OpenStreetMap project is an open source mapping project allowing everyone to get involved and to become a contributor. Whether the contribution is tiny but important, like adding businesses not featured on the map, or mapping entire settlements not featured on OpenStreetMap, it is important to know that any kind of contribution is welcomed and encouraged.

OpenStreetMap Community has over 3 million contributors, all of them being a part of the project, each one of them being a small part of the larger picture, a platform allowing every single person to be a part of creating the most comprehensive digital map of the world. If you’re interested in becoming a contributor and adding your own data to OpenStreetMap, the first thing you have to do is to register. Sign Up process is extremely simple, you just need to visit this address, fill a couple of info boxes and that’s it, you’re ready to do some mapping.

Now that you’re a registered member of the community your mapping journey can begin. There are lots of different ways to contribute, and lots of data sources, so let’s start by explaining the most common data sources.

First of all, we bet many of you thought that all you have to do is to visit Google Maps, find the data you want (like the latest updates to the road network, or newly opened businesses) and just add it to OpenStreetMap. Well, the reality is a bit different. The most important rule of open source mapping is that never, ever use copyrighted data like Google Maps. If you want to contribute use your own knowledge of your surroundings and data collected by yourself. You can use different sources of aerial imagery, but using them could lead to outdated data being added, since aerial imagery can be several years old, and since our surroundings (especially urban ones) are changing basically on a daily basis, it’s better to use aerials only if you must. There are much better sources of data, with one of the best being your own memory.

If you know an area pretty well you can use your memory as the data source. For instance, you can add simple stuff like POI (points of interests) such as cafes, clubs, fast food restaurants, hotels, petrol stations, or any other kind of businesses, tourist attractions, historic places, or any other place that could be of interest to someone. If for instance, a new building rose in your neighborhood you can add it too. There’s a ton of different features that can be added, you can check them out at Map Features page on the OpenStreetMap website.

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It is important to know that, even though you can change the map all by yourself, it is best to contact other local mappers before making any changes. You can contact local mappers quite easy, all you have to do is to find your local OpenStreetMap page by typing OpenStreetMap and then the name of your country, or your state if living in the US. For instance, if you search for Australian OSM community, you’ll get the address of the Australian OSM community, and then you can contact local mappers by clicking on users tab and then selecting the list of users residing in your state, like the list of users in New South Wales of in Victoria. Some users will post different ways of contacting them, like their email address, but some won’t have that sort of info on their user pages.

Local OSM communities usually use mailing lists as the main source of communication. Just go to this page and there you’ll find a list containing all the public mailing list featured on the OSM site. There are mailing lists for most countries so you’ll be able to contact contributors near you and discuss making changes with them. And remember, if you can’t find a mailing list for your local area or state, just try searching for it on the OSM site. We couldn’t find the California mailing list but after we typed OpenStreeMap California in the search box a detailed page came out along with a list of counties. Also, there’s a list containing all territory based mapping projects, you can visit by clicking on this link. The list contains all regional projects so you can find the one you need quite easy.

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Okay, now that we explained how you can contact other local contributors – very important for all those who want to become active contributors and make changes to the OSM map – it is now time to show you different data collection techniques that can be used for getting map data.

The simplest way of collecting data is the good old pen and paper technique. With it, you can draw maps along with different POIs, roads, streets along with street names, and other details. The technique is very cheap and best for beginners, especially those living in areas that aren’t mapped in detail.

On the other hand, if you live in an already mapped area, but still want to contribute by adding new data – like a new underground passage not featured on the current OSM map of your area – it is better to use a combination of preprinted map and pencil. This way you’ll see which data is already entered (like street names, roads, some POI) and then just mark new data that should be added. Although it doesn’t seem like a precise technique, using preprinted map is great because the map is already there, so all you have to do is mark new POI, new labels, and other changes directly on the map; not manually mapping and at the same time marking POIs and creating new labels.

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Aside from using pen and paper or pen and a preprinted map, there are other ways of collecting data. You can use satnav tracelog, collecting map data with the help of GPS receiver. For this, you’ll need a GPS receiver and a computer needed for transferring the data. The technique is relatively accurate and a great help when using pen and paper. You can use a built-in GPS receiver found on most smartphones, or a standalone satnav receiver. Advantages of standalone GPS receivers are better accuracy and longer recording time (the battery will die out in a matter of hours when using smartphones for GPS tracking).

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If you still want to use your smartphone, there are lots of different GPS recording apps available for Android OS that can be used for collecting data. You can find them all here, but we recommend using OSMTracker for Android or Mapillary app available both for Android and iOS. Both apps are easy to use and free for download. Mapillary is used for taking images. For instance, you can make a panorama of interesting POIs (such as tourist attractions, monuments, historic places, or something else) and make street view images, while you walk or drive.

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If you have a laptop you can collect data and upload it at the same time. Just make sure you have a full battery and other equipment needed for connecting the phone or a GPS receiver with a computer.

The best way of collecting data is combining different techniques. You can use preprinted map along with a GPS receiver, a camera and a computer allowing you to get new data, upload POI images, make changes to the map, add new POIs and/or features, all while on the field.
Of course, there are some complex techniques not meant to be used by amateurs like photogrammetry, where multiple images of an object are taken in order to extract the geometry of the object. This requires expensive equipment, lots of knowledge and lots of time making photogrammetry just too complex technique to be used by mapping newbies.

After you finish collecting data and are happy with your data it is time to use it to edit the OSM map and to tag new features. The editing part is easier than it might look, and we will get in-depth about it in our next article.