It’s Time to Make OpenStreetMap Your Only Street Map

Editor’s note: Steve is the founder of OpenStreetMap (OSM) and Telenav’s Head of OSM. This post is also featured on his personal blog today.

Current OSM map vs. Google Map of Sochi, Russia  where the 2014 Olympic Games begin on Feb. 7 (Thanks to Alastair Coote for bringing this to our attention!)
Current OSM map vs. Google Map of Sochi, Russia where the 2014 Olympic Games begin on Feb. 7
(Thanks to Alastair Coote for bringing this to our attention!)

Today at Telenav we’ve announced that we have acquired skobbler – an OpenStreetMap (OSM) navigation company based in Germany – for approximately $24 million. skobbler brings a super popular OSM navigation app and 80+ employees in Europe to Telenav, expanding our reach globally across many of our products, services and offices.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, OpenStreetMap is the worldwide wiki-map that anyone can edit. When I founded OSM nearly a decade ago, my vision was to create a map everyone could use and contribute to. No strings attached. I created OSM as a non-profit community project – no one owns it and none of the community members make money from editing it. It is built and managed by people just like you, updating their neighborhood maps from their phones and computers.

Have others tried their hand at crowd-sourcing map data as well? Absolutely. Waze and Google – or, just Google now – provide similar mechanisms to improve their maps, based mostly on OSM’s innovations. With one big catch. It is very much their map. Not yours. (Just ask the developers who pay a lot of money to use it.)

OpenStreetMap is different. All of the quality data contributed is openly available – just like Wikipedia. So, anyone can download, experiment and play with it freely. It’s not locked up beyond your reach.

Mountain terrain in Sochi, Russia where skiers and other athletes will compete.
Mountain terrain in Sochi, Russia where skiers and other athletes will compete.

OSM is one of the world’s most active open and crowd-sourced projects with over 1.5 million registered editors (a number that has been doubling every year). It has grown exponentially faster than I could have ever imagined ten years ago. In fact, it has been a fantastic display map (map you can look at) for some time, mapped right down to trees and footpaths. We’ve seen many uses of OSM in that context, from mere pretty artifacts to stimulating visualizations. The quality of the map data has evolved so much that, in the past couple of years, developers like Foursquare, Pinterest and Uber have integrated OSM as a display map into their products (most likely as a way to get access to a more detailed map and to avoid those costly fees from Google).

Today, OSM is a repository of quality map data, with more coming in than going out. I want to change that. Now it is time to leapfrog the simple design use cases – the economically efficient background usage of the map. It’s time to take OSM and harness it for everyday navigation. That’s where the users are and where we can really make difference.

I’d like it to get OSM to seven billion contributors in the next year or two. The only real way to get there is to allow a significant amount of consumers to get their hands on the map. I want more mobile users to have the chance to navigate with it and provide feedback as they go. This feedback can be implicit in their GPS trails, or explicit in their feedback to us as they tell us where the map needs improvement.

Turn-by-turn navigation on our phones is the way most people in the world use maps today, and it takes incredible effort and work from companies like Telenav and skobbler to mold OSM in to something a consumer will get a thrill from using. That’s what we’re focused on: getting OSM in to the hands of the everyday person, so that it’s part of our daily lives.

While Wikipedia proved the crowd sourcing model, OpenStreetMap is about taking it to the next level, switching it into warp drive, turning up the volume, pressing ‘play’ and not looking back. Now it’s about closing the loop. It’s no longer about taking OSM data, filtering and massaging it in to a simple map to put pins on top of. It’s about solving real problems for users – how to get somewhere – and providing them with a great experience that they are inherently a part of, by fixing the map as they go. To make this work smoothly requires tremendous engineering effort, orders of magnitude beyond providing display maps. We, at Telenav, have taken on that challenge and I am personally extremely excited to be a part of the team that is going to make it happen.

For nearly ten years, OSM has had potential for developers and consumers, let’s switch it up and give it potential because of developers and consumers. While others have spent billions of dollars building unsustainable maps based on your contributions, OSM is free, easy and available to all.

The project is ready for you. Here is how you can contribute:

…and watch for OSM data and services coming to Scout, our award-winning consumer navigation offering, very soon.

It is time to make the switch: make OpenStreetMap your only street map.

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