OpenStreetMap Gains Great Traction this Week

by Matt Ball on July 9, 2010

MapQuest announced today at the OpenStreetMap (OSM) State of the Map Conference that they will embrace the open source mapping community and invest $1 million in improving OSM data in the United States. They effort has begun with the launch of open.mapquest.co.uk, which is completely powered by OSM.

The move is on at MapQuest to eventually replace the mapping data that they purchase with user-generated data. The Wall Street Journal has coverage of this move this morning, including the following quote:

“We fundamentally believe that community-contributed mapping will be better than any closed platform,” said Jon Brod, the executive vice president of AOL Ventures, Local and Mapping

Is it as simple as open vs. closed, and licensed versus free? The battle is clearly defined here as Mapquest v. Google, but if it’s all open data, where’s the business benefit to set MapQuest apart from any other use of this improved open data?

Google was initially engaged with OpenStreetMap at it’s inception, but backed away due to the license that would allow anyone to use the enhancements they made with the community as a whole. Google has gone their own unlicensed route, and has suffered serious losses in accuracy that they expect to slowly improve over time with their own user-generated corrections. With MapQuest’s embrace of this open data source, they’re betting that the MapQuest brand will keep users loyal despite the fact that the same quality map base layer will be accessible from a variety of different sources that can be branded differently.

The OSM open data license allows a wide range of uses that will continue to evolve. The license expressly wishes to avoid the use by commercial map makers to load the whole of OSM data into their system or for a commercial map company to use OpenStreetMap to plug gaps in their own data quality. Commercial map makers using OSM need to fully embrace a two-way sharing of the collective dataset, and by doing this they lose any of their own intellectual property to the collective. MapQuest has always licensed data from a third-party, so they’ve never really owned their own maps beyond these licenses.

OSM has gained considerable traction just this week as well through its embrace by the pre-eminent mapping software company Esri. Users of Esri’s geographic information system (GIS) software can now directly edit and contribute their data to the OSM through the familiar map editing tools in ArcGIS Desktop. This move alone trumps the MapQuest investment, because it means that the world’s mapmakers have a direct channel into data creation, adding professional expertise and data sources into a map database that has been largely a volunteer and amateur creation.

The next logical step to OSM dominance is when governments concede that their data should become part of this effort. While OSM has made strong use of government data for their base layers where it is openly available, ingesting the U.S. TIGER data, governments have made no commitments to contribute or embrace the mapping site as their own base layer. The embrace by governments for two-way data sharing should be the next major coup for the wiki-like explosion of this mapping resource.

Steve Coast, founder of OpenStreetMap, has rather cockily claimed that all commercial data providers are time limited as they would be made irrelevant by the explosion of his creation. It appears as if he just might be right as the disruption that is OSM has just begun.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad July 9, 2010 at 10:40 am

Neat to see one’s edits on MapQuest. Correction: I think you mean Steve Coast not Case, unless you’re thinking of FakeSteveC?

Matt Ball July 9, 2010 at 10:43 am

Thanks for pointing out the name correction. Ironically, I put Steve Case, former CEO of AOL, who I’m sure had a big hand in that company’s purchase of MapQuest.

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