Visual Comparison of Web Map Changes of Openstreetmap and Commercial Online-Map Providers: A Research Note

Visual Comparison of Web Map Changes of Openstreetmap and Commercial Online-Map Providers: A Research Note

Beata Ćmielová (Palacky University in Olomouc, Olomouc, Czech Republic) and Jiří Pánek (Palacky University in Olomouc, Olomouc, Czech Republic)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/IJEPR.2016040103


Maps always have and always will have blank spots, but maps are no longer the privilege of paper; they have been moved to the digital environment. How can digital maps fill the empty spaces in the current online and crowdsourcing mapping era? In this paper the authors pose several questions and in the same breath they are aware that some of those questions may not be answered. The paper presents the research note with use of visual comparison method, that may not provide concrete results, but merely a glipse of the situation Who does cover certain areas better – OpenStreetMap or commercial providers? And what does “better” coverage actually mean? Mapping the unmapped is not only a question of spatial literacy, but also part of the GeoParticipation and democratisation process taking place within the digital spatial industry of today. The authors focus their research on three areas (Kibera, Minsk and North Korea). The research covers 18 months of data for three major commercial providers and for one collaborative platform – OpenStreetMap.
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Using geographic information systems in developing countries has been seen as an oxymoron as well as an opportunity by many scholars (Abbot et al., 1998; Dunn, 2007; Pánek, 2015). It has the historical burden of maps being used as a tool of control and technological dominance, largely by Western powers (Pickles, 1995). Nevertheless, participatory approaches in mapping and GIS allow social responsibility and ethics to be combined with research and with the visualisation of local spatial knowledge (Blatt, 2012; Fagerholm, 2014; Chambers, 2003; Pánek, 2013a). Creating community maps has an empowering effect on the participating members of the community. It gives people the opportunity to think spatially about their environment and the process of creating a community map, it triggers feelings of being literally put on the map, belonging to the community and a sense of ownership of the empowering process. The sense of ownership sparks empowerment and actuates the momentum for sustainable development — driven and run by the community as it comes from within the community (Vlok & Pánek, 2012).

Maps have the burden of being tools of colonial powers, because as much as guns and warships, maps have been the weapons of imperialism for centuries (Harley, 1988). Also carrying this burden (Taylor, 1990), geographic information systems (GIS) were introduced to the world of development discourse. Critics of GIS were concerned that geospatial technology was being employed with the explicit goal of expanding political and economic control over those already disadvantaged by local, regional, and global divisions of power. With the process of democratisation of cartography (Byrne & Pickard, 2016; Rød, Ormeling, & Van Elzakker, 2001) and democratisation of the GIS (Butler, 2006) people started using maps and GIS in more participatory ways than ever before. Neocartography (Cartwright, 2012) became a popular term as well as GeoParticipation, representing the process of using spatial tools that engage the local public in decision making processes regarding the space they are concerned with or where they live (Kahila-Tani, Broberg, Kyttä, & Tyger, 2015; Pánek, Hrubeš, Kubásek, Valůch, & Zahumenská, 2014).

Information technologies play an important role in economic, social and human development, both in developed as well as developing countries. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto (2003) argues that the poor in low- and middle-income countries do not lack the capital to change their miserable situation, but their poverty is primarily rooted in the lack of opportunities to benefit from what they “possess” informally, and to transform the “dead capital” to an active one. By implication, the accent on property rights for dwellers in informal settlements in order to prevent them losing their economic and physical “capital”, was advocated in the second generation of the World Bank’s upgrading programs in the 1990s. As it will be argued further in this article, being mapped, especially on digital maps, is strongly linked with community development. Improving IT capabilities and supporting open-source mapping can leverage thousands of people from poverty (Paar & Rekittke, 2011; Pánek & Sobotová, 2015; Pánek, 2015; Richter & Georgiadou, 2014). The research question is, in which locations can OpenStreetMap be used as an alternative to the classic commercial data provided by Google, Microsoft or Yahoo? The authors have deliberately omitted national mapping services as they usually do not provide world data coverage.

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