Visualizing the crowd behind OpenStreetMap

The crowdsourced OpenStreetMap project is influenced by a host of local and nonlocal actors ranging from data importers, to bots, to paid editors, to “armchair mappers”. These diverse influences are difficult to discern from the flattened map on, therefore I have developed and implemented a geovisual analytics tool called Crowd Lens for OpenStreetMap that helps examine the collective and individual influences of the OSM contributor crowd in a given place.

Crowd Lens for OpenStreetMapCrowd Lens reveals the size of the crowd behind OSM and how this fluctuates across different map extents. It uses small multiple maps to visualize each contributor’s piece of the crowdsourced whole, and links OSM features with the free-form commit messages supplied by their contributors. I focus this tool on small cities in multiple continents to show that outside major urban areas, OSM is still often influenced by just a handful of local contributors whose work is supplemented by a much larger crowd of digital “passers by” submitting fixes and imports from other places. These findings are potentially useful to institutions deliberating OSM’s fitness for use in different contexts, as well as researchers studying crowdsourced projects in general.

Try Crowd Lens

Demo video

Read more

Quinn, S. D., & MacEachren, A. M. (2017). A geovisual analytics exploration of the OpenStreetMap crowd. Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 0(0), 1–16. [PDF (Author’s accepted version)]