Saturday, July 31, 2010

Smallworld and OpenStreetMap #swuc

Lately I have become very interested in the possibilities of integrating data from (aka OSM) with Smallworld. You can find out more about the mission of OSM at, but in summary…

“OpenStreetMap creates and provides free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them. The project was started because most maps you think of as free actually have legal or technical restrictions on their use, holding back people from using them in creative, productive, or unexpected ways.” (

Think of OSM as Wikipedia but on a world-wide geographic database. I am presenting at this year’s Smallworld Americas Users Conference in September a presentation entitled “Let other people maintain your landbase (without having to pay them)”. It will be a discussion of some options available to Smallworld users to get out of the landbase maintenance business. Most of it will be centered around OpenStreetMap and how you can integrate that freely available data as a Smallworld data layer (both raster and vector data). The session will be in the last time slot of the conference on Saturday, so if you are interested in the topic but cannot attend the presentation, please let me know and I will send you the slides.

As an example of OSM data, if you are a utility that has Bakersfield, California, USA in your service area, have a look at this link This is the OSM data that is available for this area. If you read the attribution on the features in this view, you can see that someone got the data from the City of Bakersfield GIS download site. You don’t get that kind of building detail (even individual trees!) from Bing or Google. Although if you do integrate aerial imagery into Smallworld you could just see the building profiles. But if you are testing the viability of integrating external datasets with your Smallworld environment, you might want to consider OSM. The price is right and the data quality/quantity keeps increasing. The beauty of OSM data is that if you know that some data is missing or incorrect in the map, you can make edits to the database yourself and the changes will be available on the map within an hour or two. That kind of turn-around is not available from most other data vendors. Clearly there are trade-offs between using OSM vs. Bing/Navteq/TeleAtlas but that is what I hope to cover in my presentation.

If anyone has questions about how OSM could be integrated into their Smallworld database, please let me know.


Bala said...

Hi Alfred, This is a great idea!!! I am curious to know about the level of accuracy in Open Street Maps. I know the quality/quantity of data will gradually increase in time. Can utilities use this as their land base right away? Is there any bench mark to know if the data for an area is 99% accurate? (I am sure 100% not possible)

Alfred Sawatzky said...

Hi Bala,

Some people have tried to analyse whether OSM is "good enough" compared to other data sources. You can find presentations here and here. Do a web search on "OSM accuracy" and you get hits on links like this.

I think the accuracy/currency of data varies by location, but I think any utility owes it to themselves to at least explore the possibilities of a fit with OSM in their service area.

While OSM may not have all the data in your service area, it provides the framework for a utility to submit the new/modified landbase information and see the results in your maps within hours/days. I don't think you can get that quick turnaround with Navteq or Teleatlas or Google (see Peter Batty's blog post).

So there are likely tradeoffs, but I think OSM is worth further investigation for any serious utility.


Alfred Sawatzky said...

re: serious utility. I imagine they are all "serious". I could have picked a better adjective but wanted to emphasize that OSM should be reviewed by all utilities as a away of reducing their cost of landbase maintenance.