Open Geo interview series - Pascal Neis
13 Oct 2014
Today we’re fortunate to speak with OpenStreetMap tool maker Pascal Neis. Over the years Pascal has created many amazing resources for the OSM community, especially tools to look at where and how people are contributing to the project. If you aren’t yet familiar with his tools we strongly encourage you to become familiar with them by checking out his blog.
1. Who are you and what do you do? What got you into OSM?
My name is Pascal Neis, I am from Germany, living in the beautiful Taunus. I work as a software engineer for a company that focuses on solutions in communication, logistics and the financial sector. Back in 2007 I was looking for a free street network dataset to test a routing algorithm that I developed and this is the reason why I got into the OSM project. Since then I have been working with OSM data for several projects, location based services and different OSM tools that make contributing to the OSM project more fun. Additionally, I am mapping every once in a while too.
2. You’re a very prolific OSM tool maker, your site is full of interesting tools for looking at how OSM is evolving. How do you get your ideas? How much are the tools used? How much effort is it to maintain them?
Sometimes I just simply think to myself: “hey, it would be cool to visualize or have some sort of statistics for this or that OSM information or contributor”. At times I also receive messages from other OSM contributors with ideas or comments regarding my tools. I do not have any detailed statistics but based on the little information that I have, I think several hundred people use my tools on a daily basis. This means that, considering the almost 2,700 daily OSM contributors, around 1/8 of them could be using one of my tools at any given day.
Most effort goes into revising developed tools and making sure that they run properly. Updating the statistics on a regular basis also takes some time. It is hard to estimate the amount of time that I dedicate to these tasks but I assume it is comparable to the time that others dedicate to contributing to OSM. They might contribute one or two hours per week and I am dedicating a similar amount of time maintaining the server and the developed OSM tools.
3. For a long time now you’ve helped run the Wochennotiz, a great weekly German language summary of what’s happening in OSM. How has it been, what have you learned?
Back in 2011 I started translating the German OSM Wochennotiz together with other contributors such as Marc, Jonas and Dennis which was published as the “OSM Weekly Summary”. In my opinion it is quite important to have one specific source that shows the OSM community that their collected and contributed geodata is being used for some awesome projects. We also included other information to the weekly such as the latest tools that some developers created, OSM conferences or other announcements. Sadly Dennis and I had to stop our commitment but it is great to see that other people continue the OSM Weekly now.
4. There are many theories about why the German community has embraced OSM to such an extent. What is your hypothesis?
I think that the German open source community (independent from OSM) always had a pretty strong drive to experiment with new technologies and projects. OSM is no exception here. The German OSM community, as one of the most active communities in OSM, created many mapping proposals and showed what a group of volunteers can achieve in a relatively short period of time. The Berlin Zoo is still one of the best and most significant parts of the OSM world map. However, I guess when a mapping proposal works in Germany; it should also somehow work in other countries ;)
5. OSM recently celebrated it’s 10th birthday, where do you think the project will be in 10 year’s time?
Several research studies revealed that the OSM project can provide open geodata with comparable and sometimes better quality than commercial or administrative data in selected regions. I think it is quite important that the project and its contributors prove to the public that they can continue this pattern by collecting and maintaining the collected geodata in the next few years. For example, the street network has a high completeness rate in Europe or the United States. However, many regions are missing useful address information. The OSM project has to be able to close this important gap to other geodata sources. On the other side, for display purposes the project sometimes shows a significantly higher level of detail in many regions of the world compared to other web maps such as Google or HERE maps.
Many thanks Pascal, for all your efforts on the tools. They are a great resource. Keep up the good work.
You can see all the Open Geo interviews here. If you are or know of someone we should interview, please get in touch, we’re always looking to promote people doing interesting things with open geo data.