OpenStreetMaps is an organization that utilizes collective input to compile
a mega resource of mapping data. This data is then provided free (as in
free speech) to the community under creative commons licensing.
Map detail throughout
the world (red = more
The overriding goal of the project is to map the entire world with data
provided by people who take to the streets, trails and back roads equipped
with a gps device, or simply a pencil and paper. This low cost, bottom-up
approach will lead to increasingly nuanced global geo data set.
Map showing parts
of London that have
been updated in the
last year (from OSM
OSM was founded in 2004 with a fairly large blank canvas: the globe.
As of September 2009 they now have enlisted over 140,000 users.
Though there is still much further to go, a quick look around the world map
on OSM’s home page reveals how much data has been collected within
the past 6 years.
screenshot from osm
The most common question heard in response to their mission is “why not
just use google maps.” As we have learned over the past few weeks, the
distinction is that with google we are given “free beer.” You can only use
their interface and their system. You cannot fix mistakes, and you cannot
contribute new data.
Also, goggle is licensing their data from the dominant geo data companies
like tele atlas and navteq. These companies levy heavy fees for narrowly
defined licenses in order to maximize market share, which creates a
buffer against potential grass roots initiatives.
The flexibility of OSM’s open source approach makes it an ideal option for
applications that are based on geographical data. If you have an iPhone
and you like mapping apps, chances are you will have an app that utilizes
data from OSM. A few examples are OpenCycleMap and OpenMaps and
a few images from
And in the same way wikipedia produces better quality encyclopedic
reference through peer review and editing, open source geo data makes
more reliable and user specific maps. When someone takes the initiative
to go out with their gps device they are typically going to be extra
careful to add the local nuances to their mapping efforts. Cycle maps,
for example, could include info on bike shop locations, bike parking, (un)
official bike routes, and even degree incline of streets.
The cycle map-now
For content users there are two ways to utilize this amazing resource. For one, you can simply use the available interfaces
running with OSM data. Visit their homepage and simply start browsing. Clicking around you will see that the interface relates to
most other map browsers.
There are tutorials available on their wiki page that explain how to go deeper and actually begin contributing to the map data. It
seems easiest to use a gps device, which are fairly inexpensive these days. But if you desire, you can go old school recording
data with pencil and paper.
The most empowering aspect of this collective resource is that up-to-the-minute data sets can be accessed by anyone for
almost any use. Maybe someone has a new idea for developing interface, or a complex geo info graphic, or needs mapping data
to enhance an emergency humanitarian effort. All of this is made possible with OSM’s flexibly licensed geo data along side their
use of development friendly open sourced code.
Nothing left to map?
from manholes, wall
markers and open pit
The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile elicited an immediate response
from the OSM community of developer. Using low cost measures they
were able to offer a few different platforms for people on the ground
there to access vital data update by the day.
Example zoomed in
area of http://haiti.
The Haiti custom
rendering set up
by User:Ldp which
buildings and refugee
camps mapped within
Of interest to me is OpenStreetView which is trying to map with open
sourced street level photography. Seem like they have a ways to go, but I
find the possibility of mapping my immediate area quite interesting.