Humanity, Geography, GIS, and Open Data

... and why this matters for all of us!

So, I join OpenStreetMap (OSM) recently (on Wednesday, 2015-10-28)... And I was immediately excited by the possibilities of using the power of OSM and Open Data to create / edit / maintain and otherwise power digital maps. Effective mapping of the world at large for all of us is rarely a solo effort. It requires the collaboration of many communities, individuals, and you too if you wish to help. Even better, if Open Source might be part of the picture too then, we can all benefit together!

You see, many years ago... I studied Geography and GIS in my first & second goes at college / university. We used ArcInfo (or ARC/INFO) and ArcView GIS (GIS tools from Esri). At the time, however, the concept of open source was never mentioned, or I didn't hear it mentioned anyway. I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense to me now since I wasn't studying computer science.

That said, I am grateful to have been exposed to ArcInfo (or ARC/INFO) in particular. Due to the nature of this GIS, I had to develop some proficiency in the Fortran programming language. I don't remember which version of ArcInfo we used in my first course, but I do remember that I was hooked. Learning Fortran, though I have almost zero proficiency in it today, was extremely liberating for me. At this point, my personal interests began to shift from GIS to computer programming (including other real-(life|world) things) and open source (and openness) became particularly interesting to me.

I distinctly remember the computer lab where the SGI O2 workstations (running IRIX) lived. This was the lab we used for ArcInfo. I was fond of the workstation whose name was Kreechta, and this was also the name of a Ferengi starship from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fond memories for me, indeed! :^)

Six or more years passed where I didn't have any GIS exposure. Then, I found that I was feeling a GIS hole in my heart. Yet, there was no way I could use any of the Esri GIS tools at that time. The one bad thing about them for me is that they are / were closed source and cost a lot of money that I didn't have. But I was running open source operating systems on my computing machinery...

In any case, about six years ago, I found GRASS GIS and QGIS, which are open source. I remember seeing some mention that Esri's ArcGIS might be open source or something, but I was apparently mistaken about that. No worries, there's always GRASS GIS and QGIS!

So then, what exactly does this have to do with OpenStreetMap (OSM)? Well, open source and open data are the same thing in my mind. They're not really the same, but there are certain commonalities and synergies between the two. They work together for me, in the same way that closed source and closed data do. Either way, I'll choose open over closed any day.

I support openness all the way, both in source & data form! It's one of these things that's black and white for me. Now, in the data sense, OpenStreetMap (OSM) == Open. Google Maps == Closed. Apple Maps == Closed. Now, I might be wrong in my interpretation. Either way, perhaps someone could be kind enough to let me know whether I'm wrong or not.

But at the end of the day, I choose OpenStreetMap (OSM) as the winner... Because nobody owns my location but me!

What do you think?

Cheers & Pax! :^)


  1. I updated this post on Tuesday, 2015-11-03. It felt incomplete to me. So, I fixed that.