Vermont Arts Council

The People’s Choice Award: Courtney Cook Williamson

25: Courtney Cook Williamson

Write a book about the founding of OpenStreetMap

I’m a writer who specializes in telling the stories of inventors and creators who have the courage and resilience to beat the odds to make the world more beautiful.

Project description

“State of the Map” is a popular science book that tells the story of the founding of the largest crowd-sourced mapping project in the world: OpenStreetMap.

It’s the story of a physics student at University College London in 2004 who saw an opportunity in the emergence of the world wide web for the democratization of data, especially geospatial data. He invented a new kind of map editing software that was simple enough for anyone to use and able to be hosted on the internet for free and easy access. He then leveraged the power of the nascent open source software community to evangelize the idea that enabling people to draw the map of their own neighborhoods is the best way to build a map, and that keeping the mapping data free and open for anyone to use, is the best way to protect the quality and integrity of that map.

It is the story of “the Wikipedia of Maps,” which today is one of the most accurate digital maps in the world, used by every major company and powering a small army of people who do humanitarian mapping, mapping for climate sustainability, and own or work in small location services-oriented businesses. It’s also the story of a loner kid who never managed to graduate college, even though he invented a software that changed the geospatial industry forever, and the band of brothers who helped him build the map, its editor, and the data tools to support it. And, it’s the story of the global community who walked, cycled, and drove the paths, lanes and roads of their neighborhoods, carefully charting the “nodes,” “ways” and “relations” that comprised the shape of their local ground truth.

In just twenty years, OpenStreetMap has grown from a map of the UK built by a handful of volunteers into a complete map of the world which just registered its ten millionth user. It is free to all via its OpenDatabase License, it can never be sold, and it is voluntarily maintained by local mapping communities in almost every country of the world.

Media Sample 1

Generations of men squinting at the bridges of Konigsberg. “This is a Substack from early 2023 and shows my interest in connecting mathematics and physics to art and personal experience.”

Media Sample 2

Courtney Cook on Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These.” “This was written for ‘Enthusiasms’ which is the Wednesday column for the popular Upper Valley newsletter, ‘Daybreak.'”

Media Sample 3

Go Read Jane Gardam: On Last Friends. “This was written for the ‘Los Angeles Review of Books’ and shows my ability to write researched long form essays.”

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Acadia Klepeis August 16, 2023