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Guests from OpenStreetMap. Four Questions for Simone Cortesi

By 28 June 2016May 20th, 2020No Comments

After a tour around Berlin and a trip to Abano Terme, we return with some questions addressed to professionals who meet on our way, to get to know them better and open up a dialogue on new approaches that are changing the way of doing culture in our country.

This time it was Simone Cortesiunder the spotlight one of the key partners of the two-day Wikimuseums, with whom we shared a very intense event, full of satisfaction and well-positioned for the future of Italian museums and open data.

On Simone’s bio it says that OpenStreetMap, which he is one of the founders ofis a project which he firmly believes in, that he helped to create and which he has been involved in now for 12 years.  Since 2007 he has been freeing data from the Italian Public Administration and transforms them into maps. How?Why? Let’s find out more …

 You describe yourself as a NeoGeographer. Where does this passion for maps come from and how has open data and crowdsourcing changed the way we conceive them and use them?

I became passionate about neogeography when I had my first experiences with OpenData abroad. There was a lot of excitement surrounding this discipline and trying to get to grips with information that nobody had analysed before was already a peculiarity. Let me elaborate: the neogeographer does not just map out a road, he also wants to provide the user with information, for example, how safe is it to go down that road at night time. The thing that initially fascinated me most was precisely the possibility of integrating a geographic map with information that usually is not present in the traditional semantic field, and justifies, in my opinion, the close connection between geography and OpenData.

Often the usefulness of this information for users does not coincide with the interests of public administration. Today the wind is changing:what happens is that the authorities go to groups like OpenStreetMap to know what data it makes sense to collect or update, or to understand how to make them open. Istat, for example, did not have an OpenData initiative before we started talking about it together; with time, maybe with a little thanks to us, they have developed a process to build a license that has led to the liberalization of data.

Can you give us some other concrete examples on how open data can simplify the life of the PA? And the next challenges for those who work with OpenData?

Its usefulness? Here’s two very concrete examples: 70% of billposters are illegal but difficult to keep monitored, data collection and crowdsourcing could solve the problem. And again, many PA’s use shooting from cars equipped with cameras to monitor how much white lines on roads deteriorated, therefore avoiding costly inspections.

The open challenge? Overcoming technological issues, today perhaps the problem lies in having too much data to organise and update constantly and comparing old data with the new.

What would you say to those who today do not take into account the possibility of using both the user’s side, and the collaborator’s side, of collaborative platforms such as OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia?

If we’re talking about users, choosing some tools over others depends on its purpose and the benefits: Google Maps is a product adapted to many users who are generally looking for road information. OpenStreetMap instead is made for geospatial analysis and provides information on all the layers of the geographical area, so a map could tell you, for example, the maximum distance between two drinking fountains in all Italian towns.

From the collaborator’s side instead, I can tell you that,  to bring users to collaborate and use Wikipedia and OSM interfaces – that for many people is an obstacle – for about 8 years we have been organising local meetings and, for at least two years, we have made frequent regular meetings between Wikipedia and MDG’s. We understood that the meeting between experts and novices is very useful to bring new people to the platforms. The problem is still to go and intercept them, so I really appreciate BAM!’s work: you understand what we’re about but have managed to speak to a much larger number of users, compared to the numbers we can engage.

Cultural heritage and openness of data: where are we at? What road are you going down? Has the reform stimulated a dialogue between institutions and supporters of open data?

L’Italia fatica a riprendersi dalla crisi economica e le prospettive non sono di certo rosee. Contribuire a rendere liberi i dati e consentire la riproduzione di immagini in alta risoluzione del patrimonio culturale è un incentivo fondamentale per la ripresa del turismo. Mi spiego meglio: se un ente impedisce l’utilizzo delle proprie immagini, può guadagnare qualcosa per concedere l’autorizzazione all’utilizzo. Rinunciare a quel minimo guadagno per rendere open e gratuiti i proprio dati significherebbe dare un’enorme diffusione delle proprie bellezze, per mano degli utenti del web, e aumentare esponenzialmente il numero di visitatori.

Italy is struggling to recover from the economic crisis and the outlook is certainly not rosy. Helping to free data and allow the reproduction of images of cultural heritage in high resolution is a key driver of the recovery of tourism. Let me explain: if an entity prevents the use of their images, it can make money by allowing them to be used. Giving up that small earning to make open and free data just means allowing a huge spreading of their beauty by web users, and exponentially increasing the number of visitors.