Most of us love Google. But at the same time, most of us are somewhat wary of the immense, overreaching control the company has over our internet browsing and publishing. One of the countless corners of the web that Google has carved out for itself is in Google Maps. Tens of thousands of websites rely on the map service’s API for their needs, but a developing crowdsourced community at OpenStreetMap.org is starting to offer a viable alternative.
OpenStreetMap.org is a free, editable map of the whole world created in a crowdsourced, wiki community–much like Wikipedia. Part of the site’s purpose can be summarized in this bit of their FAQ:
“Most hackers around the world are familiar with the difference between “free” as in “free beer” and as in “free speech”. Google Maps are free as in beer, not as in speech. We need a free dataset which will enable programmers, social activists, cartographers and the like to fulfil their plans without being limited either by Google’s API or by their Terms of Service”.
Along with the crowdsourced data contributed by its community of users, OpenStreenMaps’ mapping of the U.S. brings in data from TIGER, which is the dataset of the U.S. Census. If you follow this blog or the developments brought forth by the Open Gov Initiative, you know that state and federal government datasets are becoming more readily available and comprehensive. Assuming widespread, crowdsourced participation, OpenStreetMap could in a few years threaten Google Maps as the most comprehensive, dependable map of our world.