State of the Map

If you follow things geo it is difficult to miss the buzz that is building around Open Street Map and their sister company Cloudmade. The “wikipedia of maps” recently passed 100,000 contributors and the level of detail now matches or exceeds that avaialable from other street level mapping providers in the most mapped areas such as London although inevitably coverage and detail varies as you move out of major urban areas.

But if OSM was only going to mimic commercial street map products with a different licensing model (albeit with the potential for the community to provide updates faster than commercial providers) it would not be attracting as much interest as it currently does. 
For me there are two things which make OSM a truly game changing and exciting innovation, OSM to paraphrase the beer advert “reaches the parts other maps cannot reach”
  1. OSM provides a framework for mapping the parts of the world that aren’t going to provide a commercial return driven by Satnav and advertising revenues. There is potential to support local communities, relief agencies and help to breach a global digital divide (at least in the geo bit)
  2. Looking closer to home, OSM allows the community of volunteers to determine what additional information they wish to capture. So we are seeing more detailed footpaths and cycle routes (Berlin cycle routes below) than are availalble in any other products and there is potential for much more over time. The potential richness of the OSM data could well be the competitive edge that will drive mainstream adoption (and a lack of restrictive licensing will not do any harm either)

In the past I have been a bit of a sceptic about OSM data quality and coverage, those reservations stilll remain to some extent, particularly the impact of volunteer demographics on the coverage and currency. However the potential of the wiki model to allow richer attribution and additional layers of information could well be OSM’s killer capability.

The OpenStreetMap Foundation holds its annual gathering of the clans (aka conference) State of the Map in Amsterdam from July 10th to 12th. Should be fun and even if you are a sceptic you might want to come along and be inspired by the passion of the founders and volunteers within this unique geo-data project.  Details, registration etc here
22 days to bthe budget and counting …