Mapper of the Month: Zverik (Russia)

- Pierre Parmentier

His homepage and his contribution page.

Hello Ilya. Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, I’m Ilya, and I love everything around open maps. I have done a lot of things with OpenStreetMap, including mapping, software, conferences, OpenStreetMap Foundation work, and writing. When I move places, it’s always exciting, because - yay, new area to map! This project is like one unending source of excitement for me, which I really like.
How and when did you get to know OpenStreetMap?
Twelve years ago I was looking for a good free cycling map of Finland, and among the options, the OpenStreetMap-based one was the best. After the ride, I was looking into contributing some fixes to the road network, and it went downhill from there. I had read about OpenStreetMap before that in some tech magazines, but I promptly forgot about it. Nothing beats having a problem and seeing a global map getting better because of your actions.
How do you use OpenStreetMap?
Generally I just like looking at the map, and occasionally plotting bicycle routes. But also I’ve been using OpenStreetMap for my work: geocoding and routing mostly, and tons of data analytics. It always surprises me finding the data I need already on the map.
What kind of contributor are you and in which area do you map?
I’m a collector. Which means, wherever I go, I try to map all of something. E.g. yesterday I was walking around a bog in South Tallinn, and I collected all the information boards, all the benches, and every street lamp. My editing activity has ups and downs: it’s not only mapping you can help OpenStreetMap with.
What are you mapping? Do you have a specialization?
Shops, amenities, and building entrances. Basically everything that Every Door editor makes easier to add. Our map severely lacks points of interest — POI —, so anywhere I go I add or update hundreds of these. Shopping malls are the best for that.
What is your greatest achievement as a mapper?
As a single mapper — collecting 100% of POIs in entire neighbourhoods, e.g. in a large part of Haabersti area in Tallinn. But as a mapper in general — encouraging others and producing tools so that other mappers improve OpenStreetMap much more than I could ever do alone. I’m especially proud of the Every Door editor obviously. It’s a tool that could have been created only by a mapper.
Why are you mapping? What motivates you?
Two things. First, the same as twelve years ago: seeing a publicly available map change for the better from your work is very satisfying. And second, using the data I collect: I consult the map for post office opening hours and obscure shops nearby, and plan bicycle routes over paths I — and others — have surveyed.
Do you have any ideas to expand the OpenStreetMap community, to motivate more people to contribute?
I think it’s time to separate the community from mappers. You won’t call drivers a ‘car community’, or artists a ‘painting community’. They just do things they need or love, without socializing or extra responsibility imposed on them. We have a million mappers, but just thousands individuals in the community. With mapping, it’s pretty straightforward: make the map more useful to people. That’s what corporations are doing for us, and we’re pretty powerless to affect anything here. But with the community, we could improve lots. Most importantly, we’d benefit much from a structure. Documenting stuff and processes, choosing people to have some deciding power — even in tagging. Making the Data Working Group — DWG — a magnitude bigger and branching out. Rewarding people, even with money. Taking the best practices from Google Map Maker and Waze. The ‘horizontal’ structure that OpenStreetMap has now stopped working around eight years ago. There are few people in control, but it’s not codified why or for how long. You just had to be there. I have seen dozens of promising contributors trying to make things objectively better and getting burned by our structure. Time to grow up and start accepting strangers. For that we need to get rid of unwritten rules and ‘it is just how it is’.
Do you have contact with other mappers?
Of course, all of them! I follow the Russian-speaking community on Telegram and forums, everyone else on mailing lists, and I’m always happy to meet mappers at State of the Map conferences. We planned to host a local one in Riga this May 2023! Having moved to Estonia, I’ve already had some disputes about cycleway mapping with locals. There is no community here, just lone mappers, but I hope to raise one, right after I learn the language.
What is in your view the greatest strength of OpenStreetMap?
That it’s a contributor-centered project. Any tags you like, any thing you want on the map — as long as it’s verifiable, go ahead. The freedom is inspiring, so much that it spawned projects like OpenHistoryMap and OpenGeofiction for when you cannot stop mapping. Nobody tells you what to do, meaning you can do anything, and not just mapping. Nobody asks for performance and quantity. Tired and want to have a year-long break? No problem, the map is not going anywhere, come back when you’re rested and ready to collect some more bus stops.
What are the largest challenges for OpenStreetMap?
Capitalism, as funny as it sounds. The expectation of infinite growth — and the inevitable infinite growth itself. The data model starts to show its age, the community is too big to handle, contributions are already impossible to monitor. OpenStreetMap was not made to be used on such a scale, and now, with too much money around the project, we have found ourselves in a position that may challenge our greatest strength.
How to stay on top of news about OpenStreetMap?
WeeklyOSM, OpenStreetMap Diaries, and Twitter. There’s nothing to challenge that. I’d promote my own SHTOSM channels, but these are in Russian. In a few years, I expect the major OpenStreetMap news to be covered in top tech blogs, and maybe even something like 9to5mac, but on OpenStreetMap, might appear. Hopefully we’ll have more drama and rumours in the news!
To conclude, is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
OpenStreetMap is what makes me go out and map. That’s the entire core idea of the project. Leave satellite and street-wise imagery to robots. Go take a walk. Bring StreetComplete and Every Door along. Fresh air is good for you.

Thank you, Ilya, for this interview.