This could be getting serious, or could it?

Not another conference platform photo

Day 1 of the State of the Map gets off to a slow start for me (possibly because of the extended discussions and beers the night beforehand). Perhaps it was second thoughts about the presentation and panel that I was leading at the end of the day but it really did seem a bit flat, content and audience alike.

Then up comes Randy Meech from AOL to explain why they are using OSM for their hyperlocal site Patch – AOL are trying to create the digital equivalent of local community papers with journalists on the ground etc and they need a more detailed map than they can get from from the navigation suppliers. OK a niche application that benefits from the rich content potential of OSM and one can see how it would make sense for the AOL staff working on these hyperlocal properties to add the detail they need for articles they are writing.

Then whammo number 1, have a look guys, we thought we would try using OSM in a beta version of our site for the UK, Germany will follow soon. AOL chose UK and Germany because they considered the quality of the data to be good enough to use in their routing which they consider to be one of the flagship features of Mapquest. Whammo number 2 – AOL announced that they would be donating $1m of resources (not cash please note) towards improving the quality and coverage of the map in the US. Trigger the applause in the room but (and maybe this was just my perception) it didn’t appear that the OSMers were deliriously happy about this mainstream investment in the project.

Your regular panel pic, thanks to Harry Wood

Cut to day 2 and up to the platform comes Matthew Quinlan from Bing Maps. Matt starts off talking about search in general and how much of search has a local context, fairly regular stuff that has me wondering about the relevance for this audience. Then without any buildup, almost as an afterthought whammo number 3 – in the next couple of weeks Bing will offer an option to switch to OpenStreetMap as the base map, not clear if that is the whole world but it sounded like it was. Response from the audience was very muted but I will put that down to a “errr did I hear that right?” moment. Whammo number 4 – in response to a question from the audience as to whether Microsoft will make their aerial imagery available to the OSM community in the same way that Yahoo did some years back, Matt replies that they are looking into it, there may be some license issues so this is not a clear yes but clearly this is under consideration.

So in one weekend two very large players announce that they will start to use OSM and support the project in tangible ways. I would say that is a sign that this project is moving out of the niche geeky phase and getting serious. However as the big guys get involved the expectations of OSM and the response to users needs will drive change. But (and for me this felt like quite a big but) I just got the feeling that some of the long term volunteers weren’t completely comfortable with this possibility.

Expect the next year to be pretty interesting for OpenStreetMap

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