Technological changes over the past 10 years, in combination with increased bandwidth and the ability to provide better tools for collaboration, have led to “crowdsourcing”—a term developed from the concept of outsourcing in which business operations are transferred to remote, many times cheaper locations. Similarly, crowdsourcing is how large groups of users can perform functions that are either difficult to automate or expensive to implement.
The activity of mapping our environment used to be the preserve of highly trained and well-equipped surveyors and cartographers. The increase in the availability of computing in the wider environment through laptops, hand-held computers, and mobile phones, in combination with the free access to location information from GPS satellites, provided new opportunities for a wider range of people to be part of mapping activities and to create a bottom-up map, generated by users.
In this article, the authors describe the Open Geodata project OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap follows the peer production model that created Wikipedia; its aim is to create a set of map data that’s free to use, editable, and licensed under new copyright schemes. OpenStreetMap provides a good example of the social and technical aspects of user generated content communities. The authors provide an overview of the project, the techniques used to collect, organize, and deliver mapping information, and conclude with an analysis of the opportunities and challenges that the project faces.