CloudMade goes into the GYM

Belated congratulations to the CloudMade team for a sparkling and professional event last Thursday that would put some of the duller mainstream players in the shadows.

For those of you who don’t know CloudMade, they are the business that is endeavouring to deliver robust commercial services, through their recently launched API’s, on top of the community sourced OpenStreetMap data. Which brings me to a point of confusion for me and I believe for others, the relationship between CloudMade and OSM. The event started with a high tempo presentation on OpenStreetMap from Steve Coast, the founder of OSM and a co-founder with Nick Black of CloudMade. The animation illustrating the pace of growth of OSM around the globe was almost Googlesque. Apparently there will soon be 100,000 contributors to OSM, it would be interesting to understand what proportion of the community are active, Steve referred to the OSM experience as being “addictive” – I wonder how sustainable the crowd sourcing model will be when this generation start to develop other interests? There was some discussion in the Q&A session about the extent of completeness of OSM following Steve’s statement that “Germany will be complete this year” however no one was willing to say what constituted complete. What is important to note is the richness and variety of the attribution and PoI themes that are being captured as part of OSM (footpaths, building details, ATMs) which go way beyond those addressed by the mainstream navigation database companies.
Next up was Nick Black another UCL graduate (it’s impressive how many of the innovators in the neogeo community have come out of that organisation, they must be doing something pretty good there) moving the focus to the new CloudMade developer API’s.  His buzz phrase to describe the new capabilities was that “CloudMade overcomes Google Maps fatigue!” – an ambitious target to say the least. There were 3 themes to his presentation:
  • Cusomisable maps/cartography
  • A richer user experience
  • Applications spanning web and mobile

Then there were some case studies from early adopters of the CloudMade API’s. Chris Osborne’s Where Can I Live? app for Nestoria is a neat way of trawling for property based on your journey time to work via public transport. The customisable tiles from CloudMade make for a visually more attractive map but I am not sure that the difference from using Google Maps is so great that it would encourage me to switch. Great app though if you are looking to rent or buy in London.

Next up was Nutiteq, a platform for mobile operators and applications. I didn’t get this one and could not see the point in yet another platform, even if it did run on open source data. 
Finally there was a location based social networkin app that lets you save and display your location history. Sort of “where were you when ………….?” Another one that baffled me.
Then James Brown, their CTO, introducing the audience to the CloudMade Developer Zone. They have clearly thought this through well and willl gain a good following of developers sharing code and supporting each other, a community in other words.
Finally in the Q&A we got to the topic that had been puzzling me throughout the evening, where is the money? I was beginning to think that I needed a hearing aid or new glasses (I probably do). Gary Gale of Yahoo asked the big question which (in my opinion rather tellingly) Juha Christiensen, the CloudMade Chairman fielded. Apparently the revenue model goes something like this, the developer API’s and low usage/data volumes are free, higher levels of usages willl either attract a transaction model or will be based on advertising revenue that CloudMade will aggregate and feed to partners’ apps with a revenue share between the partner and CloudMade in which case the partner will receive money from CloudMade rather than pay them – sounds good for signing up partners but may be a little thin in terms of generating revenue for CloudMade. The infrastructure to support these services as they grow in adoption plus the team of bright people are going to cost a fair amount. They haven’t yet come up with a model for the public and third sectors who I would have thought would be attarcted to the styling and open source credentials of the underlying data, that could be a great opportunity if they get it right. Astonishingly Juha claimed that the market would be $100bn by 2013! I am not sure whether that was for location based applications or what but it sounds astronomic to me.
A great launch event from the CloudMade team with some good features, whether they are unique enough to carve out a successful future in the face of intense competition from the heavyweights in the GYM, I am not sure. I hope so because we need some disruption to keep innovation pushing ahead and also because the OSM concept while not neccessarily an answer to every mapping requirement (particularly where completeness and accuracy is critical) is a project that the GeoCommunity needs and wants.