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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.

1 comment

    • Alex Albon on 22 September 2009 at 1:15 pm
    • Reply

    Nice one Paul.

    A number of comment come to mind:

    1 – I love your enthusiasm for OSM. I love OSM too
    2 – You perhaps have too much time on your hands (!)
    3 – I wonder whether the Post Office’s reluctance to share the locations of their post boxes is, in fact, a disguised admission that they do not have their post boxes mapped digitally??

    I had a number of friends who worked for GIS companies in the 90’s when GIS systems became more affordable and those companies with large infrastructures and assets were the obvious customers. Take up for GIS was very slow, however, and I wonder if the PO ever did get fully GIS’ed-up?

    It would not surprise me in the least that this is the case. The mere thought of working out more efficient collection/delivery routes using GIS is perhaps too much to comprehend.

    Please tell me that I’m wrong.

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