Operation Cowboy

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Twitter user@opcowboy on twitter, on Google+; #opc2012 IRC chatroom
Stay awake, for a better map!

There's still a wild west of messy map data in some parts of the U.S., but a new sheriff is in town...

Operation Cowboy is a global Mapathon on the weekend of Nov 23rd-25th 2012, where all mappers come together in local meetings and trace imagery the whole night long! It's a LAN-party like feeling for map enthusiasts, like the Night of the living maps but this time we are focussing on helping our community in United States.


This a training event. Helping people learn more about editing OpenStreetMap editing is an important part of the mission. Whether it's your very first edit, or you're swapping power mapping pro-tips, please come along to meet and work with other OpenStreetMap friends face-to-face!

The mission is to make simple improvements to data in the U.S. This is a an "armchair mapping" project, meaning we are seeking to make simple improvements using aerial imagery, and refining the low quality imported data. The U.S. is a good part of the map to do this. We can safely make these kinds of improvements in many areas without too much danger of disturbing valuable on-the-ground mapped contributions, but please be aware of armchair mapping guidelines, and seek assistance if you are unsure.

Types of armchair mapping edits to make in the U.S.

  • TIGER fixup - This is the main information resource to refer to, on the kind of data fixup that is required. TIGER is the original data import of every road in the U.S. it is of widely varying quality in different areas, with pockets of extremely poor alignment, and newer residential developments being missing. The TIGER Edited Map shows where data has not been touched since the original import.
  • MapRoulette - A fantastic new tool which will be very useful for Operation Cowboy. It jumps you to random connectivity bug, but it's important to note that many of these are also landing you in an area of low quality TIGER data, so while it's quick to fix the connection problem, you can spend much longer fixing up the surrounding area.
  • NHD - It's worth understanding the nature and limitations of the Hydrographic data (rivers) which is another import of dubious quality. It's not hard to find areas where large rivers are missing or broken and failing to show up on the map due to data bugs, even near populated areas.
  • GNIS - There has been an import of nodes representing schools, hospitals, parks, cemeteries, lakes, and several other types of features from GNIS. This data is usually accurate although there are cases of non-existant/closed-down features being imported. As an armchair mapping task though, it's usually helpfully to spot features in the imagery and convert GNIS import nodes to areas (copying over all tags) See USGS GNIS#Converting GNIS Nodes to Areas


It might be useful to create a cake on MapCraft for each state, so individual participants can choose a slice and work on it. As it is armchair mapping, you may as well make the slices quite large.


Where's the party?
Check the map with the worldwide party locations and join the event most convenient for you! For more details see the "Join" tab above.

There is no party next to me, so I'm going to start my own! What do I need to do?'
Great! Check the "Start own" tab for details of how to set up your party!

Mapping a whole weekend?!?
Yes, if you like ;) But the original idea is to do a 24hrs job (map around the clock) within the weekend. 72hrs is a bit to much, even for addicted mappers.

How to stay awake?

  1. Go to bed early the day before or get a nap during the day
  2. Get more people going to your party. More people. More partying. Less sleep!
  3. Have a chill out corner to get at least some rest for your brains
  4. Caffeine of all kinds (coffee, cola, clubmate, pills, ...)
  5. Fresh air, progressive music, ...

Do I have to pay for the drinks?
Some map related companies start their own local parties, where they offer drinks and snacks. Please have a look at the map! If not, sadly your local community has to collect money on their own :(

Is tracing imagery such a good idea?
Well, in a perfect world, we would be able to do a global mapping party involving real world surveying, sending mappers out to collect data throughout the whole world. It's true that tracing Bing isn't perfect, but it is a chance to do work and hopefully to attract others, who wouldn't help us if the map showed only the two main roads in their village. If we do the job well, it can form a good starting point, to let others easily participate using OpenStreetBugs and to enable good Walking Papers printouts for later surveys during Mapping Parties. Further notes on how you should work with aerial imagery to avoid problems, can be found at /join. Participants and organisers should make themselves aware of the new armchair mapping guidelines.

Why the US?
Even if we have a lot of countries left, that could need the help of the community, the organisers took the decision on America for various reasons:

  • good Bing aerial imagery coverage -> tracing will result in less mistakes
  • infrastructure very much the same -> identifying objects is for most mappers pretty easy
  • TIGER import shows only basic data -> impress external persons of what OSM can be
  • quite small community (for this huge and popular area)

What is TIGER all about

TIGER is a set of geographic data from the US Government Census Bureau. It is in the Public Domain so it can be freely used in OSM. In 2007, there was a massive bulk import of TIGER road data into OSM. This gave the U.S. fairly complete road coverage. However the quality of the data varies a lot, typically on a county-by-county basis. There were also some problems introduced by the import process itself. You can read more about the problems on the TIGER fixup page.

There are now newer versions of the TIGER data available which are often much better however because automated replacement of external data isn't really possible in OSM, it is now primarily used as a guide for people mapping by hand. For example it can be used to get the name of a street via TIGER road name tiles being served up by OSM-US. Details on this use can be found on the TIGER 2012 page.

Why use '#opc2012 ...' in the changesets?

You remember the great Animations by ITO World or Geofabrik? We hope to create something similar to present our results and to get some material for statistics, by filtering the changesets for this "Operation Cowboy" tag.
If you forgot to add this tag, don't worry! Just add your changeset id at this list: Operation_cowboy/results#Lost_changesets

What should I armchair map ?

Most of the USA's data was originally imported by TIGER and could use improvement. See TIGER fixup for a list of these. There is additional data that you can contribute as an armchair mapper:

  • adding traffic signals if they are any
  • Adding building outlines for important buildings (most towns have a school, a church or two)
  • Pitches - Most American schools and parks have baseball diamonds
  • Parking areas
  • Parks and different landuse
  • minor service roads
  • Add Wikipedia links for features which are the subject of Wikipedia articles (but not for branches of chains like McDonalds)
  • Delete Historical POIs that were imported from GNIS (their name contains 'Historical' in it)


  • date and title?
  • mission and areas by the local community
  • Logo (Ken will do) and further social channels
  • porting remaining NOTLM wiki pages
  • Template and global map?
  • contact local contacts worldwide
  • another Tasking Server instance running? Can use this one
  • donations/money for local parties? FOSSGIS already contacted,
  • Videostreaming solution? / Google Hangout ? https://plus.google.com/events/ck242732jagdobflo3m6hgfsme0
  • post Map Animation?
  • promotion to the media?

See also