OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a collaborative mapping effort that relies on crowdsourced data to create freely available, editable maps of the world. Volunteers add and edit information about transport links, buildings, points of interest, land usage and much more.

We’re really excited about recent updates, especially to towns and cities across Iraq. It can be hard to get up to date and accurate mapping for frontier regions which is what makes OSM such a valuable resource.

The images below show that a great deal of detail is now available for Erbil, Iraq. The maps display detailed local information such as parking lots, hotels, markets, and even speed limits.

View Larger Map

OSM has hundreds of thousands of contributors that are working to improve the detail and accuracy of the maps every day. As towns and cities change, so do the maps, thanks to the work of the many contributors who trace over satellite imagery. Changes to the data then immediately become available to the OSM community, and the resulting maps can be updated regularly.

Some contributors use firsthand knowledge of an area, which means very specific information such as new buildings, bridges and roads often gets added in faster than in other mapping sources. This has made OSM incredibly useful in crisis situations.

Non Governmental Organizations often use OSM to access location information in areas hit by a disaster. There is currently an ongoing effort to map out West Africa given the Ebola crisis, and in the past there have been efforts to map the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, which we wrote about here. The level of detail, combined with the fact that maps can be quickly updated and viewed by many people, makes it easier for aid organisations to collaborate and provide resources to the worst affected areas.

To find out how you can get involved in developing and improving maps, check out the OSM website and the OSM Tasking Manager. Also take a look at the Missing Maps Project, which aims to map vulnerable areas and anticipate where maps will be most needed in the future.