Friday, October 16, 2009

OpenStreetMap: The Wikipedia of Maps

Open Source: The Wikipedia of Maps

When Steve Coast, the founder of OpenStreetMaps, was playing with a GPS unit in 2004, he decided he wanted to modify the map, but knew doing so would be a copyright infringement. That's when it occurred to him; who better to create maps of neighborhoods than the people who lived in them? He thought of Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia-like website that allows readers to make changes and additions to entries and decided to take this concept to the world of maps. He began presenting the idea at various tech conferences and just a couple of years after launching his website,, he had over 10,000 users. By 2009, they had 160,000 unique users. Coast, who is British, said the concept initially picked up in Europe (Germany is almost 100% mapped) but he has only been pushing the idea in the United States over the last year and a half and has been searching for a city in which to hold his first American OpenStreetMaps mapathon.

What exactly is a mapathon? It's an event, that lasts a few days, in which several people work on mapping one particular area. This weekend (October 16-18), the first mapathon is being held in Atlanta. Several schools, colleges and local businesses will be participating. Coast said he chose Atlanta because of the interest from city government, local businesses and individuals. According to a press release, the Atlanta OpenStreetMap will be used for a wide range of applications that "include local businesses wishing to streamline location-based operations, students wishing to carry out geographical surveys/ projects, and civic groups participating in urban development projects." Attendees of the mapthon will travel the streets with GPS units marking streets, cycleways, footpaths, and points of interests such as landmarks, attractions, hotels, and restaurants. This weekend's event will focus on the area inside I-285 and future events will be held to focus on areas outside of Atlanta's interstate perimeter. The goal is to see to it that Atlanta is the most detailed and accurately represented city on the website. If the event is successful, with any luck, more cities will follow.

OpenStreetMaps is a nonprofit organization and is free to registered users. Any user can add to or edit the electronic maps, which can be downloaded to many GPS units.

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