[OSM-talk] Some thoughts against remote mapping

Christoph Hormann chris_hormann at gmx.de
Sat Jun 13 17:09:57 UTC 2015

On Saturday 13 June 2015, Frederik Ramm wrote:
> [...]
> I don't agree with everything written in these postings but they
> certainly deserve some wider audience, and that's why I am writing
> this here - since neither author is on these lists and I haven't seen
> their messages mentioned or quoted anywhere.
> I think the tl;dr of both these postings could be: "Whenever you give
> someone a map by remote mapping, you also take something away from
> them."

Thanks for pointing to these texts, very interesting reading.

I fear though that critical discussion of the matter will most likely be 
difficult since the perceived need for humanitarian mapping in events 
of crisis and the perceived prominence of altruistic motives in those 
activities is so large making even the basic notion that something good 
does not justify something bad seems unimportant.  Critical reflection 
on your activities in such a context is very difficult.

One important point where i think Gwilym is wrong is the idea that 
proactive humanitarian mapping will lead to a true homogenization of 
the map.  First of all none of the organized mapping activities 
focusses on those areas that are worst mapped in OSM so they increase 
differences rather than reducing them.  Efforts in true homogenization 
would only have a chance on a much longer time horizon (i.e. decades) 
and none of the organizations involved in humanitarian mapping think on 
that time scale.

But more importantly the colonalization, control and "power over space" 
is already there in the form of global coverage high resolution 
imagery.  Remote mapping essentailly makes this information more 
accessible.  If this is a good or a bad thing can of course be 
discussed but OSM is not really the best address to blame here in any 

This is not meant to say remote mapping in OSM is generally a good 
thing, many of the arguments against it have a lot of merit.  But the 
main question should be if and how this hampers development of true 
grassroots mapping by locals when performed within OSM and thereby 
conteracts the primary purpose of the project and not if remote mapping 
itself, i.e. extracting semantic information from remotely sensed data 
that exists anyway is morally questionable in general (which is fairly 
frivolous IMO).

And i think there are a lot of other areas in OSM that represent at 
least as efficient (and therefore damaging) means of cultural 
imperialism as remote mapping.  My favorite example is always map 
rendering, there is a real lot of more or less subtle cultural bias in 
that.  OSM does not only need more mappers with diverse cultural 
backgrounds, it also need more diverse input in development and design 
and the barriers for those are much higher than for mapping.

Christoph Hormann

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