Book Review: OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World

OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World by Frederik Ramm, Jochen Topf, and Steve Chilton is a good introduction and overview of the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project. Unlike most OpenStreetMap overviews, this book goes into a useful amount of detail covering subjects such as the data model, how to edit the maps, and how to use OSM data in applications.

It is recommended for people who need to a good grounding in the OpenStreetMap data format, and especially those who intend to be active participants. Those who wish to use OpenStreetMap data in their own applications, may find the book is only a starting point.

There are quite a few OpenStreetMap introductions in circulation. As a 336 page book, this one can go into a lot more detail and provide substantial information beyond what you can find in a simple web article.

The first part is an introduction and in essence provides the potted introduction that we have seen before. The real strength of the book is the second part which is intended for map contributors. This consists of ten chapters and almost 140 pages covering subjects such as:

  • GPS fundamentals from an OSM-level surveying perspective
  • OSM Data Model
  • OSM Map Features
  • More sophisticated features and properties (eg. restricted turns and parallel roads)
  • Potlatch
  • JOSM
  • Quick overview of alternative editors
  • Mapping Tools
  • License Issues

The third part is entitled “Making and Using Maps”. ‘Making’ in this context actually refers to the production of usable maps from existing data – ie. rendering a map that can be viewed or printed. This section covers seven chapters, but prefers to concentrate on OSM-specific software such as Osmarender, Mapnik, and Kosmos. There are overview chapters for web applications, and navigation / mobile applications. Although Osmarender and Mapnik both have a loyal following and they are designed from the ground-up to use OSM data, OSM data is only going to become widespread if it receives good support from existing packages and libraries. Although the web overview chapter does include OpenLayers and Google Maps, both products only receive two pages each. This is an example of where the book is at its weakest. It is useful to have an overview of packages that are available, but often these are limited to a couple of pages or in some cases only a few sentences.

The final part is entitled “Hacking OpenStreetmap”. This covers more technical “under the hood” subjects such as:

  • Data Management
  • The OSM API
  • Changesets
  • Uploading/downloading GPS tracks
  • OAuth
  • Complementary APIs and Web Services (eg. Geonames)
  • Osmosis
  • Reverting changes
  • Shapefiles
  • Running your own OSM Server

Again, many of these sections are quite short but should be enough to get you started and to point you in the right direction when you search online.

The book is well produced with plenty of useful illustrations. It also includes a number of color plates although some are more useful than others. For example, color is obviously useful when demonstrating CloudMade tiles, but not exactly necessary when illustrating what a Garmin eTrex device looks like!

In the original version of this review on GeoWebGuru, I wrote that it was likely that quite a bit of the book would quickly become out of date; and that the data model will evolve. Eight years later, some of the book as definitely aged and the various tags have evolved. This process has probably not been as quick as I feared, but I think the book could benefit from a new edition with the latest software applications, and an update to the tagging schemes.

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