Digital volunteering

Volunteering is something that’s close to my heart – the act of doing something that will benefit others, and often yourself too. After all, you can’t just give away hug, you receive one too!

One volunteering activity online is Open Street Map:

Open street map (OSM) is an open source map service where volunteers work with updating points of interest and other map data. By gathering and importing map data from various agencies worldwide, they provide a wiki-style process of making a map database. (, 2016b)

Help when needed

I like open street map for the details everyone can contribute with, which can help in so many situations. During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, medical personell was greatly helped by volunteers that added small roads, rivers and buildings to the maps so that the medical help could navigate. Compare the maps from Google maps and OS map of Guéckédou, Guinea, close to where the epidemic started. (Aarvik, 2015) Several types of volunteer work like this, available in times of great humanitarian need, are organised online. (, 2016)


Image: Maps of Guéckédou, Guinea. Open street map on the left, Google maps on the right. Source: screenshots from the respective webpages.

Quality control:

The more useful a tool is, the greater the risk of wrong information is. OSM has automatic quality assurance based on rules and data analysis as well as users manually reporting errors. Considering the amount of active contributors, personally I consider OSM more reliable than Google maps that might be slower in updating. (, 2016a)

There are various tools for quality assurance, but a user named Simone F. created a script to combine several for usability reasons. The code is also open source, following the general theme here, and is available on GitHub. (F., 2015)

The script is freely downloadable to anyone, the current version being 0.6.2. This script features things like favourite zones – as a user, you shouldn’t focus on fixing the whole world map. Rather, you should zoom in to only download the errors within a certain area and follow up on those found by the script.


If a user finds an error within a map, they can create a specific waypoint file and ask a local user to double check this area. The script will show a description of the error and download the affected object from the map. It downloads in increments of 100, some falling outside the favourite area and some not, so the users are encouraged to download, fix some, then try to download again to received new. This way they can be sure to eliminate all errors in an area.


Image: Showing downloaded errors within map squares. Source: (, 2015)

The highlighted area is marked as a favourite – because of the shape, the script downloads the whole square tile. After fixing some errors (red), the user can once more request all errors and might receive new ones in the highlighted area to fix. Source: (, 2015)

The script supports a combination of these quality assurance tools:

  • OSM Inspector (partly) – a debugging tool by Geofabrik. Layers of the map can be shown to the user, each showing specific detail, highlighting the errors.
  • KeepRight – automatic rules to detect warnings of multiple nodes on the same spot, missing max speed, unknown language error and missing track type information. The planet is split into ca 85 areas called “schemas”. When processing a file, it will download incrementally all differences since the last update. It’s using SQL and Java for the scripts. (Keepright, 2016)
    Image: Example of Keep Right’s error tracking – missing data or erroneous data. Source: (, 2015)

  • Osmose – written in Python, checks for various categories of errors and provides a heat map.
  • Errori OSM Italia Grp – not much info, presumably particularly made for Italy.
  • Housenumbervalidator – double checks that the house numbers make sense and are not duplicate.
  • Opening hour’s validator – not much info available, presumably does what the naming says.

As you can see, the volunteers have many tools for checking the validity of data and metadata. So while there are computerized checks, a human should approve or reject for quality control. In some cases, data is missing and the user will be able to correct the information.

Want to use open street map? It’s useful for you too!

I will recommend an app me and my friends have used for years: CityMaps2Go (iPhone +Android). It’s a free app, I think you can purchase some in-app options but it’s a long time since I did so, if I ever did. It’s been useful for so many years that whatever small fee there once was, it’s been worth it. We originally used it because Google maps could not be downloaded offline – now, some maps in some countries can. However, I prefer CityMaps2Go because you can download guides and information from wiki’s, user inputs, for free. Download maps of the area you will visit and they stay offline on your device until you delete them. No roaming fees necessary. It’s a great wiki collaborative!



F., S. (2015) simone-f / qat_script [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 31.08.2016).

Keepright. (2016) Data Consistency Checks for [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 31.08.2016). (2015) Quality Assurance Tools Script [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 31.08.2016).

Aarvik, P. (2015) ‘Den digitale dugnaden / The Digital Volunteer Work (Own translation from Norwegian)’ Bergens Tidende Newspaper, Kronikk (21.07.2015), [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 29.08.2016). (2016a) Quality Assurance – Open Street Map [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 29.08.2016). (2016b) Why OpenStreetMap? – OpenStreetMap Wiki [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 29.08.2016). (2016) Standby Task Force, a humanitarian link [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 29.08.2016).