Mapper of the Month: Diseret (Belgium)

- Pierre Parmentier


His homepage and his contribution page.

Hello Louis. Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Louis and I contribute to OpenStreetMap under the username Diseret. I study at UCLouvain (Université catholique de Louvain) but I mainly map my region, the Gaume, in the south of Belgium.

How and when did you discover OpenStreetMap?

I don’t remember the details but it must be in 2015-2016. I started consulting OpenStreetMap because I noticed some information that was not included in the other maps. After a while, having understood the participatory side by analogy with Wikipedia, I decided to create an account and to contribute.

How do you use OpenStreetMap?

I use OpenStreetMap almost every time I need a map or need to find a route; through openstreetmap.org if I have a computer and with the OsmAnd application if not.

What kind of contributor are you and in which map area are you?

I mainly map in and around the municipality of Étalle, and where I ride my bike. If I make a modification elsewhere it is to correct an error in the map. I do this directly in JOSM by observing the imagery when it comes to plotting buildings or land use. The other half of the time I write down what I see from my bike and then add it to OpenStreetMap when I get home. In this case it’s more about paths, benches, signs, …

What are you mapping? Do you have a specialisation?

I don’t think I have a specialisation; I add everything that seems to be missing, but I would say that the three most important ones are buildings, forest and country tracks, and finally landuse.

What is your greatest achievement as a contributor?

It is probably to have mapped all the buildings in five or six villages near my home. But I still have a few more to do.

Why are you mapping? What motivates you?

Firstly because I use the map I have mapped directly, and secondly because I consider it relatively important to have free alternatives to the monopoly of Google and others. A map in particular has a great influence on what it describes - it touches closely on the real world. In addition to being a production of knowledge which is by nature decentralised.

Do you have any ideas on how to expand the OpenStreetMap community, to motivate more people to contribute?

It’s a difficult question because the number of OpenStreetMap contributors is very much linked to its popularity as a map, and Google totally dominates the internet search ecosystem. But this is a problem that goes beyond the OpenStreetMap community alone, where a solution would necessarily have to coordinate everyone in the free software world. In the meantime, in my opinion, if we can’t win on a global scale it’s better to focus on local projects. This is in the spirit of OpenStreetMap after all. But honestly I don’t have any concrete solution to give that is not already in place.

Do you have contacts with other contributors?

Not many. I read from time to time the OpenStreetMap Belgium Matrix channel, sometimes I interact, but I am not the most invested in the community.

What is in your view the greatest strength of OpenStreetMap?

As said before, a map is a knowledge production that is always decentralised. A company has to spend fortunes to survey the whole territory, whereas OpenStreetMap does the best quality with almost all of its work on a voluntary basis. To take the example of Wikipedia, no one can imagine that a centralised encyclopedia would be the best solution. That’s because the decentralised model is just much more efficient. So in some areas, once a free project becomes beyond a quality threshold that allows it to compete with the monopolies of large corporations, there is no turning back. This didn’t happen with OpenStreetMap because for most people, any map with streets and addresses is enough, and so what prevails is the default option, the first one in Google’s results. But I am sure that without this kind of monopoly, OpenStreetMap would quickly become the most used map. In a less abstract way, the fact that it doesn’t have a rigid structure that would control the creation of new tags, for example, makes it flexible, and the fact that it isn’t broken down into a multitude of layers helps to take everything into account when you contribute to it.

What is the largest challenge for OpenStreetMap?

Apart from the problem of visibility I think that building communities of local mappers in regions of the world where internet access is not widespread is the biggest challenge. In Western Europe, OpenStreetMap is often already the best map available, but where there are few local contributors the situation is not the same. And there are projects like HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team), but it is not the same as local people with local knowledge who re-appropriate the map and modify it according to their needs.

How to do stay on top of news about OpenStreetMap?

I follow the news of OpenStreetMap Belgium, through the Matrix channel or the website, and occasionally when I come across an article about OpenStreetMap I read it. And I rely on the wiki for the tags of course.

To conclude, is there anything else you want to share with the readers?

Above all, to contribute what you want and to do it at your own pace. Within reason of course. There is no priority list or method to follow. A good map is a map in line with your interests.

Thank you, Louis, for this interview.

Translated from French by Pierre Parmentier