Help the world in your spare time
This is a collection of activities I like to do in my spare time
to contribute to efforts that make the world a better place for
all. It's easy to come across a big ongoing effort that you
support in theory but don't know how to begin to help.
The activities described here don't require special skills or
equipment. They also don't require intense thinking, so in most
cases you can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, music, etc. and
relax as you do them. They are simple in the sense that you can
spend as much or as little time on them as is convenient, and can
take a break from them during busy periods without any
problem. These activities will also benefit you directly in ways
Let me know if you know of other activities I can add to this
page, or suggestions about the listed activities.
is a "project that creates and distributes free geographic data
for the world." There are many specific ways you can contribute to
To edit the map I use the JOSM editor, a standalone program that
takes a bit more effort to learn than the iD web-based editor, but
makes editing very
efficient. The BuildingsTools
plugin is great for adding buildings efficiently.
Add residential addresses around where you live
Many locations are severely lacking in residential addresses,
which hinders OSM adoption for personal use because people type
them in to get directions there. If your local area is missing
residential addresses, you may want to first check if your local
government has available data on address locations. If so,
it to OSM. Otherwise, go for a walk:
- Look at the map and decide on a walking route.
- Some people use smartphone apps or GPS devices to help
record addresses, but I just carry a pen and notebook.
- For each block, record where you start, and begin walking
along the sidewalk or however people usually walk through that
neighborhood, writing down addresses in a list as you pass by
them (probably just for one side of the street at a time).
- Find a system that works for you, e.g. how to keep track of
grouped or missing addresses, turns that you take, etc. The
important thing is that you can transfer the addresses to the
correct objects in the map when you get home.
- Back at a computer, update the map with these addresses,
adding the houses/buildings themselves if they aren't in the
map yet. Use
JOSM plugin. Search around for best practices for things like
duplex addresses, ranges, etc. I add both the house number and
the street name, though I think the street name is optional
since I'm just inferring it from its location anyway.
Map the countryside
Many rural areas around the world contain only major roads and
outlines of small towns in OSM. Luckily, you can use the provided
aerial imagery to fill in the map, regardless of where you
reside. There is much to be mapped in these areas, and it's fun to
'traverse' the countryside and learn what different places look
like from above.
- Check out improveosm.org
to see which areas are missing a lot of roads.
- Go to those places in the JOSM editor and trace things you
see. Prioritize major roads connecting towns, followed by
residential roads, notable buildings, farming canals, residential
roads, lakes, etc. Check the OSM wiki for advice on tags, such as
how to classify roads (aka 'highways') and for region-specific
- Be sure to periodically upload your changesets so they aren't
too large. (I'm not sure how large is too large. I usually upload
a few hundred nodes/ways at a time.)
Map the suburbs
Houses are usually missing from OSM. If you're looking for a
really mindless task while you listen to podcasts, help add
suburban houses. This will make the map more informative for
things like estimating population density, and will make it easier
for locals to fill in addresses.
I've experimented with using image processing techniques to
automatically trace houses. I'm not aware of a tool that does this
reliably, and manual review would be necessary anyway, so for now
we'll rely on our human eyes and sensibilities to trace them.
- Go to a suburban area in the JOSM editor with rows of
similar-looking houses in the imagery that are not yet in the
map. I like to do this for arid areas where trees don't obstruct
the houses, and for recently-developed areas where houses are
- The BuildingsTools
plugin makes tracing houses very quick, and the more regular the
houses, the more features you can use to rapidly trace them. In
the plugin settings make sure to set the default tag to
- Houses with varying dimensions require two clicks per house,
but if one dimension of the houses is fairly uniform, you can
fix that length in the plugin settings and do a single
click-and-drag per house. If both dimensions of the houses are
uniform, you can set the second dimension as the dragging
increment so that even a quick rough drag produces the same
shape each time.
- BuildingsTools also allows you to select a reference object
(e.g. a road), and new buildings will snap to being
perpendicular to it, which speeds up entry if the houses are
along a straight road.
- I usually trace houses as rectangles, regardless of their
actual shape, and just try to match the size and position. There
are so many missing houses that for now we just need objects
there. Later when they're all filled in people can edit their
Free Software Directory
The Free Software
Directory is "a catalog of free software that anyone can
edit," hosted by the Free Software Foundation. It is an extensive
catalog, so there is much work in keeping it maintained and
comprehensive. In addition to facilitating the use and spread of
free software, you benefit from editing the directory by seeing
many different ways that people organize, distribute, and update
software, and by learning how to hunt down software you're looking
for. There is a weekly open meeting on IRC where you can talk with
others and ask about the updating process.
Update/remove the oldest entries
To make the directory more useful, we want to minimize the number
of broken software links by removing entries for software that is
no longer available or, more commonly, by updating the links to
the new (or archived) software location. You'll need to create an
account on the wiki (or, preferably, become a paying supporter of
the FSF to get a member account).
- Search for entries
been reviewed in a long time. You could also work from the
of broken links, but for now I think the old entry search
- Click on an entry at random, and more often than not it will
need some kind of update.
- If the homepage link and/or software download link don't take
you where they should, or if there is a newer version than what is
listed in the directory, click the "Edit with form" tab (must be
logged in). There are three main scenarios here:
If you do any of these edits, make sure to enter your name for
"Last review by" and set the "Last review date" to the current
day to get credit and so people know the entry has been reviewed
recently. Don't change the "Submitted by" or "Submitted date"
- The entry should be marked for deletion if the software is
totally unavailable, i.e. these are all true:
In this case, mark the entry for
- the links are broken.
- you can't find the software after searching the web,
GitHub, and Sourceforge for the software name or
- after searching for an archive of the homepage
at archive.org, you are
unable to download the software from the archived page,
meaning the software itself isn't archived.
- you've emailed the developer/maintainer using contact
info from the directory, and either the email was
returned to sender, they don't respond for a week or so,
or they respond saying they abandoned the project.
- The entry should be updated with new links if, after
trying the above steps in order, you find the software. If
you're updating with the archived links, switch the version
status to "historical". (Also, I think it's a good idea to
email the developer before using an archived link to make
sure it isn't being maintained elsewhere.)
- The version should be updated if applicable. Update the
"Version identifier" and "Version date" fields and delete the
"Version comment" field contents.
- I keep a table of entries I've worked on with the software
name, status (updated/deleted), link to archived version if
applicable, date I emailed the developer if applicable, and the
developer's response if applicable. This way I can, for example,
see that I sent an email a week ago and got no response, and can
edit the entry with the archived link I saved.
- You can see
changes to the directory, and you might be surprised at how
prominently your edits appear in this sparse list!
Wikipedia is "the free
encyclopedia that anyone can edit." It seems that there are many
tasks involving Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites that could go
on this page, but I'm still a novice editor, so please let me know
if you have some to add.