The Adventures of Joshua Judson Rosen
(action man)

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Fri, 11 Dec 2009

20:01: OpenStreetMap for socio-linguistic studies

I thought this was interesting:

If you take a close look at the labels, you'll notice that they're in two different languages--mostly, the ones in the west are in Hebrew and the ones in the east are in Arabic, with some intermixing in some places.

As the sidebar says, OpenStreetMap is a (worldwide) community-driven mapping project--to create freely-available map-data that everyone can use, augment, republish, etc.; in the same vein as Wikipedia, [Ubuntu]( and the GNU Project, the Creative Commons project, etc.

So, basically, what you're seeing in that map is that the map made by the community is labelled using the languages of the people who made (their parts of) the map: the Israelis (and Jews?) made their contributions in Hebrew, and the Arabs made their contributions in Arabic; the mostly-Arabic regions are mostly labelled in Arabic, the mostly-Hebrew regions are mostly labelled in Hebrew, and you can see the dividing lines by looking at the linguistic distribution that the people themselves have plotted (and, if you zoom in enough, you can see it right down to the level of street- and building-names).

But there is actually something encouraging about this: regardless of the divisions, everyone is working together on the same project. There's at least some semblance of peace and greater `brotherhood of man' in that.

Actually, `a shared project to create freely-sharable maps of the world' does sort-of fit with the next lyrics in that song, too:

A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Well..., it's a start.

My Hebrew teacher remarked:

This IS very interesting. I wonder if there is actually some cooperation in the making of the map. While borders are still in question, and land still "disputed", I will have to take a closer look at this to see how it all works out.

You can actually get a glimpse at the collaborative process by looking at this:

That's a view of the same area in OpenStreetBugs, which is one of the tools used by people working on OpenStreetMap.It's the same map, but with markers that indicate known errors, gaps, routes that are on someone's `cartography to-do list', etc.

If you hover your pointer over the markers, textual descriptions of why the markers are there will pop up. If you click on a marker, then you can add a comment to that `bug' (like, "I know that street--I'll check the signs and fix it tomorrow!"); and, if you create an account, you can even edit the map to submit your own contributions (e.g.: fixing a problem; adding new routes, junctions, labels; etc.).

The online editor-tool is called "Potlatch", and there's some documentation for it in the OpenStreetMap wiki:

Interestingly, though most of the labels in this map are in Hebrew or Arabic, there are some that are in English.

Some of the `bug reports' on the map are also in English, and some of them are in different (local?) languges.

In the case of bug-reports, I suspect that it's just that English is one of the more prominent international-collaboration languages. But in the case of labels on the map, I think that it just means that someone was interested in having an English label--it may have been someone who either lives there and speaks English, or an English-speaking foreigner who submitted a route that they traced while they were visiting, or even someone abroad who just thought that there was value in having an English label there--and who was able to get enough community buy-in to make the label stick; "Gaza Strip" and "Gaza City", for example, certainly have international interest.

I'm not sufficiently literate in either of the predominant languages to be able to figure out whether any of the places with English labels also bear Hebrew labels, or are they all exclusively one-or-the-other, but I wonder about that: I see some labels that appear to be very close-together, but it's not clear to me whether they're labelling the same thing or not.

I'm not really clear about all of the details about how the project works (either socially or technically)--my experience so far is just as user, since all of the areas to which I've actually been seem to already be very well-mapped (including data in the sister project: OpenCycleMap, which documents routes/paths and services relevant to pedestrians and bicyclists).

I too wonder how things like actively disputed areas work out in OpenStreetMap. It's a very interesting point that OSM may provide a `living' map in the same sense that we've discussed Hebrew being a `living language' in Hebrew class.