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Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Great Book On OSM – Bad Review for NAVTEQ

January 12th, 2011 by MDob

Slightly before Christmas, courtesy of one of the authors, I received a copy of “OpenStreetMap, Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World” by Frederik Ramm, Jochen Toph and Steve Chilton. Published with a 2011 copyright by UIT Cambridge LTD, the manuscript is an indispensable guide to those interested in harnessing the power of OpenStreetMap (OSM) for mapping, navigation and location services.

Frederick Ramm and Jochen Topf are the main authors of the book, which was originally written in German. They expanded and translated the original edition to produce an internationally-oriented English language edition which was further edited by Steve Chilton. Ramm and Topf have worked in the IT industry for over a decade and with OSM since 2006. Among their many accomplishments is the founding of Geofabrik GmbH, which provides products and services based on OSM and other open geodata sources. Frederick Ramm may also be known to those of you who follow the Legal-Talk mailing list focused on OSM. Steve Chilton is currently the Chair of the Society of Cartographers, as well as the Educational Development Manager at Middlesex University in the United Kingdom.

I was unsure what to expect when I picked up this weighty tome of 335 pages comprised of 27 chapters, 32 color plates, numerous diagrams and an appendix that follows-up on topics not detailed in the main text. After having read the book, I think of it as “OSM – The Missing Manual”. If you want to work with OSM by contributing data, making maps, writing OSM related software, or simply want to know the details of how this crowdsourced mapping system works, this is the read for you.

The book is divided into four sections and starts with an introduction to OSM and its community of supporters. The second section focuses on the use of GPS devices to provide data, how to upload data to OSM, and concludes with how to edit OSM data using a variety of software packages. The following section discusses making and using maps and routes from OSM data, focusing on numerous rendering engines. The section ends with a brief summary of licensing issues, a topic that I will return to later. The final section is a wide-ranging discussion of “hacking” OSM, aimed at developers and hackers interested in exploring the ins-and-outs of the OSM database server, as well as advanced editing. For those of you hoping this book would provide a spirited discussion of crowdsourcing and its use for map compilation, you should know that the authors are true believers. I doubt the question is of interest to them or to their intended audience.

As noted above, I found the book to be very informative, but will note here that reading it is tough sledding if you have no intention of trying to use the tools and techniques described. However, people with that mindset are not the audience for whom the book is designed. Instead, this is the ultimate read for those who are interested in contributing to or using OSM and in that role it is an excellent introduction.

Lest my readers think I’ve gone soft, there are a number of concepts described in the book that I cringed while reading. On page 225 the authors write that “There is no clear distinction between navigation and route planning.” I had always thought that route planning (calculation of a route based on attributes of a transportation network) and positioning (obtaining a relative position and orientation of a vehicle to the transportation network with respect to the data representing the real world) were combined in navigation, but these and other minor issues are likely of little importance to the intended audience of the book.

Where I thought the book a bit off-target was in the chapter titled “License Issues when Using (OSM) Data.” At the start of the chapter is an inset note indicating that the authors are not lawyers and that the “…chapter documents community practice or the reasoning of the authors. If in doubt, you should contact a lawyer.” To me this appears to be the written version of “I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on Television.” Any commercial firm that has an interest in using OSM data should consult a lawyer before they initiate any work on a product or project involving the use of OSM data. Overall, however, this chapter appears to provide a reasonable overview of the current CC by SA and the proposed Open Database License ODbL. Some of the conclusions reached by the authors may reflect their desire or that of the user community on how the licenses should be interpreted, as opposed to how they might be interpreted by the legal community. (I learned many years ago (shame on me) that what you as a lay person thought was reasonable and commonly agreed, ceased to be either when there was money and lawyers involved.)

In sum, this is a book deserving of a place on your bookshelf. It is well written, comprehensive and worth your time, especially if you want to find out how to do things with OSM and don’t want to spend days trying to find the topic in the OSM Wiki. Even if you do find the topic there, I think you would prefer to read the description in “OpenStreetMap, Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World”

Now back to beating NAVTEQ

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore–
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.
But should delight them…
with a NAVTEQ map of
…Providence, Rhode Island?

Anyway, late the other night I received an email from a contact who spilled the beans. As hard as it is to believe, NAVTEQ has once again decided to route people over the now being deconstructed, no longer available to traffic portion of I-195 that they finally managed to eliminate from their database last year. The two images below were screen captured from the NAVTEQ corporate website on January 10, 2011 (and the geometry has not yet been changed as of the publication data of this blog).

NAVTEQ decides to show the wrong road, again.

I now realize that the reason that they would not give me a ride in one of their new vans (the ones with the dilithium crystals) is that the sensors in these units have yet to be calibrated. If you look at the map above, you will notice that not only has the “closed road” been reopened by NAVTEQ, but they appear to be tracking a normal traffic flow on it. How does that work?

One possibility is that NAVTEQ forgot to time slice their traffic data and the years and years of recorded traffic is of such a volume that the traffic on the recently reconfigured section is not strong enough to pull the “established” path to the new geometry. Wait, wait. I know. Maybe their new crowdsourcing capabilities informed them of this change. Unlikely. However, either explanation would not apply if they had driven the new alignment with either their new or older field research vehicles. So, what we seem to be left with is that NAVTEQ makes changes to their database that are not field verified. Hmmm, after all of these years of telling us that this was what distinguished them from Tele Atlas, we now how some indication that this was just marketing speak. Bah, Humbug. Is there no decency in the world of mapping? But just to emphasize my shock at what NAVTEQ has managed to do, look at the next figure.

NAVTEQ includes now non-existent signs to show destinations that cannot be reached by this route

Wow, those new dilithium powered vans are incredible. Not only can they travel on elevated highways that are being torn down, but they can digitize and photograph road signs that no longer exist. Amazing. Simply amazing.

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Posted in crowdsourced map data, Mapping, Mike Dobson, Navteq, openstreetmap, OSM, Tele Atlas, User Generated Content, Volunteered Geographic Information

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