Crowdsourced street maps for commercial providers

The State of the Map conference at the weekend - organised mostly by the OpenStreetMap Foundation - was a great success. It drew in a broad mix of a crowd, from OSM hackers through to academics, surveyors, cartographers and those in business who are in a position to both benefit from the project and support it in achieving its goals of mapping the world - many of them actually being sponsors of the weekend.

Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google, took the opening speech on Sunday, drawing on his experience as ex-CTO of the Ordnance Survey and his new role at Google. He highlighted just how much of the world is covered by user-created content of some sort, showing hubs of activity in Britain - likely due to the Geograph project - and other places around the world, noting that there were very few gaps in the coverage. Few gaps in coverage suggests there are few places without people who have and interest in geography and the area around them. It'd be interesting to compare Ed's (Google's) map of user generated content with OpenStreetMap's map of user generated geodata and see how different or alike they are in their hotspots of activity.

The main point of this post was to point out Ed's announcement that Google is using crowdsourced map data for some of their maps of India. I don't recall the source of the data (Mumbai Free Map, perhaps?) but I am curious, at what point would Google start using OpenStreetMap's crowdsourced data?

He brought up two issues that were affecting that decision at present: licensing - a big issue in the community - and quality* - something we need to start start thinking a lot more about now that some areas are 'complete' and potentially ready for being used as such, and many others getting closer to that point every day. What issues did they have to work through to get the Indian maps into their transport layer on Google Earth (and Maps?)?

No prizes for guessing which part of the world I'd like to see covered by the major mapping providers...

The closing talk at State of the Map was given by Sean Phelan, founder of MultiMap, about the history of web mapping. He was joined by John McKerrell, senior software engineer and developer of their cool new 'slippy map', to talk about the modern age of web mapping.

Sean's personal prediction (wish) was that they'd be able to use OpenStreetMap as a layer on the MultiMap website by the end of 2007. But with the (possible though ambitious) aim of Steve Coast - OpenStreetMap founder - of finishing the map of Britain by mid 2008, it'll be interesting to see how they deal with the issue of 'completeness' of the map. How will end users feel about an incomplete map? Will it drive more people into the project to fix up the map?

Users aside (for now), there's one thing for sure and that's that MultiMap, the first British online mapping provider, will be viewed as a visionary by those of us building the maps and hopefully also by those in industry who may not be convinced right now of the value of user-created maps.

* actually, looking back through Ed's presentation I think the second point wasn't quality as such, but about the reach of the project... I should've taken notes :)

Update: See Frank Taylor's post on about Google's maps in India and listen to Michael Jones' (Chief Technologist of Google Earth) presentation about it.