap comprises three parts:

  1. Collecting or donating information
  2. Editing OpenStreetMap
  3. Making use of the map or map data

We recommend that all users have a basic understanding of all three parts. You might wish to focus on just one or two of these, but an awareness of the others will help you.

In addition to the process steps, the OpenStreetMap project is a community. As with any community, people hold different opinions, do different things and act and respond differently to change. Be prepared to discuss things with other community members to help find a consensus.

The volume of discussion will vary with what you are trying to do. For example, if you are are making simple edit following existing instructions then you may receive a single message asking you to clarify something or suggesting additional information that you could add to the map. If however you are looking to do something that has not been done before, or you want to add some third party data to OpenStreetMap, then be prepared to spend longer discussing the idea and agreeing a consensus.

Is there anything additional that organisations need to do?

Yes. OpenStreetMap has some additional policies in place for groups and organisations. The reason for this is because organisations tend to be able to interact with OpenStreetMap more often and at a faster pace. If an individual who is contributing one or two evenings a week makes a mistake then the impact will be much smaller than an organisation with several employees editing five days a week making the same mistake.

The mistake itself is not the problem – we all make mistakes as that’s just human nature – the problem is that we have a limited resource to spot and fix mistakes. An organisations making lots of mistakes could very quickly overwhelm us. This is particularly true if there are lots of employees involved or if you are attempting to import (or ‘conflate’) a large dataset into OpenStreetMap.

It is recommended that organisations and groups read the OSM Welcome Mat and follow the organised editing guidelines. A full list of policies agreed by the OpenStreetMap Foundation can be found here. Those wishing to use OpenStreetMap data in their own projects should also review the licence and community guidelines.