2012 was the year in which a wide audience began to understand the process behind making maps -- and that it's a massive, global effort in the pursuit of better and more complete map data. OpenStreetMap, a collaborative, open data process for making maps, has continued its fast growth last year hitting its million contributors mark.
At MapBox, we believe that the collaborative approach of OpenStreetMap is the future of mapping. By adopting local knowledge and local management of data, it's possible to build a complete, accurate, and freer map of the world. How OpenStreetMap gets its data is essential -- the most trusted source is always on the ground, with GPS units and local knowledge. But for much of the world, this isn't an immediate option because of distance and time. Instead, home users edit the map, referencing GPS tracks made by others and satellite data. So far, this has been a tricky process. OpenStreetMap's editing tools are complex and do little to help users understand details like road classifications. We want tools for contributing map data to be accessible to anyone, in any language, with any level of computing skill.
That's why we're building iD, a new map editor for OpenStreetMap. iD is being built with a focus on design, which means understanding and analyzing similar tools and iterating through different ways of solving the same problem -- deciding whether it's useful to adopt patterns from graphics editors, web maps, or games in different parts of the interface.
We're designing a UI that's simple and friendly, with a uniform "finished" look that makes it approachable and understandable for new users. It's extremely important that Saman Bemel Benrud, the lead designer, is pushing the design process in concert with development, so that we can think of user experience in its totality rather than just as design tasks.
The little things matter. As Saman wrote, details like custom mouse cursors make the editing process more intuitive and obvious to users, as well as less dependent on help documentation. The goal for this editor is for it to become the default on OpenStreetMap.org, where it will be used by hundreds of thousands of users, so accessibility is a top priority.
Similarily, integrated documentation is a priority from the get go. We use the excellent taginfo service that provides community-sourced documentation through an API to provide inline guidance. For instance, we only offer classifications that make sense in a given situation, and we are starting to build out inline help.
We're also pushing the limits of technology for iD, since it's one of the first tools of its kind. We've been testing and tuning graphics performance in browsers so that map features are recognizable from normal web maps and fast to change. iD is heavily tested, because we know that map data needs to be trusted and so our tools need to be trusted to work exactly as expected.
At the end of 2012, we released iD alpha0, a first version with the ability to make all basic edits such as drawing roads, tagging houses and monuments, and refining the work of others.
All of the work on iD is in the open on a repository on GitHub, including issues that we're currently working on and the roadmap for the next three months. We also maintain a testing instance so you can try it out yourself, and a blog that includes many lessons learned from the project. Finally, this video walks through how you can use iD to make edits to OpenStreetMap.
Tom MacWright specializes in building interactive and creative open source mapping tools for MapBox. He is a lead architect of our open source mapping stack, including TileMill, which combines Mapnik, Carto, Modest Maps, and other open source tools in a simple interface for designing custom maps. He's also the lead developer behind Wax, a collection of map utilities, and key to our Knight Foundation funded work to make OpenStreetMap easier to edit and use.