Jerry Clough

Beyond the 3 "R"s

The Challenges of Using OpenStreetMap Data for Analysis


Most uses of OSM data fall into 3 categories, the 3 "R"s: Rendering (cartography), Routing, and 'Rummaging' (search, geolocation). However, the large and diverse sets of data within OSM also have considerable, and under-appreciated potential for answering analytical questions.

The patchiness and lack of completeness of OSM data significantly hinders its use for analysis. But there are other aspects of the data which don't help either. Examples of how OSM data can be used for analysis will be presented to demonstrate both the potential and the underlying issues.

Analysis places different demands on how data is mapped in OSM: a focus on using specific subsets of the data will highlight inconsistencies, and identify missing information. Furthermore it is often the case that data that is notionally derivable from OSM is not so in practice.

Making OSM data usable for analytics tests and stresses how the data are mapped in ways which are quite different from the typical uses. Therefore particular analysis problems can help enrich and extend how and what we map.

About the author

Jerry Clough has been interested in maps since the age of 4. He has a professional background in scientific research (Genetics, Computer Science) and business consultancy, and is an enthusiastic amateur naturalist. OSM forms a natural nexus between these diverse interests.