OpenStreetMap is a rich source of geographical data. Volunteer mappers diligently ensure that information is detailed and correct. You only have to browse the map to be astounded by the level of detail and completeness. However it is not just this map visualisation (or ‘render’) that is available to use. The OpenStreetMap Foundation provides free access to all the underlying data and allows individuals and organisations to use this in many ways.
Below we provide some examples of how the OpenStreetMap map or data can be used. Part of our remit is to aid all users of the data so please contact us for advice. If you would like to hire someone to use OpenStreetMap professionally then we can put you in touch with a local expert from our Talent Pool.
Ways you could use the OpenStreetMap map or data include:
View the map
The first and most basic thing you could do is view the map online. Remember that what you see on the openstreetmap.org is only one view (or ‘render’) of the data. Alternatives renders show otherwise hidden details. Examples include:
As the OpenStreetMap data is available at zero cost, users can create their own render giving prominence to those map features that they (or their customers are interested in).
Use OpenStreetMap on a website
An increase in cost of Google Maps in 2018 caused shockwaves with web site users of maps. switch2osm.org explains how to use OpenStreetMap for your web maps. It takes you through the steps of how to add a map API / library to your website and where to source the map ’tiles’ from.
If you are happy with one of the existing renders, switch2osm.org includes links to many providers, some of which are free including use of the tiles from openstreetmap.org subject to a tile usage policy. Heavy users, or those who want a custom render, can contract out to one of the providers or can set up your own server to produce your own map tiles.
Long-time OpenStreetMapper Harry Wood answered the question How can I put OpenStreetMap on my website? on Quora.
OpenStreetMap can be used as a primary source for data visualisations as demonstrated by this German streetname analysis in Zeit Online.
Your first stop might be Geofabrik for an extract of Great Britain. This can be loaded quite easily into a Postgis database server ready for processing.
Use data in an application, licence (and fee) free
More than creating nice pictures, you can of course build applications based on OSM data confident in the knowledge that the database will still exist many years from now. There is a friendly licence, so ‘friendly’ that it won’t cost you a penny. You should review how the licence applies to your product. The Open Data Institute are currently doing some work on this.
There are a number of map data aggregator services such as Mapbox that may be what you need.
Use an API service based on OpenStreetMap
The component you need for your system may already exist as a service.
For example, OSMUK corporate member OpenCage Data Ltd provide an API service for worldwide forward and reverse geocoding.
Connect local authority or government data to mapped objects
The UK government has a strong history of Open Data. In the UK we are working on projects that lead to authoritative ids being stored against OSM objects so that government data can be matched to geographical objects. For example, onshore wind farms can be matched to the Renewable energy planning database monthly extract.
If the links do not currently exist then perhaps your company could create them. Talk to us for advice.
Do some mapping yourself
Data is not reality. Numbers in a spreadsheet can represent the real world but they don’t always tell the full story. The world often refuses to fit into our data models. We believe that creating and editing the source data is the best way to understand it. OpenStreetMap is unique in allowing you to be a mapper as well as a user of maps. We strongly encourage any company to be a producer as well as a consumer. Not just to ‘give back’ but to build deep domain knowledge within your team. We could put you in touch with a training provider, or you could consider hiring a ‘mapper in residence’ for a short time.