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OpenStreetMap: Putting Sheffield on the map

When we're trying to find something in Sheffield, many of us turn to Google Maps. And some of us feel uneasy about supporting this multinational company which may not have our best interests at heart. But there is an alternative.

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Sheffield city centre on OpenStreetMap.

The OpenStreetMap is a free, not-for-profit, online map of the world.

In the UK in 2004, some keen mappers realised that by combining satellite imagery of the earth with the local knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment of people on the ground, it would be possible to build up-to-date free maps for everyone to use. The OpenStreetMap was born. This is open-source mapping: anyone can use it, add to it or edit it. It's sometimes referred to as the Wikipedia of mapping, and like Wikipedia it's built and maintained for free by people like you and me.

The number of people contributing doubles every four years, as does the amount of data on the map. But it's still young and the coverage is patchy. It often depends on how many active mappers are living in an area - the mapping around Sheffield is mixed. Derby and Nottingham city centres are better and have nearly all their businesses mapped, often with websites and telephone numbers. Equally the footpaths in the Peak District and the Sheffield Lakeland area are well mapped, often better than our excellent Ordnance Survey maps, but some areas to the east of Sheffield have unmapped paths.

One gratifying thing about OpenStreetMap is that as you find omissions and errors you can quickly put them right. If you open the map on a laptop and click 'Edit', it will take you to the online editor program called iD. After signing in it will give you a walkthrough guide on how to change the map.

Why not have a go at improving the map in your local area? If you have a business then put it on the OpenStreetMap. More and more people and organisations are using its data. If you're a walker or cyclist, why not put some paths on the map? Like Wikipedia there's no limit to the amount of information that can be uploaded (although there's obviously a limit to how much can be displayed at once), so whatever your interests there are usually useful things that can be mapped.

New apps which present the OpenStreetMap data in different ways appear regularly. Some of the best for hiking and cycling are Strava, Viewranger, Komoot and OSMand. In Sheffield the best one at the moment is called maps.me. Although the data on businesses and roads isn't as good as Google Maps, it has much more information on other topics. For example, you'll get a much better outcome if you search for a post box, toilet or defibrillator on maps.me than on Google.

In less developed parts of the world maps.me is often better than Google Maps across the board. In these areas the OpenStreetMap is often the only up-to-date map and it's become a vital resource for aid agencies. Volunteer mappers all around the world respond to requests for maps whenever there is a crisis, whether it be an earthquake, a hurricane or a pandemic. They use satellite data to create maps and are referred to as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). If you're stuck inside, try exploring the world from the kitchen table by giving community mapping a go.

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