I've been an Open Street Map contributor for over a year now and I wanted to write a post talking about what it is and why I love contributing to it.
What is open street map you say? I'm sure you have heard of Wikipedia, a place for the users to edit an online encyclopedia. Well, Open Street Map (OSM) is a wiki for map data where users can map the world. Satellite imagery provided to OSM Bing and Yahoo! maps makes it so you can map based on those images or by taking traces using a GPS. There are also many other ways to map but those are the main two.
Maps have a major impact on our lives. You can't leave your doorstep without know where you are going and how you are going to get there. From GPS navigation to maps at events know where things are makes everyone's life easier.
Why contribute to a map.?
The first reason to map is to get a better sense of the community around you and allows you to contribute to the greater knowledge of your fellow-man. It's sad to me how little people know the world around them and contributing to the map gets you out of your house and discovering wonderful things about your locality. I like to map with the family, it makes a nice outing and the kids have fun getting the information and seeing their work on the map.
The second reason to map is that you need map data that doesn't exist in a way you need. I'm a bike commuter and accurate maps of the trails in Colorado are hard to come by. I love finding new and quicker ways of getting where I need to on my bicycle and OSM gives me a place to put this data and get it from others who share my interests.
Another reason to map is that you need map data that you can use legally for an event, a website ect., and you don't want to pay for the map data. If you are a real estate agent who wants to highlight the amenities around a property you could make legal, free use of the OSM data. If you are a business having an accurate map to your business location is very important and again you can use OSM data for free. So, if you are using the data you might as well spend a little time giving back by adding the address of your business and making sure the locations that are important to you are where they need to be.
Lastly if you have a humanitarian heart you can map to help disaster workers. During the crisis in Hati volunteers as OSM created the most accurate maps available and coordinate disaster relief efforts. Even the us military was using the OSM data. Map data has a huge impact on impoverished areas that don't attract commercial mapping.
So get out there and map, it's fun, it's social and it helps everyone.