This a guest blog post featuring OpenStreetMap community member Austin Bell’s experience at the State of the Map US 2019 in Minneapolis, MN.

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292 people 80 talks and one more State of the Map US down.

This was my first OpenStreetMap conference and I was impressed. The McNamara Alumni Center was beautiful and I would like to say thanks to the University of Minnesota for hosting us. The OpenStreetMap US board and volunteers who did a great job planning and executing the event. I would also like to thank the sponsors of the event for making it possible. The mix of individuals and organizations coming together to use OSM in different ways was amazing. It’s hard to underrate the importance of the project when you see people from different branches of government and companies working together on OSM.

I’ve been working on OSM for over three years now, and watching the State of the Map US on YouTube all the while. So I’m not going to recap each talk because you can, and if you’re reading this post, probably will watch the videos for that.

My wife who is not a mapper but supports my compulsive hobby of mapping came with me and I’m really glad she did, not only because we enjoy being around each other but to get her perspective as someone who not as invested in OSM as I am.

After arriving Friday and getting a cup of coffee we sat down at started meeting people right away. We were both surprised at the number of people there who were not OSM users, but had come because they were interested in using OSM for their school, government agency, or company and had come mostly to pick the brains of all the experts in the room. They came to the right place! There were knowledgeable people in every aspect of OSM and mapping in general. Personally, I learned even more than I thought I would, of course I was expecting to see new things and see what other people were doing with OSM. But I was not expecting to come out with so many new tools to work with as well as a better understating of tools that I already use. I met one guy and was telling him how I was trying to find a way to map the foot paths in a park where the leaves are so dense GPS won’t work, and it turns out he used to be a surveyor and told me how they used to map before GPS but he didn’t know how to digitize his old way. So I told him about field papers. The next day he came to me and said “This works!” He showed me how to make the survey and transfer it accurately to field papers. For use in OSM. This is the kind of exchange of ideas that being at the conference really facilitated.

After the end of the talks Friday most of us went to the Mill City Museum for a social. Of course, most of the conversation was still around OSM but eventually we started to explore the museum, and what a cool place it is. I did not initially think a museum dedicated to a baking ingredient was going to be a nice place for an after-hours event, But I was wrong! The building and court yard in the ruins of old mill was another beautiful venue. The views of the city from the “Flour Tower” were the best I saw in the whole city. I didn’t hear anyone talking discussing tagging while looking from the tower at the Mississippi river.

View of the Mississippi River from the Mill City Museum

If you come to a SOTM conference, plan for the huge amount of information that you will take in. Between the talks, birds of a feather (BOF) groups and the “Hall Track” it’s two and a half days jam packed full of learning, sharing ideas, and motivation to keep working on the world’s largest open Geo-spatial database. Between meeting people for the first time and people who I have talked with online over the past few years, coming to State of the Map US 2019 has definitely made me feel closer to the community.

At the end of the day, OSM is a map for anyone and everyone. I’m excited to continue making it the best map that it can be!

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Photos © Justin Miller unless otherwise noted