OpenStreetMap is improving all the time. Now you can watch it happen. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.
OpenStreetMap isn’t just a powerful, open alternative to Google Maps — used in everything from Apple’s maps to those on Flickr, Wikipedia and dozens of other sites — it’s also a great example of the web’s hive mind at work.
Everyday hundreds, even thousands, of people contribute small changes, improvements and new bits of data to OpenStreetMap. A new trail here, an updated road there and so on until the result is something which, in many locations around the world, trumps the level of detail commercial maps offer.
Now you can watch those changes happen in real time. OSM Lab, an organization for OpenStreetMap related projects, recently released Show Me the Way, an OpenStreetMap project that tracks and displays OSM edits in real time.
Hyperlapse: turning Google Street View into movies. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.
Hyperlapse is quite simply the coolest thing we’ve seen on the web in quite a while. Not only is it creative and beautiful, it’s a great reminder that there are still a few APIs left out there that allow you to make cool stuff.
Google Maps, now with better terrain shading (old version on top). Image: Google
Google Maps continues to crank out the updates; the default map view has been updated with new shading detail to convey terrain information, along with color gradations to depict vegetation and labels for natural land formations.
The amount of terrain detail shown varies depending on which part of the world you’re looking at and how far you’ve zoomed in, but for the Americas and Europe major geographic features are now shaded and labeled.
“This enriched visual data allows you to quickly and easily see where the great forests, deserts, and mountain ranges around the world begin and end,” writes Karl Johann Schmidt, Google Maps Software Engineer, on the company’s Google Maps blog. “It also conveys how natural land formations can impact where, how and why man-made developments like urban cities, dams and bridges are made.”
I’m not sure how many people (aside from us map nerds) browse Google Maps to study how and why cities and other developments came to be where they are, but there is another side effect — the basemap now looks more interesting. The slight shading for textures and the green of forests break up what was previously just vast expanses of white. And in my testing on the desktop, mobile and Android Maps app the new visual overlays did not make Google Maps noticeably slower.
The new terrain features in the basemap aren’t anywhere near as detailed as the terrain overlays that can be added from the Google Maps menu widget, but they do add more information to the default map, which is likely the only map most users ever see.
Amazon is once again jumping into the online mapping fray with a new Maps API for Android developers building apps for the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD tablets. While it’s just for Android developers at the moment, several of Amazon’s other APIs have started small and grown into web-wide offerings.
Like Apple’s iOS 6, Foursquare and other high-profile Google Maps defectors, the Amazon Maps API seems to exist primarily as an option for those who’d like to avoid the Google Maps API. Amazon’s announcement touts the API’s “simple migration path for developers who are already using the native Google Maps API on Android,” but neglects to mention any benefits developers might gain from dropping Google’s API.
In this early beta offering Amazon’s Maps API doesn’t have any features above and beyond Google’s API. The Amazon Maps API offers most of the same features you’ll find in the Google Maps API, including street maps, satellite images and custom overlays for landmarks and points of interest, but lacks street-view imagery, terrain maps and other features found in Google’s offering.
If you’d like to give the Amazon Maps API a try in your Android app, head on over to Amazon’s new Maps API site to request access.
Open up a map in iPhoto for iOS and one of the first things you’ll notice is that the familiar beige and yellow Google Maps are nowhere to be found. Instead you’ll see Apple’s homegrown maps, the look of which is distinctly Apple’s, but the data behind the maps comes from the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap.
Until now Apple did not provide any credit to OpenStreetMap. Earlier this week Apple updated iPhoto for iOS and among the changes is a new notice that says the data comes from OpenStreetMap. It’s buried in the app credits where most people will never see it, but it does fulfill the licensing requirements that govern OpenStreetMap data.