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Improving the OpenStreetMap Profile Page for more Social Interaction

Published in Design, Maps, OpenStreetMap

A few weeks ago at the OpenStreetMap Hack Weekend that we hosted at the GeoIQ offices a small group of us chose to focus our time revamping the user profile page. Our goal is to improve the engagement of new as well as long-time users. There is a large number of new OSM members that have no, or a single, edit. Through the community the best way to engage users is to locally run parties and collaborate to improve their local areas.

Mikel recently shared his own thoughts and wish list in terms of making OpenStreetMap more social. A public community of 500,000 members should feel pretty vibrant to the world. And there is no shortage of incredible engagement among the numerous mailing lists, wikis, projects, IRC chats, meet ups, conferences, and general social media interactions.

OpenStreetMap | ajturner-1.pngOpenStreetMap | ajturner-1-1.png

Currently, the profile page includes a lack of very much information. Basic information on when I joined, when I accepted the new terms, and an optional description of myself. There is little to no information on my activity, contributions I’ve made over the years, groups I’m work with such as MappingDC, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. That I have been active in mapping areas in New Zealand, Kenya, UK, and very active and located in Washington, DC. Arguably the page is nearly useless.

When signed in I can see some more information such as all mappers nearby me but the interface is a bit lackluster and not really useful for connecting with people or seeing recent edits I may be interested in seeing and updating.

OpenStreetMap user statistics.pngCompare that with Richard Weait’s project where you can visualize the contributions, types of editors, activity, and more. While the data are arguably merely interesting it at least provides a measure of my engagement that I can be use for my own information and remind me to help out more, or provide others insight into my experience and where I might be able to offer help to others or receive help to become a better mapper.

Goals and Inventory

OpenStreetMap | test-2.png

As a group we derived an overall goals of what the issues are and what might be possible. We posted our “UI Inventory” on the OSM Wiki to share some of our thought process.

A primary goal of the weekend was to really just get my hands into the code, understand the structure and get experience through implementing some new features. The platform is built in Ruby on Rails, so it’s fortunately very familiar to other projects I help develop.

Within two days we made a good first pass development of a new page that cleans up some of the general display, highlighting some of the user’s statistics. More prominently we brought out a “Stream of activities” the member has done such as written an diary (blog) entry, contributed a map edit, or friended someone. These are still a bit preliminary but laid the ground work for bringing forth more activities in order to convey to visitors about the user’s contributions and also for the user themselves to see and reflect on their efforts.

We’re early in this process, primarily sketching out ideas and improving some simple features and issues with the pages. If you would like to share your input, leave a comment or join the mailing list.

Innies and Outies – Map Sidebars

Published in Cartography, Maps

This morning MapQuest launched their US support of OpenStreetMap at In playing with the interface, I noticed how MapQuest added a tab at some point for showing and hiding the sidebar of search results and other associated design choices and differences.

MapQuest uses an “Outie” tab (highlighted in the screenshot below). The design choice was clearly to make it very explicit for users to show and hide the sidebar as it protrudes into the map interface. The pan and zoom controls are on the right-hand side, so when you toggle the sidebar, the controls stay in the same location. Another interesting aspect is how the map resizes. In MapQuest, the same geographic center and extents remain in the screen center – so as the sidebar closes the map shifts to the left and expands slightly.

Search Results | Mapquest-2.jpg  Search Results | Mapquest-1.jpg

Curious about how this varies, I checked in Google Maps. They chose to be much more subtle about their sidebar toggle. It is an “innie” that is subtly hidden within the header. Closing the sidebar turns the selection to an “outie”, but still remains out of the way in the header. A particularly interesting decision is that the map remains in the same location – so the zoom pan controls move but new areas of the map are exposed. So while the user doesn’t have a context shift (points on the map remain in the same area of the screen) the map now needs to be recentered so that the focus area can be kept in the center.

