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Jun 4, 2009 7:20pm

walking papers lives

OpenStreetMap, the wiki-style map of the world that anyone can edit, is in need of a new way to add content. I've been working on a way to "round trip" map data through paper, to make it easier to perform the kinds of eyes-on-the-street edits that OSM needs now the most, as well as distributing the load by making it possible for legible, easy notes to be shared and turned into real geographical data.

Walking Papers is a working service that implements this paper idea, based on initial technical experimentation from back in February.

Three Kinds Of Mapping

A rough road network of the United States has been basically complete in OSM for some time now, since the bulk import of the US Census TIGER/Line data set. This means that U.S. mapping parties can be slightly counterproductive: the party format was designed for places where raw GPS traces are needed most of all, and participants frequently create fresh data for a given location for the very first time. You show up, are given a handheld GPS device, quickly schooled in its use, and sent out on foot or bicycle or car to collect traces of nearby roads and pathways.

Because we taxpayers have funded the creation of free, public data for every road in the U.S., raw roads generally already exist in the database. TIGER data can be inaccurate, but with the gracious licensing of Yahoo aerial tile imagery, it's possible to correct misplaced roads without actually leaving your desk - simply use OSM's built-in editor to move streets around until they match those seen on the underlying satellite imagery. This kind of gardening or tending activity can be great fun in an OCD sort of way, and I've personally killed many hours moving nodes here and there to improve the accuracy of street grids.

There's a third form of map editing that I think is best addressed by paper, and that is the annotation of local, eye-level features that would be invisible on an aerial image, meaningless in the absence of base road data, and impossible to collect without a site visit: street lights, bike shops, restrooms, cash machines, stairs, cafes, pubs, addresses, and other bits of geographic context that make OpenStreetMap such a strong contender with the larger, commercial services at a human scale.

Fixing #3

Currently, there aren't any methods in place specifically designed to address this third kind of casual local mapping.

Walking Papers is a website and a service designed to close this final loop by providing OpenStreetMap print maps that can be marked up with a pen, scanned back into the computer, and traced using OSM's regular web-based editor, Potlatch. It's designed for the casual mapper who doesn't want to fill their pockets with gadgets to record what's around them, the social mapper who might be out and about taking notes and comparing them with friends, and the opportunistic mapper who might make notes during a commute or a walk if they had a notebook-sized slip of paper to write on. Finally, it's designed for the luddite mapper who would like to help the OpenStreetMap project but needs help from a distributed community to convert their handwritten annotations into OpenStreetMap's tagged data and local conventions.

I'm trying to bridge some of these uses with web service opportunism and old-fashioned undigital fulfillment. Each scanned map is reverse-geocoded using Flickr's flickr.places.findByLatLon API feature, which coughs up a meaningful local name for a given geographical area so you can look at a collection of everyone's scans and perhaps recognize a place you know and might help trace. Each print and scan action is also backed by a (possibly optimistic) promise to snail-mail printed maps to users, and to accept snail-mailed annotated maps in return. If you want to play neogeography pen-pal or simply don't have a scanner at your disposal, Walking Papers can help.


The project is most particularly inspired by Aaron Cope of Flickr and Ben / Russell / Tom at Really Interesting Group, whose Papercamp / Papernet and Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008 help all this post-digital, medieval technology make sense.

I've also posted before about the underlying technology that makes this work, but I'll recap by saying that it's all off-the-shelf stuff built to run on crappy hosting. More information can be found at Github, where all the source code for this project lives.

Comments (20)

  1. Cool! It's out! Nice work.

    Posted by Marc Pfister on Thursday, June 4 2009 8:44pm UTC

  2. Thanks Marc! I'd love to ditch the SIFT requirement using your technique sometime, btw.

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Thursday, June 4 2009 9:03pm UTC

  3. I think I hear applause from the far reaches of the planet.

    Posted by Dane on Thursday, June 4 2009 9:44pm UTC

  4. Can't get the map browser to work on MacOSX with FF2. The map is just empty, but lat lon are returned

    Posted by Erik J on Friday, June 5 2009 11:01am UTC

  5. I see the same thing, Erik - looks like a problem with the new Modest Maps JS port. We'll have a look into it and see if it can be fixed.

