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Theme fund: NGI0 Discovery
Start: 2020-10
End: 2022-09
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Operating Systems


Multi-lingual support in address search

Nominatim is an open-source geographic search engine (geocoder). It makes use of the data from OpenStreetMap to built up a database and API that allows to search for any place on earth and lookup addresses for any given geographic location. It is used as the main search engine on the OpenStreetMap website where it serves millions of requests per day but it can also be installed locally. You can easily set it up for a small country on your laptop. Nominatim has always aimed to be usable world-wide for any place in any language. To that end it has used generic, language-agnostic algorithms that assume a uniform data model. This has served us especially well while the OpenStreetMap database was in its early stages of development and changing fast. Now that it has matured, it is time to further improve the search experience by taking into account the particularities of different languages and the different practises when it comes to geographic addressing. We aim to restructure the part of the software that parses the place names and search queries to make it more configurable and make it easier to take into account languages and regional peculiarities.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

Everyone needs to find their way around the world, be it traveling for work, taking a vacation or going to the doctor, dentist, your local municipality and other important (public) services. How we move around and where we go is very personal information: imagine following someone for a week and what this can teach you about their life, their loved ones and what is important to them. Now think about the apps or devices you use for navigation and what they can and probably do log about you. Where does this information go, who has access to it, how does this feed into your data profile that is created and sold by tech platforms to businesses (and sometimes governments)?

Navigation shouldn't be yet another underhanded means for tracking and profiling, it should help you get to where you need to be and inform you about your travel, nothing else. OpenStreetMap is a collective effort to build a tool that brings geographic data and navigation into the public space, as an alternative to commercial services. Users help map areas, roads, buildings and other points of interest and keep this information up to date and enrich it. All data is open and free to use.

A map of the world of course is not enough: you will also need something to help you find your way around. An important starting point is geographic search, like the search engine on the main website of OpenStreetMap that lets you find places and navigate routes. The technology behind this search engine and behind countless other geographical search tools can be improved to take different languages and addressing practices into account. This would open up the geographical treasure trove of OpenStreetMap to users and developers everywhere, providing them with the tools and data necessary to build more privacy-friendly and independent geographical technology.

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.