Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Open Street Map boldly goes where other mapping providers don't dare to tread

One of the main issues when using a Satellite Navigation (SatNav) system is ensuring that you have accurate and up to date maps for the area where you are travelling. Some areas (e.g. Dublin) can change quite rapidly as new roads are constructed and so maps that were produced only a few years ago can be inaccurate and misleading. Professionally produced maps can be expensive - updating the maps on your SatNav can cost almost as much as the cost of buying a new SatNav unit. Luckily it is possible to get free maps which have been produced by the local community (who know the area better than anybody). For example, OpenStreetMap is the best know community produced map which makes all of its data available on a creative commons license. In many instances the community produced maps can be superior to the expensive ones produced by the professionals.

Forexample, the IBM campus where I work is technically private property, but since it is a large complex site it really ought to be mapped (e.g. it contains the first two stops on the number 38 bus service). The Yahoo Maps service, normally provide accurate mapping data for Ireland. However, if you look at their map for the area it is clear the mapping company who produced their maps stopped at the entrance to the campus and turned around.

In contrast, if you look at the OpenStreetMap map for the same area you will see that it has excellent detail of all of the internal roads within the campus. Each of the buildings are identified and it even includes the walking path around the edge of the campus where many people go for a walk through the trees at lunchtime. Someone has even gone to the trouble of recording the location of the recycling facility.

This is a clear case where expensive does not imply better.

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