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.
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.
Google Maps vs Apple's custom maps. Note the increased road/path detail from OpenStreetMap visible in the Apple version of this map of Vienna, Austria.
Apple has given Google Maps the heave-ho for iPhoto on iOS, Apple’s new photo management app for the iPad and iPhone. Open up a map in iPhoto for iOS and you may notice something a bit different — the familiar beige and yellow Google Maps are nowhere to be found. Instead you’ll see Apple’s homegrown maps.
The new low-contrast look for iPhoto’s map is distinctly Apple’s, but what’s more interesting is that much of the data behind the maps comes from the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap.
For those unfamiliar with it, OpenStreetMap is an open source project that maintains an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits and add data to the map, which is why it’s often called the “Wikipedia of maps.” Although OpenStreetMap has been around for some time, it’s recently become considerably more visible as part of Microsoft’s Bing Maps. Additionally some high-profile websites are starting to move away from Google Maps — like Foursquare, which recently ditched Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap.
Now, with iPhoto for iOS, Apple is joining the OpenStreetMap party as well.
Apple is using OpenStreetMap data to display maps around the world. OpenStreetMap developers have discovered that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data in Chile, Austria, Italy and many other countries. OpenStreetMap is not, however, being used for the United States. In the U.S. map data appears to be gleaned from a number of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and possibly the U.S. Geological Survey.
Interestingly, the OpenStreetMap data Apple is using appears to be quite old, coming from sometime around April 2010. That means that unfortunately several years worth of updates and corrections from OpenStreetMap contributors are missing from Apple’s maps. The result is a map that’s fine for something like adding location details to your vacation photos, but would likely not be accurate enough to provide navigation or directions.
In other words, don’t look for the maps in iPhoto to be the source of a revamped Maps app for iOS — in their current form these maps are just not accurate enough for navigation use.
It’s also worth noting that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data without the necessary attribution. OpenStreetMap’s Creative Commons license governing maps from 2010 requires that Apple add a notice citing the source of the data. As the OpenStreetMap blog notes, the maps are “missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there.”
It’s been clear for some time that Apple is looking for a way to wean itself off Google Maps. Apple has even purchased several mapping companies, including Placebase, an online-mapping company and C3 Technologies, which creates 3D maps. Despite these moves Google Maps remain prominent on iOS. Even within the new iPhoto app Google Maps apparently still provides at least some of the data being used.
You can now turn on a special layer in Bing Maps that displays maps from OpenStreetMap, Microsoft has announced.
OpenStreetMap is an open source mapping project that keeps an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits to the map — it’s been nicknamed the “Wikipedia of maps.” The open source model has proven especially effective in regions of the developing world where very little solid map data exists, and in areas where highly detailed, editable maps are critical for natural-disaster response efforts, like the recent Haiti earthquake.
Microsoft’s adoption of the open source mapping project follows a similar move by MapQuest, which began adding OSM layers last month.
To run layers in Bing Maps, you’ll need the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight and a supported browser. It doesn’t work properly in Google Chrome (at least on the Mac), but IE8, Firefox and Safari had no problems. If you’re using the Ajax controls to view Bing Maps (instead of Silverlight), then you won’t be able to see the OpenStreetMaps layer, but Microsoft says this is something that may make its way into the non-Silverlight version eventually.
Use the map view switcher at the bottom to change layers.
To add OpenStreetMaps to your Bing, go to the App Gallery. Look for the new OpenStreetMaps app in the gallery. Click on it, and your alternative OpenStreetMaps view should launch within Bing Maps.
You can switch back to any of the other standard views in Bing Maps by clicking on the layer control at the bottom of the map window. You’ll notice Bing Maps is using the Mapnik build of OpenStreetMaps for its map layer. You can switch back and forth between the OSM layer and any of the other standard Bing maps layers using the same control.
Microsoft has been quickly adding some innovative features to Bing, especially on its Maps website. In June, Bing Maps added the ability to browse parts of the world in 3-D, and in February it demonstrated indoor panorama views and location-specific videos that are accessible within Bing’s street-side imagery.
Microsoft also ran its King of Bing maps challenge for developers last month, asking them to create innovative apps for the mapping platform. For the contest, a developer named Ricky Brundritt built an app for Bing Maps that estimates your taxi fare within most major U.S. cities.
Still, it’s heartening to see Bing adding to the momentum OpenStreetMaps is currently enjoying. Anyone can edit the OSM maps, and now that the project is getting some attention — thanks mostly to its efforts in Haiti — edits are coming in more quickly.
According to the latest stats, the project has over a quarter of a million participants and over 1.8 billion uploaded GPS points. Dedicated users are getting creative and finding ways to add even more detail to the existing maps by doing offbeat things like tagging wheelchair ramps, mailboxes and trees in their neighborhoods.
The grandaddy of online mapping sites is turning to an open source library for its cartography data.
Mapquest, which is owned by AOL, launched a new beta site Friday that uses data from OpenStreetMap. So far, the OpenStreetMap data is only available on MapQuest for the United Kingdom and some of continental Europe, but MapQuest says it will broaden the scope of this experiment in the future.
Just to show it’s not messing around, the company has also established a $1 million fund “to support the growth of open-source mapping in the United States.” So, we can expect MapQuest to start hosting U.S. maps from OpenStreetMap at some point.
OpenStreetMap is like a Wikipedia for maps. It’s a fully open source and crowdsourced project. All of the geodata in the OSM system is gathered and entered by volunteers, and all of it is freely available for all to use. Furthermore, if you find an inaccuracy in a map anywhere in the world, you can actually go in and fix it. Here’s what a year’s worth of OSM edits looks like.
There’s a wiki with more information if you want to get involved. We’ve written extensively about the project before — check out some of the links at the bottom of this article.
MapQuest is using OSM for tile images and all cartographic data. It is then applying its own user interface and routing algorithms on top of OpenStreetMaps’ maps.
The goal was to create a MapQuest experience for the United Kingdom using only OpenStreetMap data. As much as possible we tried to use the open source software used by the OSM community, so anything we did to these tools could be contributed back. We picked the UK first because we felt we had the best shot of getting use-able routes from the data without having to worry about a language barrier at the same time.