Today we continue the Open Geo interview series by chatting with Sajjad Anwar, known on twitter as @geohacker. Based in Bangalore, Sajjad describes himself as a “hacktivist and programmer”. For several years now he has been trying to help establish the Indian OpenStreetMap community, besides also being involved in various other open data projects.
1. Who are you and what do you do? What got you into OpenStreetMap?
I write software that involves a lot of maps and data. For the most part, I’m self taught and that kind of makes me feel proud. I live in Bangalore and help organisations build data infrastructure. I work on two very exciting projects at the moment - building data infrastructure for managing education data in India and, re-purposing OpenStreetMap for monitoring natural resources extraction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I have been interested in geography for a very long time. My journey with OpenStreetMap started during late 2008 when we were toying with the idea of addresses for a project. Google turned out be difficult because of the terms of usage and we discovered OSM. It’s exciting.
2. What would you say is the current state of the OSM community in India?
We don’t have a very strong community in India, though, most of the metros are considerably well mapped. The community is a little disconnected because, you know, this country is huge. There is always someone looking out for changes and incorporating it into OSM.
3. Recently Google has come under criticism in India for mapping sensitive locations. What is the implication for OSM in India?
A lot of people raised this question and what this means for OSM. From what I understand, Google got into trouble because they ran a nationwide mapping exercise without informing and respecting the norms of the National Mapping Agency. I think they also missed to communicate to the participants that mapping should be done in a fairly responsible manner.
I am certain that the National Mapping Agency is aware of OSM and other citizen mapping efforts, especially run by several organisations to help support crisis management and planning. These are small scale projects and do not introduce any sort of threats to national security.
4. You run a regular geo meetup in Bangalore, geoBLR. I had the pleasure of speaking at one in January. How is it going, what are the main topics?
It was excellent to have you and Gary speak at GeoBLR in January (here’s a summary over on the #geomob blog). I must say that GeoBLR is going really well. We have around 10-15 people show up every month. There are a lot of interesting conversations. Recently, we spoke about the sad state of PIN code data and as a group, we are trying to solve some of the low-hanging issues.
We want to pick very specific issues to try and come up with questions, if not solutions.
5. What steps could the global OpenStreetMap community take to help support OSM in India?
I cannot think of anything specific. There has been a lot of discussion around certain tags and I think there is some room for improving the process of approval of new tags.
6. As OSM celebrates it’s 10th birthday, where do you think the project will be in 10 year’s time?
My mind is already blown with the things that people are doing with OpenStreetMap. I’d imagine OpenStreetMap to be the only free, single source of ground truth, easily accessible than it is now, in 10 years. And did I forget to mention that things on the ground will add themselves to the database?!
Many thanks Sajjad, and of course good luck in al your efforts. We encourage anyone in Bangalore or India generally to get in touch and to attend geoBLR.
You can see all the Open Geo interviews here.