OpenStreetMap LogoSteve Coast announced that OSM now has Yahoo's Satellite imagery. This is incredible news, as there is a tremendous amount of data and imagery that would be too difficult/expensive to obtain with out the support of a company like Yahoo. Steve shows off an applet that automatically generates streets from the imagery. Geobloggers (Dan Catt) has some thoughts on how this really helps the cause and experience of the open-mapping front.

He mentions the "Here be Dragons" experience of people really wanting to go out there and find the unmapped places. This is how OSM really got off the ground in the first place, as most of the world was "Dragon-land" and everyone's individual contribution made a huge difference, at least in the UK/Europe.

Data as good and bad

The US still doesn't have great OSM representation. One response I've heard from the OSM crowd is, "the US already has TIGER/Line data, so there's less impetus for people to go out and contribute new data". There were very few "unknown areas", so people found less benefit to put effort into adding those few places. Now, with Yahoo's imagery & an applet to automatically generate roads, will there be the same effect in the UK/Europe? Nearly overnight the amount of mapped areas with dramatically increase with little to no effort by the actual mappers. While their efforts made OSM what it is, and therefore made it possible and useful for Yahoo to give the imagery, I wonder if they'll now feel they've partly "lost their voice"?

Will looking at the next generation OSM map and seeing 90% coverage make the developers/gatherers more apathetic about setting up mapping parties? What happens when you go from the underdog to the superdog? Google is dealing fairly well with it - they spend a lot of effort to seem like a "small company" - but when you have an open call to hire more than 150 engineers, you're not small.

Bring out your users...

What this data definitely will do is bring more users to the project, whereas before there were mostly devs/contributors, and very few users. We've already seen some of the first commercial uses of OSM data, albeit for very specific locations. With more data, better coverage more developers can use OSM data for their projects. And perhaps we'll even see people able to load the data into their GPS receivers or nav systems and use them as their primary mapping source.

Having users is a whole different set of issues than what OSM has dealt with in the past. Part of the growing pains is dealing with a quick increase in the community size which can affect the quality of data, reduction in a feeling of 'community', and also just dealing with common issues, support, and questions from new people as they start flooding in.

Simple Inspirational

The primary contributors to OSM have been in Europe, and they'll probably have the largest change from development to users. European contributors will have to deal with the possibility loss of identity that they had with OSM as a grass-roots organization and helping shape it as a larger, more stable entity.

But another benefit of this huge surge in usefulness and visibility of OSM is that it should inspire contribution and development around the world. It can spur users in Asia, New Zealand, Africa, and South America what the power and purpose can be in contributing new data. They'll now see OSM not just as a bunch of geeks "over in Europe" running around with GPS units, but a solid, useful, system where they can contribute to and really use this new data and services.

Of course, all this will still take some time. OSM just got the imagery, and they're still working out the bugs and features of the applet to convert the images to real street data. But it's definitely a turning point in the open-geodata front, one that will cause quite a bit of excitement.

And good luck conquering the last of the dragon-lands.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.