Building a Free & Open World-wide Address Dataset

Skærmbillede 2015-02-20 kl. 09.50.25

Finding your way through the world is a basic need, so it makes sense that satellite navigation systems like GPS and Galileo are among open data’s most-cited success stories. But as wonderful as those systems are, they’re often more useful to robots than people. Humans usually navigate by addresses, not coordinates. That means that address data is an essential part of any complete mapping system.

Unfortunately, address data has historically been difficult to obtain. At best, it was sold for large amounts of money by a small set of ever-more consolidated vendors. These were often the product of public-private partnerships set up decades ago, under which governments granted exclusive franchises before the digital era unveiled the data’s full importance. In some cases, data exclusivity means that the data simply isn’t available at any price.

Fortunately, the situation is improving. Scores of governments are beginning to recognize that address data is an important part of their open data policy. This is thanks in no small part to the community of advocates working on the issue. Open Knowledge has done important work surveying the availability of parcel and postcode data, both of which are essential parts of address data. OpenAddresses UK has recently launched an ambitious plan to collect and release the country’s address data. And in France, the national OpenStreetMap community’s BANO project has been embraced by the government’s own open data portal.

This is why we’re building, a global community collecting openly available address data. I and my fellow contributors were pleased to recently celebrate our 100 millionth address point:

Getting involved in OpenAddresses is easy and can quickly pay dividends. Adding a new dataset is as easy as submitting a form, and you’ll benefit by improving a global open address dataset in one consistent format that anyone can use. Naturally, we also welcome developers: there are interesting puzzles and mountains of data that still need work.

Our most important tools to gather more data are email and search engines. Addresses are frequently buried in aging cadastral databases and GIS portals. Time spent hunting for them often reveals undiscovered resources. A friendly note to a person in government can unlock new data with surprising success. Many governments simply don’t know that citizens need this data or how to release it as an open resource.

If you work in government and care about open data, we’d like to hear from you. Around the world, countries are acknowledging that basic geographic data belongs in the commons. We need your help to get it there.