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Conceptualising the geographic world: The dimensions of negotiation in crowdsourced cartography


In crowdsourced cartographic projects, mappers coordinate their efforts through online tools to produce digital geospatial artefacts, such as maps and gazetteers, which were once the exclusive territory of professional surveyors and cartographers. In order to produce meaningful and coherent data, contributors need to negotiate a shared conceptualisation that defines the domain concepts, such as road, building, train station, forest, and lake, enabling the communication of geographic knowledge. Considering the OpenStreetMap Wiki website as a case study, this article investigates the nature of this negotiation, driven by a small group of mappers in a context of high contribution inequality. Despite the apparent consensus on the conceptualisation, the negotiation keeps unfolding in a tension between alternative representations, which are often incommensurable, i.e., hard to integrate and reconcile. In this study, we identify six complementary dimensions of incommensurability that recur in the negotiation: (i) ontology, (ii) cartography, (iii) culture and language, (iv) lexical definitions, (v) granularity, and (vi) semantic overload and duplication.

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