Zoo, Washington, DC - Google Maps-2.jpg Zoo, Washington, DC - Google Maps-1-1.jpg  

Lastly, looking at Bing maps it’s a bit of a hybrid between the two. The sidebar tab is in the header like Google, but hiding the sidebar re-centers the map like MapQuest. The controls in Bing are in the header, so they don’t need to shift when the sidebar is toggled. What’s perhaps a little confusing is there is also an “X” close button next to the sidebar tab that clears the search results. It’s not really clear why you would want to clear results – and instead there should be an option to go back to the “table of contents” or similar concept that shows simple links for directions and more.

Bing Maps.jpg

Much like the emergence of Pan-Zoom bars have become the defacto standard in web mapping interfaces – the sidebar has also become nearly ubiquitous. So it’s interesting to see the slight variations as interaction designers experiment with what users will find easy to understand.

Temporary Mapping – Solar Decathlon

Published in Maps, OpenStreetMap

This week on the DC National Mall there is the 2009 Solar Decathlon. It’s a contest between 20 student groups from around the world that build, on the mall, sustainable, energy efficient, and modern houses. The competition measures their efficiency, quality, resource usage, and design. It’s a one week miny village.

OpenStreetMap Solar Decathlon

So of course, like any village, it needed to be mapped. I went down Saturday afternoon and captured the locations and names of all the buildings and paths that will be up for the week. These are then loaded into OpenStreetMap with start_date and end_date tags that notify the renderer when the features should be visible. It’s a similar model to how Burning Man is mapped year after year as it walks along the Black Rock Desert.

It’s ephemeral mapping – objects that exist in real place, but just for small slices of time. Important as any other building, yet typically relegated to flyers or verbal descriptions.

The fascinating part of projects like this is that OpenStreetMap allowed me to create a map that was useful and immediate. Within minutes of uploading the data, it was available as rendered tiles, vector data, and downloadable to GPS units and iPhones. People on the mall could immediately view the local map with this new information.

It’s a nice demonstration of how community projects like OpenStreetMap will continue to innovate faster, and more openly, then other ‘crowd-sourcing’ options.

Election night at NPR

Published in Maps

Andrew at NPRI was lucky enough to be invited to enjoy the US 2008 election night at NPR main headquarters in Washington, DC.

Of course, within minutes of walking in I started getting feature requests from reporters and bloggers. One of these was the ability to easy page through reports by state (hint:

We did our best to get a quick web-based map visualization up that would be usable by a large number of people with basic browsers. This limited the number of markers to 200 (one reason we chose to use Flash for our current rendering tool). However, one way of addressing this was to offer a KML file that works very well in GoogleEarth for large sets of markers. Here are the 10,000 reports as of this evening.


Another feature we snuck in recently are some simple statistics on the number and time of reports today at


To close out this post – we searched the database to pull up this great audio report by keema: – I highly suggest you listen to it.

Gustav as iteration in Social DisasterTech

Published in Maps

Like a good geo geek I spent my “holiday” digging fast and deep to contribute to the community around providing information assistance and monitoring around Gustav’s path through Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Louisiana. The result was a quick prototype map:

There were several issues at hand – one was the lack of available, accessible data. I started adding data sources to the wiki page, and when available uploaded them to GeoCommons Finder! tagged ‘gustav’. Sean offers great reasons on the importance of data sharing (and some more really great previews of Maker!).

Ed shares his thoughts on the overall experience and also questions the impact? Having spoken often with people such as Jesse Robbins and Mikel on their work in helping out in disaster response technology development and deployment the primary lesson I’ve picked up is: iterate.

Of course, Gustav fading out does not mean everything is clear and over. New Orlean citizens are still not supposed to come back into the city, there are still major power outages, and there was already a huge amount of work continuing from the Katrina recovery. There has been a marked neglect of public assistance on non-US regions such as Cuba and the DR. In addition, there are more storms coming up this season – so make sure and pitch in to help out if you can.