I read with some interest over the past week two pieces of news about Google Map Maker and Open Street Map.
The first news was a bit of a shock. Google Map Maker is an editable online map of the world where users can log in and edit roads, buildings etc. Normally (for personal and commercial use) the data cannot be downloaded, and so for most people they can enter data into Google Map Maker but never get data back out of it*. They do get to see a pretty map of their data and for businesses it’s useful to add their name and local landmarks to the map. But that’s all they see – a map. Also there are strict licensing terms for using the map image etc. etc. Anyway the point is that GMM was a useful resource for the humanitarian world. But will this continue to be the case? By having World Bank as the gatekeeper surely this will make it less likely that a small NGO in a developing country will be able to access this data.
news #2 – Google IP Vandalizing OpenStreetMap
So OpenStreetMap (OSM)** offers something different. Everyone can edit the map and download the data behind the map in a format which can then be imported into GIS or CAD or cartographic packages, or uploaded onto a GPS, or used in a Sat Nav etc. etc. The possibilities are endless and the data is free! All this is great but with something which everyone can edit there is always the chance of OSM being vandalised by a few. Perhaps those who vandalise OSM are hoping that in the words of Ralph Wando Emerson, ‘Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it’ (I shoe-horned that quote in!…perhaps weeds rather than flowers would be more apt too!). It was a shock to see news#2 and the statement that some contractors in Google had been allegedly ‘mis-editing’ OpenStreetMap. I have to say that the press release was perhaps a heavy-handed approach from OSM/OSMF on this front – did they need to go public with this? (however, the post has since been updated with some clarification and examples of the mis-editing). It’s certainly sparked debate from around the web with some key articles at Register and CNET sites. Or is the Google IP OSM vandalism it something more? A conspiracy theory perhaps?! Was the OSM hacking story aimed to come out on the same day (16th Jan) as the GMM World Bank story to steal some thunder? The story continues!
The differences between OSM and GMM
If you want to know more about the differences between OSM and GMM see this OSM wiki page. For me OSM is always the winner, it’s easily editable and can be easily downloaded and used too. It sounds like GMM will become even more difficult to get the raw data behind the maps.
*For humanitarian use (which is often in countries where little geographic data exists) the GMM data can be downloaded (as ESRI shapefiles) and used in anger. This has been useful for us in MapAction – also see my post here
**Also OSM has been very useful too for many many people, including MapAction. For a given country OSM and GMM often provide slightly different detail. Mostly GMM can provide better points of interest and OSM better road information.