November 11, 2009 | 1
It seems there’s an online community or social network for every facet of life these days. One area where this makes a lot of sense is in map-making, given how well locals know their own territory. This might explain why OpenStreetMap—a map of the world that can be edited by anyone with Web access—has expanded from 100,000 contributors in June to more than 180,000 (and claims to be adding 300 new mappers daily).
One of OpenStreetMap’s key benefits is the ability for participants to create and share maps based upon specific interests, which is impossible with printed local maps distributed by hotel concierges or amusement parks. Examples of OpenStreetMaps include OpenSeaMap for shipping lanes, OpenRouteService for pedestrians and OpenCycleMap for cyclists. The White House has used OpenStreetMaps to create a map of community volunteer projects, while Oakland and San Francisco offer maps pinpointing the location of different crimes committed in those cities. A number of iPhone apps based in OpenStreetMap already exist, including Mappity Quake for plotting earthquakes and ATMUK for finding ATM machines in the U.K.
While much of this mapping has required pedestrians, cyclists or motorists to input coordinates from their GPS systems to a separate Web-connected device, London-based software toolkit maker CloudMade, Inc. by the end of this month will introduce a free iPhone application called Mapzen Points of Interest (POI) Collector that lets mappers upload information from wherever they can get a cell phone connection. The company is also launching at the same time a Web-based version of Mapzen designed to provide an interface to map editing that’s easier than the one that currently exists for OpenStreetMap.
There are plenty of navigation services already available to iPhone and Web users courtesy of the likes of Nokia (which last month bought Navteq Corp. for $8.1 billion), Google and TomTom International, but OpenStreetMap’s objective is to provide maps in micro detail, including footpaths, parks and stores, based on information provided by anyone familiar with a given location. Mapmakers have the ability to add details to the locations they plot (such as a business’s phone number and hours) and create social networks with other mapmakers, who notify each other automatically whenever they have uploaded data. (Israeli-based online map software maker Waze likewise follows this social-networking model but is designed mainly for road mapping.)
One of the goals with the Mapzen iPhone and Web software is to post edited map information within 24 hours of its entry into the Mapzen system, says Nick Black, a CloudMade co-founder and head of the company’s products group. Like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap participants can dispute edits, and these disputes are typically settled among the participants without any arbitration by the OpenStreetMap Foundation that stewards the OpenStreetMap Web site, Black adds. This type of arrangement is common among open-source software projects, where contributors interact directly with one another.
Image of Kuznetsovsk, a small city in Ukraine, courtesy of OpenStreetMap