Stratford Grapevine Article - September 2008

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The following is text from a article published in The Stratford Grapvine back in September 2008 by Harry Wood. It's a super-dumbed-down explanation of OpenStreetMap for non-techy localised audience. Feel free to copy bits. Original PDF including illustrations (messed up map image)

This summer, a group of people visited Stratford to make a map. Maybe you saw one of these suspicious-looking characters walking or cycling the streets, taking photos of street signs, or staring at a GPS. The ‘Stratford mapping party’ was arranged on the internet. Gathering data as they went, they approached the area from various directions and eventually converged on a pub for a few drinks, before returning home to upload their map data onto the central database. This work formed part of a global collaborative mapping initiative called

If you’re looking for a map of Stratford, you’ve got plenty of options. You can buy an A–Z of London or an Ordnance Survey map. You can find a map for free on websites, such as google maps, or you can refer to one of the maps pinned up at tube stations and bus stops to help you find your way around Stratford. So why are the crazy people at creating a new map, completely from scratch, without even looking at any existing maps?What is the point? There’s a serious answer to this question. It relates to complicated issues of copyright, freedom of information, and freedom to re-use information. Leaving that aside, openstreetmap is fun! Communities of volunteers are coming together on the internet to work on projects like this, which build free information resources. Wikipedia is an example of this. There’s no hidden corporate motive. There aren’t vast amounts of money to be made. It’s all about people (large numbers of them) getting involved for fun and for the thrill of helping to build something great.

Building openstreetmap adds a particularly interesting local dimension to this kind of collaboration. It involves getting out there, walking the streets, visiting the places and the communities that a map represents. Maps are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. You really get a feel for that when you go out and gather the names of streets where people live, and record the positions of pubs and post-boxes. If you were ever looking for a constructive excuse to go out and explore new areas around Stratford, openstreetmap is it!

The project can always benefit from more people getting involved, especially those who live and work in the Stratford area (an area where we don’t have complete coverage). Contributions to openstreetmap can be big or small. It’s all volunteer effort, so you can contribute as much or as little as you like. Some people just make a small correction to the map of their local neighbourhood, while other people regularly go out looking for new areas to map. Others organise ‘mapping parties’, an opportunity to meet up and socialise with other openstreetmap contributors.

But where to start? First of all, go to and zoom in on Stratford and take a look at the map. You’ll see that some areas (especially to the east) have a whole bunch of streets without names. These are the main areas where we need to gather new data. So head out there! Take a print-out of the map, and start writing down street names and recording information.

We also want other important information such as one-way restrictions, classifications of streets, pedestrian routes and footpaths.We have ways of representing just about anything in the openstreetmap database: pubs, post-boxes, shops, traffic lights, bus stops, telephone boxes, etc – all of the little details that make up the places where we live and work. The amount of information you gather just depends on how thorough you want to be. Street names are the most important thing, but remember, no looking at existing maps! That would be cheating! Inputting the data is where it gets a little bit technical. openstreetmap developers (also volunteers) have tried to make the ‘Editor’ software easy to use, but you’ll need to spend a bit of time to get the hang of it. First, you’ll need to create an account on (choose a password etc). The ‘help’ information on will guide you through the process. If all of this is a little bit beyond you, we now have an option called “OpenStreetBugs”, which allows you simply to annotate the map, reporting information, which other people can then feed into the map.

For the more advanced openstreetmap mapper, we have various techniques for efficient data capture. For example, many of us use GPS receivers to record a ‘track’ as we walk the streets, coupled with digital cameras to take photos of street signs and other features. We visited Stratford with all of our gadgetry on two separate evenings this summer. The project is also a concerted effort to systematically map out large areas that are missing. As you can see, we’ve made some progress in Stratford, but did we miss a bit? Did we get something wrong?Well, you can help fix it! There’s still lots of work to be done here, so get involved!

Harry Wood is a contributor to openstreetmap Visit