Interview: Austin Bell of the Nodes and Ways podcast
4 Jun 2020
Our long-running OpenStreetMap interview series continues. though with a bit of a twist. Today we venture into the realm of the audio, by chatting with Austin Bell the maker of the recently launched Nodes and Ways podcast. Nodes and Ways is a monthly interview podcast where Austin chats with different members of the OSM community. We highly recommend you subscribe.
1. Who are you and what do you do? What got you into OpenStreetMap?
Hi, I’m Austin. I make the Nodes and Ways podcast. I’ve been obsessing mapping since 2016. And a few different things kinda drove me to OSM. The first thing was me kinda becoming aware of my lack of privacy and starting to take it more seriously. I would look at guides on how to “Get back your privacy” and that kind of thing. And most of those guides said use OSM. But … OSM just was not good enough in my area for me to use like I wanted to. So I did all the other things and kept putting maps off. I made a edit or two just to see what it was like. But never really did anything with it. At the time I was a heavy Google Maps contributor, I was in the local guide high ranks really enjoyed putting photos on the map. But then one day I found something wrong and made a edit “suggestion” and it got denied. That bugged me, I really did my homework and sent them supporting links on why there should change the name of that place, and I thought, HEY! I can make it right somewhere! So I fixed it in OSM and felt super satisfied that it was at least correct somewhere. Then not long after that I was at my previous job trying to find a cell tower in the mountains that we had lost our normal access road to. And I was mostly hiking alone for three days trying to get to this tower from two mountains over. And out of all the offline maps that I had on my phone OSM was the only one with the trails that I was on. It really saved my butt from getting lost up there and I was super grateful that someone had mapped those trails. We all know network engineers are bears favorite things to eat (we’re tender).
2. What prompted you to start an OSM themed podcast? What is your vision with the project?
I’m a avid podcast listener. And at my last job I was constantly on the road. So I was always thinking OSM should really have a podcast. (Of course I was not aware of the Geomob podcast at the time) I kicked around the idea for over two years, until I finally decided to quit thinking about it and make an episode. The other half of the reason I do the show is to create a excuse for me to talk to interesting people about OSM.
My main goal with the podcast is to get to know what makes us so compelled to map the world and give it away for free. And how that benefits the world.
After I get the hang of things I want to start producing video. As mappers I think most of us are visual people, and I can do a lot more with video.
3. In the first few episodes you’ve adopted an interview style format. What types of people are you looking to speak with? Who can we expect to hear from in the coming months?
Yeah I enjoy the interview format, but I don’t plan to only do interviews forever. As time goes on I want to try some other ideas but for now its going to stay interviews.
As far as who to expect to hear from. I want to talk to people who are working on all the different pieces of OSM. Mappers, committee members, people running projects and the engineers who make the tools that we use and keep the servers online, etc, etc. One of the shortcomings I see today with OSM is that you can be a super mapper and not know much about the project itself. I’ve enjoyed getting to know more of the technical aspects of OSM, and I bet a lot of other non-technical mappers would like to lean more as well.
4. On the NodesandWays site I see a Patreon link where listeners can support the project. So is it fair to say this is a hobby endevour? Will there by sponsors on the show? Is this a labor of love or somehow related with your work?
Yes, It is a lonely Patreon right now HAHA! This is a hobby endevour but it’s a hobby endevor on a budget, and I can do more if I get some cash, even if it just covers cost. I’m not pushing for donations but I want to give people the option if they feel like it.
As far as sponsors go, yeah, I’m open to it. Not at the moment though, I still want to improve the quality of the show it self first. If I ever do have sponsors I won’t ruin the show with obnoxious sds or anything. Of course I’m not entirely sure who would sponsor it in the first place. I can imagine me saying buy “x company’s API, it’s the best!” LOL when/if ever there are sponsors, it would make sense and not detract for the content as much as possible.
This is definatly a labor of love. I don’t and never have had OSM be a part of my work. (I would love to change that down the road)
5. Our traditional closing interview question: last year OSM celebrated its 15th birthday, so we are well into the “teenager” stage of the project. But what will it look likes when it “grows up”? Where do you think the project will be in 10 years time?
I don’t know, but I’m sure it will be around in 10 years. There will always be things that people are passionate about mapping. I hope in a decade OSM is the base map for more applications, a shared map that lots more organizations are contributing to. More of a common mapping standard that people are coming up with new ways to use.
Thank you, Austion. For the interview and for the podcast, which I’ve enjoyed so far. As a co-host of the Geomob podcast, I know the amount of time and energy that goes into it. It’s not so simple to get it going. But please stick with it, as I think it’s a medium the community could definitely benefit from. It’s one of hundreds of projects we need to help spread the word about OpenStreetMap.
Happy mapping, (and listening),
Please let us know if your community would like to be part of our interview series here on our blog. 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.