I’m not sure how many of you have decided to take part in the Monopoly City Streets game, but one of my friends pointed out something interesting. The game was promoted as being powered by Google Maps, but looking into the FAQ’s reveals that the data is not solely coming from Google. Instead the maps that you see are coming from Google, but the data that is actually being used in the backend is from a site called OpenStreetMap. Google Maps is pretty much used just for the “eye candy” and nothing else. This makes things a bit interesting:
Monopoly City Streets launched in September 2009 using map images from Google Maps and map data from OpenStreetMap for the streets that you can buy. You may have noticed that the streets on the map do not exactly fit the (blue/purple/red) street overlays, or that the spelling of the name of a street is different, or that you cannot buy a street at all. All that is because the street data comes from OpenStreetMap, but the map images do not.
I hadn’t heard of OpenStreetMap before, but after looking into it I have to say that it’s a rather cool idea. It’s basically a Wikipedia for maps. Anyone is free to update the content, which means if your street isn’t on the map you are free to add it. It does require that you collect and upload some data though.
What’s the purpose of OpenStreetMap with services like Google Maps? This isn’t designed to be a site that you can get directions from. Instead it’s geared towards developers. It’s a free source for developers to get map data from without having to worry about any kind of licensing:
The goal of the project is to have free-as-in-free-speech geographical data for everyone to use, for any purpose. Anybody can download a copy of all of OpenStreetMap’s database and do anything they like with it.
Kinda neat. There’s a good chance that from a user’s perspective you’ll never hear of this service again, but don’t be surprised to find out that some of the apps you use are getting their data from this site. One good example that I found is CloudMade, who lets you apply or create your own visual styles and color schemes for the maps. There’s other OpenStreetMap-powered solutions as well, such as MapMe or the iPhone app called OffMaps that is designed to take your maps offline. Developers are definitely using it, and it will be interesting to see if the “open” nature of the site will contribute or hinder its success. After all, one day you might wake up and your street will cease to exist (on the map that is). :)