At Be2camp2008 in London, The Guardian‘s Charles Arthur spoke passionately about Free Our Data, talking about the Ordnance Survey approach to mapping and its crowdsourced alternative, OpenStreetMap. My enthusiasm for OSM has since been heightened further by talks by John McKerrell at Be2camp North and by Brian Prangle at last month’s Be2camp Brum, and I have started to edit OSM details about my immediate SE London area myself).
Today, I read a Free Our Data blog post about the Royal Mail’s refusal to share information about the location of its post-boxes, and it suggested that this information might be both crowdsourced via OSM and enhanced to include details such as the times of last collections (see the Locating Postboxes website).
Knowing there was a postbox at the bottom of my road, I followed the link and discovered that it didn’t even appear on OSM. So, needing some fresh air, I went for a walk with my pen, pencil and a digital camera, and I recorded the details of four of my local postboxes that weren’t fully detailed on OSM before returning to update this ‘free wiki world map’ (adding some photos to Flickr for good measure).
OK, a small contribution, but OpenStreetMap is a good example of how a Web 2.0 project can tap into the local knowledge and enthusiasm of ordinary people to produce a service that is proving more useful, accurate and up-to-date than ‘official’ sources of information such as Ordnance Survey or commercial competitors such as Google Maps. Through OSM, local residents can populate, enrich and correct a map of their local built environment far more quickly than these commercially driven organisations, and overcome the often bizarre constraints imposed upon making such information free to all citizens.