Google Maps Competitor OpenStreetMap Targets The Future Of Mapping

By: SymbianOne

Original Source: Google Maps Competitor OpenStreetMap Targets The Future Of Mapping

January 2013 saw the OpenStreetMap community record over one million members, a figure which has doubled approximately every 14 months since 2005 and is testament to its burgeoning popularity. OSM’s success is largely down to its participatory nature and wide community of users, who create and maintain maps at their leisure in areas they know best, leading to it being dubbed the “Wikipedia” of maps. In just a few years, a once small-knit community has expanded to help develop the world’s largest “crowd sourced” map, providing superb levels of detail and accuracy not possible with conventional alternatives. Today, OSM has already become the most detailed digital map available in several countries (e.g. England, Germany) and its ever-increasing user base looks set to broaden this status around the world.

The reasons for OSM’s success seem clear when analysing the alternative strategies adopted by its few rivals. Nokia subsidiary Navteq and TomTom’s Tele Atlas have their origins in the field of in-car navigation, and therefore lack much of the additional detail provided by OSM when it comes to off-road and pedestrian mapping. Google Maps was originally developed for web use and along with the other commercial providers has focused on car-based mapping. According to industry experts, Navteq employs approximately 1,000 people tasked directly with mapping and Google spends roughly one billion dollars a year to maintain and expand its map. Despite these tremendous efforts, both will be hard pressed to stay ahead of OSM’s cost-efficient and detail-oriented Open Source approach in an increasingly mobile-oriented market.

With more and more people using handheld devices as mapping aids, navigation priorities are shifting away from motorists and websites towards an all-encompassing solution that also includes, for example, pedestrian and cyclist routes. In addition, conventional providers will typically only retain full control over maps in limited locations, primarily Western Europe and North America. In other countries, maps must be licensed for a fee, with maintenance and quality control becoming increasingly difficult and often prohibitively expensive.

OpenStreetMap’s open-source nature solves this problem, and through crowd-sourced mapping is now recognised in many countries as surpassing the detail and accuracy of rivals. This is particularly true in the case of non-automotive mapping such as cycling and pedestrian trails, offering the project a significant strategic advantage.

Despite the rapid growth and record-breaking figures for OSM users, it’s still early days for this revolutionary mapping solution in many ways. While its structure is such that anyone can edit a map with the help of web editors to help contribute to its improvement, this process can be complicated and is often the realm of computer-savvy professionals and enthusiasts. The next step towards realising the full potential of OSM is to make editing a map a user-friendly and intuitive process, allowing more people to get involved in the development process in order to further increase the accuracy and clarity of the maps.

“While reaching one million users is a major milestone for OSM, it’s still early days in terms of fulfilling its potential,” says Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Berlin-based software developer skobbler, who has had great success utilising OpenStreetMap in its own products, including GPS Navigation 2 and ForeverMap 2. “With 90 percent of the population still realistically unable to participate, we’re expecting easier OSM access to allow everyone and anyone to help increase the success of this amazing modern alternative to conventional mapping.”

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