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Yesterday, Google announced that they have made Google Map Maker available in the United Kingdom. Like OpenStreetMap it allows everybody to update and add things to the map. But there is one big difference: With MapMaker you don't get access to the data.

Fellow OpenStreetMapper, Richard Fairhurst, describes this as Crowd-serfing:

Crowd-serfing, n.: when a large corp uses crowd-sourced volunteering for its own financial gain, without giving back. See: @googlemapmaker.

I will never understand why people do work for a commercial company without getting any real benefit back:

Unfortunately, today's BBC coverage on the availability of Google MapMaker in the UK read more like a manual on MapMaker than a nicely unbiased piece on crowd-sourced maps. Only after one of the OpenStreetMappers reached out to the journalist that wrote the piece, they added some background on OpenStreetMap:

"The biggest problem with Google Map Maker is that anything people contribute may appear on Google's map, but only Google can get at the underlying data to be able to do anything else with it," said Chris Hill.

"If someone includes a Google map on their web site to show where their business is they may also be showing where their competitors are and they can't change that."

Sure, it's nice to have some roads on the Google Map, but you will never even have full access back to your data, unlike OpenStreetMap where you can download and work with all the data. Even nicer is that often, OpenStreetMap still has better maps than GoogleMaps - for example, have a look at this in North Korea: . And closer to home in the United Kingdom, compare some of the hiking trails in the Peak District: . Even in places like London, the accuracy of the locations of addresses and points-of-interest (POIs) is often a lot better, as OpenStreetMap doesn't use web site scraping and post-code-centroid locations to place POIs: . OpenStreetMap mostly relies on surveys, done by individuals (like you!) to verify things are actually there, aided a little by the availability of Bing Maps as background imagery.

One of the things that most people forget, is the terms and conditions that commercial entities state. An except from MapMaker's reads:

"You give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display, distribute, and create derivative works of the user submission."

Note that it never mentions that you can do anything with the data yourself…

If you are contributing time and knowledge, why not allow yourself to benefit from it as well? I realise that OpenStreetMap might not be as accessible, and the map-tiles on their web site aren't the prettiest, but the real benefit is in the access to the raw data that makes up the images in the map. The OpenStreetMap wiki also has an article on this.

Access to the data allows you to do so many more things. From creating your own fancy map-styles, creating "washable, wearable, all-weather maps designed for the real outdoors" such as SplashMaps, to powering web-sites that show accessibility. If you don't like the way map data is rendered, you can produce something in your own style, just like Nike did with this campaign.

Also, there is nothing better if some of your handiwork shows up in a "best of OSM" poster :-) I would never spend my time adding data to Google's Maps. Instead, I prefer to contribute to OpenStreetMap and do awesome things with the data. In the meanwhile, OpenStreetMap continues to support humanitarian relief efforts in Mali and many other places.

If you're near London, come and join us this summer! (Other places will also run mapping parties).


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I'm not sure when it was done, but I assume this point: showing some Final Fantasy place on Kerguelen island's old dump is also an example of why Google Map Maker isn't that good an idea. It was added a few months ago apparently.

I also see no way of indicating that it's wrong, but maybe that's because I'm not in the right country.

The difference struck me yesterday. A friend gave me a printout from Google Maps of an area and asked if I could produce something they could use on the back of a black and white printed leaflet. Using Geofabrik to download an extract, Osmosis to cut out a smaller area to work with, JOSM to tweak my small extract to remove features that I didn't want to appear, and Maperitive to create a set of black and white rules this was surprisingly easy (it helped I'd used all the tools before, of course).

With Google Map Maker you'd give Google the data, and then couldn't do anything like this with it.

Thanks for the great research and all the links. I find the accessibility map most useful.

I wouldn't want my data to be sucked into a black hole. If there were no alternatives, I might have helped Google. But with a true open alternative, the choice of where to contribute is quite obvious.

It's a pity more businesses aren't building with the API.

In Australia, there's a lack of free/open data sets to import, and we got hit heavily by the redaction.

I'd love to see real estate and property industry folks start picking up the open map data idea. One simple use case, generating location descriptions of a given point:

"123 Example St is located (distance) from transport, shopping and playground areas, with approx Nsqm of sheds/garages and a pool/tennis court"

Or for something a bit more way out there: a tourism/gps nav app that highlights scenic, country drives by the sqm of vineyards in a particular area.

The one decent adoption I've seen, our local bus network picked up open street map for routing (hurray), but doesn't make their bus stop or timetable information available for consumption into OSM (boo!).

I'm sure there's a lot of businesses with geographical data sets they could share and liberate, but they don't seem to know how at this stage; or see the value.

I completely agree with your critique. However, at least Ed Parsons says that they are working on getting your own data out of the system.


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