Mapper of the Month: Can Ünen (Turkey)

- Marc Gemis

Can Ünen username: unen

Who are you?

I’m a university lecturer in Istanbul, with a B.Sc. in civil engineering and a Ph.D. in geomatics. I’m the chairman of board and one of the founding members of Yer Çizenler (a made up term not used daily in Turkish, directly translating to “geographers”), an association for everyone who wants to learn how to map in OpenStreetMap, contribute to the map by joining millions worldwide, and utilize user generated open geospatial data in humanitarian context in Turkey. I was also Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team’s (HOT) country manager for Turkey, during Yer Çizenler’s partnership with HOT for “Crowdsourcing Non-Camp Refugee Data Through OpenStreetMap” project until June 2018. My OSM username is unen.

Missing Maps Mapathon with MSF Turkey

Missing Maps Mapathon with MSF Turkey

I have a hobby to take up hobbies for some time and leave them lying around, fooling myself that I’ll pick them back up sometime. You should see my sailless model ship. I’m riding a motorbike consistently for 4 years, and homebrewing my beer for 3; so I think it’s safe to say they are my hobbies.

When and how did you discover OpenStreetMap?

I discovered OpenStreetMap back in 2012 while I was a research assistant and a Ph.D. student in Istanbul Technical University, thanks to a close friend following the open source movement. He told me about this online, crowdsourced, open collaborative map where its users contribute building the map. Maybe not immediately, but I got increasingly interested in the system over time.

What do you map? Is there any difference with your early days?

In the early days, I was rarely active and was digitizing mainly the places I lived or worked in an on and off sense (remember the hobbies section above?). I was rarely using tags, and was mainly sticking to adding geometries. Now I see myself more mature as a mapper and finding it easier to admit that sometimes I don’t have a clue how to tag a feature and the community standards may not always agree with my intuitive tagging. I’m referring to the wiki almost every time now, and I recommend doing the same for everybody just to be sure.

Don't be like that

Don’t be like that.

How do you map?

I’m both doing armchair mapping and field data collector. There are still lots of objects missing from the map, so there are always buildings to trace, or geometries to fix in Turkey. For casual use in the field, I’m mostly using StreetComplete for Android to tag unnamed streets. For Yer Çizenler’s data collection efforts, we utilized OpenDataKit, OpenMapKit, and Field Papers on the field during numerous campaigns.

I’ve also started playing around with Mapillary in the past months. It first started out of curiosity while thinking of ways to validate the correctness and accuracy of field data. First, I walked around the block using the mobile app to get acquainted with it and see how it would turn out, then using an HD action cam and a GPX logger app on my mobile phone, I rode along some streets where we had performed field data collection on service point locations.

Vroom Vroom Vroom vroom

Now we’re planning to utilize this method on our field activities in the future in order to reduce the time spent on the field compared to direct digitization on the field. The acquired imagery would be used for digitization by more experienced mappers after the field campaign, we won’t be needing verification and validation efforts post digitization, and there will be a by-product of up-to-date, high quality street level imagery for the places we work on.

Where do you map? Locally, HOT?

I map locally, for HOT :)

What is your biggest achievement as mapper?

My Ph.D in geomatics would be my personal personal highlight, and I’m thinking my biggest achievement for the OSM community has yet to happen still.

As Yer Çizenler, we are aiming to extend the Turkish user base, make more and more people take part in community mapping activities, help NGOs in the humanitarian field use open geospatial data in interagency coordination and communication in Turkey. If these can be achieved and Yer Çizenler can become the community hub for OSM users in Turkey, then I can talk about achievements.

Why do you map? What motivates you?

I just enjoy maps and spatial data. I like to visualise a place in my mind and imagine browsing around from map. I enjoy spatial modelling and display. I like earthly matters, mainly. I didn’t question it further.

What is the most difficult part of mapping?

Finding reliable satellite imagery for Istanbul to trace features. The city is constantly changing, and is like a big construction site, so most of imagery layers have become out-of-date. And the more up-to-date imagery sets don’t have enough resolution for digitising in dense urban environments. This is a difficulty we’re facing as mappers of Istanbul.

Another personal difficulty is the correction of mistagging of existing data. Novice users with too much self confidence or with little care for the data standards have made very creative contributions in the past and I encountered them as little side quests on the map while doing casual traces or data validation for Yer Çizenler. They generally cause delays on my initial task, as I cannot leave them uncorrected most of the times.

What are your mapping plans for the near future?

I’m planning to reach out to university students with the support of colleagues from other universities through Yer Çizenler to incorporate OSM and use of open geospatial data more and more in future academic activities, hoping to extend the OSM user base of Turkey with young and technically capable people. We are also planning to have at least one complete and accurate layer (preferably the road network) which would significantly help to increase the use of OSM in Turkey.

Do you use OpenStreetMap yourself? How?

I am teaching GIS and Geomatics courses at the university, and the end-of-term assignment in the course is to sign up to OSM and contribute to the map wherever they want. It can be the place they live, their hometowns, or it can be through HOT tasks. I log the user activities until the end of the term, and they are graded accordingly. I also compare my performance during the assignment with the class, giving full grades to the ones outperforming me in number of edits. I’m not setting the bar too high for them, I promise.

Advocating OSM and trying to persuade people and organisations on the upsides of OSM, and open geospatial data and VGI in general. It’s hard to gain more supporters in the city where you already have three content-rich and accessible map services (Google, Apple, Yandex). So at least one good, complete layer such as the road network stated above would help a lot for OSM activities to pick up speed, hopefully.

To conclude, is there anything else you want to mention?

Check the wiki.

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