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Friday, June 5 2009 3:10pm UTC

  6. I need to fix one naive assumption in my position decoder and I'll get the code to you.

    Posted by Marc Pfister on Friday, June 5 2009 5:56pm UTC

  7. Yay, Marc! I just got a request from a user who's interested in landscape-oriented maps, so I'm already thinking about interesting points of flexibility in the print generation and scan reading bits.

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Friday, June 5 2009 10:28pm UTC

  8. Hoorah! One feature request .. possible to publish the scanned map as WMS? That would allow integration in JOSM.

    Posted by Mikel on Friday, June 5 2009 10:30pm UTC

  9. Mikel you're #3 to ask for it to work in JOSM. I'll do it if I can figure out a way to make it work with static tiles from S3 - got any pointers to relevant information?

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Friday, June 5 2009 10:41pm UTC

  10. Walking Papers are great! I toddled off into the cold last night for a spot of pen-and-paper night mapping---and had such a jolly time of it! And then, uploading is simple, and it's so much quicker tracing over one's notes when they're right there behind the map. I've only ever done paper-based surveying for OSM, and this just makes it much quicker and more fun (for some reason). Thank you!

    Posted by Sam on Saturday, June 6 2009 4:06am UTC

  11. Sam, this is you right? http://walking-papers.org/scan.php?id=7mrdbffh You're the first person to actually submit a map with real information on it, awesome. =) I'm relieved that the scanning code works with an upside-down image, though it seems like there are some funky artifacts in the tiling that I ought to fix. I think maybe PIL's transformation matrices don't quite work like I think they do.

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Saturday, June 6 2009 4:03pm UTC

  12. Mikel- I'm exposing my papermap WMS at: http://drwelby.net/cgi-bin/mapserv?map=/var/www/msdata/qrtest1.map&layers=scan2pt It's near London if someone wants to try it in JOSM, though there's no notes to digitize since I don't live there.

    Posted by Marc Pfister on Saturday, June 6 2009 4:26pm UTC

  13. Sam - I just saw a second scan from Australia that's failing, is it from you? http://walking-papers.org/print.php?id=s2t7ws46 The reason it's not working is that the QR code in the bottom right corner wasn't printed all the way, and I think the reader is failing to find it: http://paperwalking-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/scans/r3z5nvxq/wgv_2.jpg I don't want your notes to go to waste, I can manually fix this if you'd like.

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Saturday, June 6 2009 4:33pm UTC

  14. Marc- Thanks. Was going to try it out, but having trouble with the wmsplugin in JOSM. Will try if that gets sorted out. One thing for sure, wmsplugin expects for other WMS parameters (width, height, etc) to be set in the url given to its configurations. Yea, non-standard and quirky, that's JOSM. I think Mike found similar quirks when trying out the tile plugin for JOSM .. Mike, do you ever get that sorted out?

    Posted by Mikel on Wednesday, June 10 2009 8:33pm UTC

  15. Mikel, Marc - the JOSM tile plugin never did work for me. I tried to mail the author but haven't yet seen a response. It's a bit of a drag, because running a WMS service is not something I'm remotely interested in.

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Wednesday, June 10 2009 9:05pm UTC

  16. Michal- Yeah, providing WMS for a growing pile of uploaded scans seems like a pain compared to just generating tilesets and tossing them in S3.

    Posted by Marc Pfister on Friday, June 12 2009 11:32pm UTC

  17. Trying 4th time, can't upload my scan. -_-

    Posted by SoNick_RDN on Friday, June 19 2009 2:11pm UTC

  18. Hi SoNick - what's the id of your scan? Can you send the URL that's telling you it isn't working?

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Friday, June 19 2009 3:58pm UTC

  19. Hi Mike, fixed it. ^^ QR Code was "corrupted" by my old printer, top-right aligning square was half-unprinted. I copypasted it from top-left in GIMP and system read it momentally. ^^ Today I tried second run, all fine.

    Posted by SoNick_RND on Saturday, June 20 2009 9:32pm UTC

  20. That's great! I'm guessing this is you: http://walking-papers.org/scan.php?id=979cdn6b

    Posted by Michal Migurski on Saturday, June 20 2009 10:02pm UTC

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