[HOT] contacting local mappers through their OSM accounts during HOT campaigns

Hugh Barnes list.osm at hughbris.com
Sat Mar 12 02:10:24 GMT 2011


This seems to have caused a small storm in #osm on IRC when I mentioned
it, possibly because of my delivery :~). It was my intention to send this
post after I'd composed it tactfully and when I found some time. It seemed
important after the Japanese earthquake to mention it urgently on IRC. In
case anyone is planning on getting offended, please consider this a merely
a suggestion for your consideration :)

It's about the processes for HOT initiatives. I don't know much about
them, but I suspect they can evolve and I can relay a personal anecdote.

I recently moved to one of the worst affected areas of Christchurch (the
town of Lyttelton just outside). I mostly hadn't yet established links with
the OSM community here, but I did check to see if there had been any
meetups (no) and wanted to organise an inaugural one very soon.

Cue violent earthquake, great heartbreaking devastation in my immediate
area …

In the days following the quake (from the next day), I had power,
internet, and a desire to help in anyway I could and also be distracted
from the aftershocks and general horror. I considered what happened in
Haiti and how I had done some tracing along with much greater efforts from
others. It didn't really occur to me that this could be useful in our
situation (there are plenty of good maps available), but I was probably
wrong about that or overlooking some things.

*About a week and half later* I found out that there was new aerial
imagery and the magnificent tracing effort that had happened. Thank you to
everyone that did this (ikiya, LivingWithDragons and others), I can see
that it was a huge piece of work.

I had edited the area as recently as 2 days before the quake. What
disappointed me is that, on this basis, it would have been beneficial to be
contacted about the effort. I could have:

* greatly assisted with the quality of the work (prioritising, checking,
finishing off, getting nonames, etc)
* distributed printed copies of the results, so it could actually be
* encouraged more locals to help, if that would have been useful (there's
a local radio station)
* advised what's standing and what's not
* mapped emergency infrastructure

I am now cleaning up some of the HOT mapping, which I don't resent, but it
makes me question how useful this kind of rough mapping is when there are
more accurate sources like Google Maps. I wouldn't normally describe Google
Maps as accurate, either. It also would have been easier to clean up while
it was being mapped and even prevent a lot of the "mistakes" from imagery.
For the record, I am talking about things like driveways mapped as
residential streets.

And at the end of the day, no-one on the ground, of all the people
doorknocking and at the community recovery centre, was using these maps. I
think I would have noticed if they were.

So, in addition to the other notifications that happen (lists, "tweets"),
it would also be advantageous to message, through OSM's messaging system,
all users who have made edits recently. (It might also be useful to message
to !osm on identi.ca, to which I subscribe.)

I have heard two reasonable counter-arguments to contacting recent editors
through their OSM accounts:
* we'll be messaging lots of bots (my response: so what?)
* no-one on the ground in these situations is thinking about mapping, they
are dealing with more important issues (response: not in my case, and I
probably wouldn't even be checking email if my situation was that dire, nor
would I resent a simple notification like this)

I suggest that such notifications can probably be done automatically. If
there are spam/legal considerations, user accounts could contain a checkbox
that "I am happy to be notified of emergency mapping activity in areas I've
mapped or near my home location". If that's not as trivial as I think,
maybe just request that HOT mappers/tracers should take a minute to
manually message any recent editors they notice in areas they map. We could
even provide a template. The potential payoff makes this worth that minute,

It's been said that I should have been subscribed to certain lists if I
wanted to know what's going on. Well, yes, I've done that but found the
signal:noise ratio drove me to ignore messages and I quit them. I don't
think it's my obligation to be on the lists to participate in the OSM
community. But most importantly, I am just suggesting *another* way to
contact potentially helpful parties. Keep doing the list announcements and

Yes, I probably was a bit ditzy not to find out about the mapping
offensive off my own bat.

There may also be value in finding community groups, websites (including
the dreaded Facebook), and media (radio stations) if we are not already
doing that. It might reveal a local that wants to work hand-in-hand with
the tracers.

I hope this is all useful information.

All the very best with the Japan work. This is the current priority and I
sincerely hope OSM can make a positive contribution.


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