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Building a Website > Apple, Foursquare: Goodbye Google Maps, Hello OpenStreetMap
March 21, 2012

A not so new mapping service has been taking big strides this month catching the attention of large companies like Foursquare and Apple, and has been giving Google Maps a definite run for its money. That mapping service is none other than OpenStreetMap (OSM), the free collaborative mapping project which was created in the early 2000s. According to an article on SEO (click here to read more about our services) news source Search Engine Watch, popular location-based social networking service Foursquare was the first major company to switch from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap late last month. Foursquare was cited stating that OSM was “the perfect fit” because of “its design flexibility and it being open source.” Just a little over a week later, Apple was spotted using OSM on their newly launched photo management app, iPhoto. According to a post on OSM Foundation’s official blog, the desktop version of the iPhoto and all of Apple’s previous iOS apps had been using Google Maps until that time, and they were absolutely delighted about it.

A Reasonable Switch

Some might say that these companies had no choice but to switch to OSM because of Google Maps’ recent pricing ($4 for every 1,000 visitors past 25,000). But Apple’s decision to switch had been a long time coming Search Engine Watch notes, given that since 2009 it had been buying up companies in the mapping space including Placebase, Poly9 and C3 Technologies. And although Foursquare’s switch was instigated by the Google Maps pricing the company also had other good reasons to opt for OSM.

Unlike Google Maps, OSM can be freely edited by users, so information and directions are more updated. According to an article on news.com, it “closely follows the non-profit Wikipedia model.” “Anyone can go to the OpenStreetMap website and add or edit information,” news.com notes, “And anyone can use the maps - to find their way or to build their own map-based apps - for free.” These features have made OSM a great help in times of crises. News.com points out that during devastating calamities such as the earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010 and the tsunami that overwhelmed Japan, the geography of these areas changed drastically- buildings were destroyed, refugee camps sprung up and streets were reduced to rubble. In such situations, the ability of users to easily update OSM became very helpful in guiding volunteers and disaster relief workers to their destinations. Likewise, they were also able to edit the maps themselves as they encountered changes in the terrain. News.com quotes OSM volunteer Jonathan Bennett in saying, “the responsiveness of crowdsourced maps to change represents a new way of charting the world.” Bennet adds, “OpenStreetMap can keep up with the pace of progress in a way that no other way of making maps can.”

OpenStreetMap: The Future Google Maps?

Since its conception in the early 2000s, OSM has gained half a million registered cartographers, including 16,000 heavily active contributors. According to news.com Volunteer trekkers worldwide have logged more than 2.7 billion GPS points on the map so far, and are showing no signs of stopping.

Aside from having continuous user-contributed updates, OSM is also quite easy to use. “Using OpenStreetMap can be as simple as going to the main website and searching for a location, as with the popular Google Maps,” news.com notes. And with a price that is just right, it could just be the perfect choice over Google Maps for website developers and website owners, especially if their sites rely heavily on mapping. 

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