Mapper of the Month: Ben Abelshausen (Belgium)

- escada

Can you introduce yourself?

The last years, my main occupation was OpenstreetMap. I was also one of the co-founders of OpenStreetMap Belgium. I am a self-employed and freelance software developer, usually related to routeplanning.

Furthermore, we love to travel, our daily amusement is often a visit to a pub with some friends or having a nice dinner at a restaurant.

Where and when did you learn about OpenStreetMap?

I needed data about the road network for my job and soon you arrive at OpenStreetMap. This was in 2009 and it did not look realistic at that moment to use OpenStreetMap data, but I was intriged by the concept and in the following years, it proved to be the right choice.

Do you use OpenStreetMap yourself?

I constantly use OpenStreetMap, both for my job and my private life. I never vist a place without an offline map of the region on my smartphone. I use OpenStreetMap daily for my job.

How do you map?

The past few months I have not mapped a lot. I am more of an “armchairmapper”, but I strongly believe in the community, no OpenStreetMap without community. Only individual mappers behind a computer would never work well. From time to time I correct mistakes or small this that are missing that I notice by using the data, but usually I am too late. Occasionally I do some mapping for Missing Maps and Hot, mostly validating tiles.

What do you map?

I do not really have a speciality, but when I have to pick one, it is everything related to road network and transportation. In my early days I also traced a lot of buildings and mapped quite some landuse.

What is your biggest achievement?

That we created a real community in Belgium. At the first meetup we organised in Ghent, only one person showed up. Now, a few years later, we organised the State of the Map!

As far as mapping is concerned, I am glad that I fixed the imported landuse on the Belgian-French border, so that we can further improve this ourselves.

Why do you map?

I am motivated by several aspects. In the first place it’s just fun and it also helps that you know are doing something useful when you add data. When I map for Missing Maps, I am mainly motivated by the humanitarian aspect. For my mapping in Belgium, it helps that the work that I deliver professionally has a better quality.

Everybody in OpenStreetMap has several reasons to map, I have some myself. I believe this is the main reason why this project is so succesfull.

Do you help out with other aspects of OpenStreetMap?

The majority of my OpenStreetMap related activities are “other aspects”. I try to make OSM better known by the public, not only OpenStreetMap, but I try to make open-data better known. Therefore I am part of Open Knowledge Belgium, more specifically, the OpenStreetMap Belgium Working Group

This helped us to organize State of the Map 2016 at the VUB in Brussels. We also organize more meetups en Missing Maps events than ever before and we are also working at a number of new projects. I am also a HOT-member and help out with their activities from time to time.

How can we extend the community? How can we motivate mappers?

All my activities are based on the idea that OSM is the community and that a healthy community is the most important think to focus on.

It’s definetly a good idea to try and make sure everyone feels welcome. Mappers what are personally involved in the project are also by far the best, most productive mappers, both when it comes to mapping itself but also community building. It’s also way easier to make descisions by consensus when people meet in the flesh.

There is still a lot of room for improvement, we can try to involve some of the companies that use OSM, for example by sponsoring OSM-BE or by supporting our activities. At the moment we have no budget at OSM-BE to work with, we could do so much more with a small budget.

What is the biggest strength of OpenStreetMap?

At the risk of repeating myself, but the answer is again the community. I think one of the best things about OSM is the realization that technology is not the answer to every question. OSM data is rich and diverse because we don’t blindly use drones, robots or some fancy algorithms. Our competive advantage is just this. The descision people make about what they map is important and it’s partly because of this OSM won’t be replaced or become obsolete by someone with a big budget.

An important 2nd place, and related to the first, is the fact that OSM is open, you can download the data and you can start doing amazing things. This is not just important just because ‘open’ is always better, without being open we would have less stakeholders that are interested in keeping the map up-to-date, less diversity and less interest in the project. Waze as a counterexample exists for one main goal, profit, or maybe some strategic advantage, OSM has as many goals and motivations as there are mappers. That’s also why discussions about the OSM data license are so important.

What is the biggest challenge for OpenStreetMap?

It’s important to keep the community healthy and divers enough. The biggest challenge is to get together and keep together people of various different backgrounds.

It’s also important to keep some of the stuff that works now, like some measure of freedom and anarchy while still growing to a reliable partner to work with, and I’m talking about OSM-BE specifically now. I belive in a community like we have to with next to it a group like OSM-BE that places itself at the intersection of the community in Belgium and the outside world.

How do you stay up-to-date on OpenStreetMap news?

Via twitter, mailing list, OSM Weekly, OSM diaries, HOT, I read everything. Can’t get enough of everything that’s happening in the OSM community.

Do you have contact with other mappers?

On a regular bases a the events we organize but also via email and the mailing lists. Recently we also have a Riot channel where it’s fun to hang out.

Anything you want to add?

Thanks to all mappers who ever edited the map, who have spoken to someone about OSM or anyone who every helped us organize an OSM related event. Thank you, no OSM without all of you!