Mapper of the Month: LivingWithDragons (UK)
01.03.2023 - Pierre Parmentier
His homepage and his contribution page.
Hello Gregory! Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello, I’m Gregory Marler. I’ve done a lot of mapping, mainly in the North East of England. The community is fantastic so I love to celebrate how we share data, skills, and knowledge. This means you may have heard me shout ‘Maps!’ to get everyone’s attention when it’s time for the conference to start.
How and when did you get to know OpenStreetMap?
Back in 2006, before smartphones existed, I was looking for reasons to justify buying a GPS besides geocaching. A bit later OpenStreetMap got nominated for an award hosted by my employer so I wrote a short blog post about it. Then in 2007 I moved to a new city from Durham, this is when I created my Living With Dragons blog1 to document using no maps but the one I contributed to. There was a lot of exploring and a lot of learning, geocaching became a former hobby of mine.
How do you use OpenStreetMap?
Now the basics are so well mapped, it’s natural habit to go to the website or open OsmAnd when I want a map to navigate or help visualise where people are talking about. As I recently got a moped my OsmAnd settings have been tweaked to make the route planning more optimal. Of course I still use OpenStreetMap as a muse for exploring, heading to places that look interesting or that would be good to map better, even just going for a walk on well mapped paths but ones that go past a couple of notes.
What kind of contributor are you and in which area do you map?
The top source, HDYC2, labels my account as a ‘Great Mapper’ but in over 15 years there’s definitely been various seasons of my contributions. The number of my edits isn’t as great as it used to be, and County Durham now has several passionate contributors. I’m looking at getting back to sharing the message of why OpenStreetMap is so important and finding ways to invite new people into our community. As mentioned, I contributed a bit by blogging but in recent years that got taken over by my Mapper Diaries3 videos. A lot of time goes into the content their, so I’m currently seeing how much I’ll continue it.
What are you mapping? Do you have a specialisation?
What I’m mapping varies all the time, and there’s much fun in seeing something you want mapped but don’t yet know the tags to use. I’ve often focused on footpaths along with their benches, gates/stiles, barriers, and features that help confirm you’re where you think you are. The thrill of spotting a newly-built housing estate pushes me to make our map the most up-to-date but I also wish the surrounding streets to get just as much map love. The one thing I don’t specialise in is house numbers, I try to do complete that mapping but I’m slow at it and the computer-based side can be so boring.
What is your greatest achievement as mapper?
My biggest claim is that ‘I put Durham on the map… literally’ and I suppose there’s an achievement in surveying all the roads and most of the paths within two miles of the city centre before anyone else joined or before we had any aerial imagery we could use. I have lots of individual nodes and ways that bring me joy when I remember it was me that got them on the map. This could be cliché, but my greatest achievement is a joint-work with all contributors and results in seeing that our project has grown up so much, I no longer have to argue ‘if people use the map, more will contribute and fix it’. Instead millions view the map even if they don’t know, and we have many contributors to match.
Why are you mapping? What motivates you?
Originally I was motivated by imaging how the data could be used if it existed. I found it so fun to explore places and share what I found with others. OpenStreetMap also uncovered a love of maps in myself, it’s a so wonderful to see the map changing and to explore places digitally before or after exploring them in person.
Do you have any ideas to expand the OpenStreetMap community, to motivate more people to contribute?
Keep talking about what you do. Tell your friends about the cool thing you discovered, share links of awesome mapping people have done or ways in which they’ve used the map. Keep on with it, even if your friends are fed up because you always have something to say about the maps. Ignore when they mock you because you don’t know the symbols of a single-map they use, and remind them that it’s great to use different map styles because it’s the data that really matters!
Do you have contact with other mappers?
I have friends that I’ve made through OpenStreetMap, although I’m not great at keeping in contact very much. Recently I was visiting a small town and bumped into a mapper at the local supermarket. Generally I keep contact through the conferences, and on Twitter when I’m paying attention to that. Sometimes when I visit a place I like to see who has edit the roads or certain tourist attractions. It’s fun if I recognise the username and have chatted to them in-person, but that’s getting a lot rarer in the UK now.
What is in your view the greatest strength of OpenStreetMap?
The open-ended tags have been the greatest strength of OpenStreetMap and continue to be how it stands out from other data sources. This leads to different subject-uses of the data, but also invites different people and different interests to join in the contributing. There’s lots of other great strengths of OpenStreetMap, I think about five core ones, but I can do a whole talk or blog on that as an introduction to the project and why the name is so limiting.
What are the largest challenges for OpenStreetMap?
There’s lots of challenges of the project, and lots of people will have their opinion as to which is the largest. This in it’s self is a challenge but think we need to avoid that bogging us down. I see the detail and the diversity of the data continually bringing up new challenges and bigger hurdles to solving while keeping everyone happy. The editing tools need to remain simple yet there are so many points to load and dimensions to visualise. It becomes more and more unusual that a mapper needs to see absolutely everything, but what do we hide when it could be important or could be connected to what they change?
How to do stay on top of news about OpenStreetMap?
I’m terrible at keeping on top of news so when I have the time I of course read through weeklyOSM and see what interesting stuff I should know about or focus on. The OpenStreetMap subreddit picks up a few discussions at times, and the tag on Instagram gives me a bit of joy when well-mapped places are shared.
To conclude, is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
Assume everyone is friendly and trying to be nice. Send a message to a fellow contributor if you want to thank them for what they did or discuss something that doesn’t seem right. If there’s a problem then it’s possible they didn’t understand what they did or possible that you misread the tone of their message. Be friendly and nice yourself, an then my assumption of other mappers is less-likely too be wrong.
Thank you, Gregory, for this interview.