Benefits of large volume of data via API using OSM geocoding

Geography as a great business

Nowadays, location is a key feature of our lives. Since maps are present everywhere nowadays – outdoor kiosks, automobile dashboards, smart phones and other mobile devices - maps are used by millions of people in a wide range of domains, all over the world. Consequently, geography is a major business and large amounts of money are involved in location industries and geospatial data providers.

According to The Guardian, in 2014 Google spent 1 billion of US dollars to support their maps. On the other hand, OSM is a free map database project developed by volunteered contributors.

The major difference between map providers and OSM is transparency. Moreover, OSM has a neutral approach regarding displayed data in the map. Anyone can add a missing feature on the map using OSM. On the other hand, map providers collect information about your shared locations.

 

Few words about Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)

In the last years, geographical data production and dissemination increased a lot as a consequence of technological development. Consequently, unprecedented volumes of geospatial data have been released. These high volumes of geospatial data are known as big data. An important percentage of this big data paradigm is the result of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). VGI is formed by geographic information produced by volunteer contributors and data obtained from different sources in the social media. With a huge number of contributors in geographical information producing and crowdsourcing applications, VGI is a decisive part of big data. Currently, a wide range of VGI sources are available.

The major advantages of VGI include: highly detailed cartographic data for regions where governmental database is not good enough; the possibility to enrich and update the existing database, and the availability for disseminating near real-time data.

On the other hand, the main disadvantages of VGI include the quality of the provided data, credibility and reliability. These drawbacks are caused by the fact that the data are produced by non-experts.

Digital Earth technology is focused to provide widely access to data and information that are referenced based on their location and one of the missions of Digital Earth technology is to make this data available as a component of democracy. The mission of OSM database fits very well for the goal of Digital Earth technology, since OSM provides the necessary environment to create freely available map database for the entire world.

 

What OpenStreetMap (OSM) is?

The leader of geographical information sources is represented by OpenStreetMap (OSM), being the best known VGI project on the Internet nowadays. OSM started as the idea of Steve Coast in 2004, who at that time was an MSc student and the idea of OSM was part of his dissertation.

Steve’s approach was based on a very simple idea: everyone who has knowledge into a certain region can contribute to data and create a large database in digital mapping. This database can be extended to the entire world, if the crowd of people who decide to contribute is large enough.

OSM development is based on several factors, which have contributed to a rapid growth of this database. The first factor is represented by development of interactive web or Web 2.0 and the second factor is represented by the high availability and reduced costs of the Global Position System (GPS). Moreover, collecting geographical data using smart phones and mobile devices is a trend nowadays. All this data can contribute to OSM.

However, OSM database is utilized in numerous organizations, applications, services and software, since OSM is free. Besides the possibility to use a wide range of cartographic products, OSM is very appreciated due to the access that it provides to OSM database. Visualization of OSM data is another great feature available in OSM database. Consequently, numerous tools enable users to visualize data that is part of OSM database into a large variety of ways.

One of the advantages of OSM database is represented by the fact that this database can store the metadata at node level, since many institutional GIS are not available to do. The Internet has facilitated very much the collaboration towards geographical data. OSM is a very low cost geographical data producer, since it uses contributors who are volunteering to enrich the map database.

Furthermore, OSM provides a rich and detailed map. If commercial map providers have to face the problem of keeping up-to-date a certain region of the map, OSM benefits from the contributors who know very well their neighborhoods. Consequently, as soon as something changes, contributors modify in the map database. A great advantage of OSM is that this map database may be customized according to client’s need. Users may create their own map in both content and style. Moreover, other major benefits provided by OSM are services like geographic content, geocoding and routing.

 

Combining map services and geocoding services

Integration of GIS and Internet may provide excellent capabilities like accessing interactive maps, real-time geospatial data analysis and availability of independent GIS analysis tools.

Since geocoding and reverse geocoding began to be useful tools in our modern society, OSM has implemented a tool that helps with geocoding and reverse geocoding. The name of this tool is Nominatim. Utilizing Nominatim, you can easily search in OSM database by address and name, and get synthetic address of OSM points. Consequently, numerous companies have implemented Nominatim via APIs.

Geocoding represents the process that transforms the address based on zip codes into geographic coordinates as latitude and longitude. If you need the reversed process and you want to transform numerical geographical coordinates into a postal address, then you need a reverse geocoding process.

If you want to publish open data, you may use two different methods. One of them is as bulk data, while the other method is Application Programming Interface (API). The main pros of using an API refer to the fact that an API doesn’t need constant resynchronization and an API doesn’t involve parsing and transferring of large amounts of data.

Integrating both OSM and geocoding can help people to obtain the desired location as a feature on a map. Mapping APIs functionalities include a diversity of capabilities, such as animated maps, elevation data, geocoding and travel.

Shortly, we would like to launch an application that should involve the large volume of data available in OSM database and csv2geo.com geocoding application in order to provide access for end users to server that include both map services and geocoding services.

The application should offer consumers the possibility to search on the map for addresses and transform those locations into geographical numerical coordinates.

A client-server approach functions on the principle of exchanging information. The consumer runs one program on his machine, program that communicates with the program installed on the server machine. The client-server is a software defined model computing and it is heterogeneous. Consequently, the communications between the server machine and the client machine can communicate using APIs.

A client-server web-mapping application hosting both OSM database and csv2geo geocoding application allows users to visualize locations on Earth and find both zip codes and geographic coordinates. The interface of this application can be found at api2geo.

Moreover, our client-server approach focuses to provide intuitive and efficient access to users in order to facilitate access with large volumes of geospatial data combining both maps and batch geocoding.

Scale Campaign offers building custom servers that can be adapted for specific needs of companies, government and non-profits organizations. These servers are fully functional using OSM database and geocoding or reverse geocoding applications.