Volunteered Geographical Information
OpenStreetMap is a crowd sourced map of the world. It can be seen as a project that has excelled on many levels: for example opening up geographical information, providing copyright free maps that can be shared, providing detailed up-to-date mapping and providing a major source of volunteered geographical information. The community of OpenStreetMap has been seen as a broad set of contributors although research has suggested that contributions are largely from a more limited set of volunteers and this set is not as amateur as may be perceived.
An article by Yang, Fan, and Jing in the International Journal of Geo-Information reviews the contributions of volunteers in terms of the quality of their work. It is entitled “Amateur or Professional: Assessing the Expertise of Major Contributors in OpenStreetMap Based on Contributing Behaviors” (sic), 2016. Contributing behaviours are reviewed to assess the professionalism of mappers to OpenStreetMap.
Several past studies have shown that the quality of OpenStreetMap information is often very good. Results from several countries that have proved this empirically. As a contrast to volunteered geographical information (VGI), professional geographical information (PGI) quality is traditionally regarded as excellent and production uses well trained and highly disciplined experts to achieve excellent and “definitive” results.
Like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap relies on a small minority of contributors who actually account for the vast majority of the information. This study has considered a number of behaviours of OpenStreetMap’s core users who add geographical data and edit the map. They have also proposed a conceptual model to assess if contributors are professional or not. Professionals are classed as skilled and highly disciplined whilst amateurs tend to lack in skills and lack the deeper understanding of their subject area. Using probability theories and Bayes’ theorem the authors considered the likelihood of being either a professional or amateur contributor to OpenStreetMap. The approach is essentially statistical inference. Key themes for professional contributions include those of practice, skill and motivation.
The paper concludes: “Most of the contributors represent several behaviors [sic] that amateurs rarely have. The major contributors in the three countries [UK, France and Germany] should be confidently regarded as professionals instead of amateurs.” The research has largely inferred this result although it is highly probable that professional contributors have provided OpenStreetMap with much data on a regular basis. The research considered eight main behaviours for contributors and used OpenStreetMap metadata to link the behaviours to large geographical data additions.
This research, like others, has suggested that OpenStreetMap is much more than a map created by amateurs or novices. Several core users exhibit highly professional traits to their contributions. OpenStreetMap allows almost daily changes to be mapped rapidly and is a framework that enables much map detail to be captured.