Ruthlessly Efficient Volunteers

It’s a new year!  And I think the University of Heidelberg were quick-off-the blocks with their latest report on Volunteer Geographic Information (VGI).

The trend is growing to use volunteer data, and in Germany it appears that it is growing fastest.  The report “The Street Network Evolution of Crowdsourced Maps: OpenStreetMap in Germany 2007-2011” can be found here.  Germany had accounted for 50% of all the activity in creating the Open Street Map in 2008.  Given the rapid rise of this phenomenon and the geographical spread this is an awesome statistic.  See how Germany “outshines” the rest of the world in this video from our friends at iTo World which I first saw in 2008.  Okay this year has fallen back to 30%, but that reflects OSM’s growth in new markets.

Is Germany unique?  Perhaps.  The Netherlands have just donated their official road data to OSM following commercial company AND (Automotive Navigation Data).  No such donation in Germany.  But there appears to be  an additional drive for individuals to contribute.  So many more events there, such efficiency in the output!  What’s most impressive is the stats in the Heidelberg report that show just how close the OSM collection of bearded volunteers are to producing the equivalent to a TomTom navigable map.

Perhaps the drive is there due to challenges and restrictions in having to deal with 16 Landers (Federal states really) when trying to  make a national map at the needed resolution.  But perhaps also just because Germans just seize the opportunity?  And maybe it’s the efficiency thing…

Commercially, I like the Skobbler applications; based upon the OpenStreetMap and aggregating a range of point of interest data they provide applications for your smart phone that are getting very close to the traditional TomTom… at a fraction of the cost!  Their “Map Dust” method of data collection assures regular updates (and some times they even incentivise the volunteers who collect all this data by offering prizes to fill any patches in the map!).  Of course, they are based in Germany, but you can get a great coverage in the UK too and a footprint that covers the OSM’s growth (see the previous video again ;-)).

From a public sector perspective exciting things are happening too.  German local, regional and national mapping authorities appear to be courting OSM, and a number of the autorities already have an active programme of using volunteer data and the OSM for their daily tasks.

So 2012 is for volunteers, for an enlightened public sector and for the entrepreneurs to build the applications that will really unlock the potential of open, voluntary location data…  and it’s probably for Germany!

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