Martin Raifer, from Appiano, has quite an unconventional hobby: OpenStreetMap. This involve the creation and completion of online maps. He may update the map with a new ice cream parlour, a newly built bike path or a moved bus stop: it really doesn't matter. As soon as the physics student spots something different in his new hometown of Graz, or at home in Appiano, he inserts it into the digital map of OpenStreetMap (OSM), a cartography service. Why? Well, there are many reasons.
Martin, how did you find out about OpenStreetMap?
Thanks to mountain biking. I had been looking for an ideal map because the printed or digital maps you find are, more often than not, quite inaccurate. I was lacking different information, for example if a certain route had a fountain with drinkable water or somewhere I could find to fill up on water. Information which is essential to mountain biking. I came across OpenStreetMap visiting different online information portals which mentioned it.
Love at first sight?
Yes…and no. I felt head over heels in love with the idea...but I must confess, I was a bit of a sceptic at the beginning. I thought the project was too ambitious. Especially because as I clicked on the blank South Tyrol map, all that appeared was the A22 motorway and a couple of streets and villages. I did not follow the project for quite some time. Then, three years ago, I opened it again and was stunned to see the giant steps it had made. I have been using OpenStreetMap ever since.
And was in that moment when you decided to become a mapper yourself?
No, I started mapping quite recently, actually. Before I only used the map, because I found it better and more useful than Google Maps. Then I started adding data to it. I don't map on a daily basis, it depends on the situation. If I'm outside and see a new detail about somewhere, then I will add it later when I'm at home. I also participate regularly at the local OSM meetings in Graz. We exchange ideas on new concepts, give each other advice and talk shop.
At what point is mapping in South Tyrol?
OSM is constantly developing in South Tyrol. In the last six months, between 100 and 200 users have worked on OSM. There is also a South Tyrol community, with its very own mailing list! 25 people are currently on it. An OSM and open data community is slowly coming to light in South Tyrol. A first, big step in this direction was taken by the OpenGISData.eu project, whose aim is to make the Province of Bolzano's geodata accessible for free and implement them in OSM.
An interesting aspect of OSM is also seen in its use during rescue and humanitarian missions in distraught countries. Could you tell us more about that?
There is an OSM project called H.O.T. (Humanitarian OSM Team). Rescue and humanitarian missions are always supported thanks to people mapping the areas affected by a plight, providing them to the victims and rescuers alike. OSM volunteers started mapping Haiti in 2010 right after the earthquake: they mapped destroyed buildings, blocked streets and rescue shelters and a lot more. These OpenStreetMap maps are priceless for these missions, as maps of these areas are either non-existent or badly drawn.
And here comes the 1 million dollar question: why, after so many years, are you still passionate about mapping?
There are many reasons. The motivation behind it is that everyone can create a better map, if not pleased with what's already available. Maybe we would also like to be a bit more independent from Google & Co. But most of all, because it's fun. I can even say that it's addictive. And it's practical. You produce something which will be useful to other people, but at the same you are creative, for practical reasons. Together everyone create something better.