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Open-source CloudMade takes on Google Maps

Firm endorses community-backed mapping data

CloudMade is gearing up to release a set of tools that will enable people to quickly and easily contribute to the OpenStreetMap project.

At the same time the company is looking to create a developer model that will enable developers to use OpenStreetMap data and databases in their websites and iPhone applications.

"There are really two sides to this, there's a community facing side called Mapzen and a developer platform," said Nick Black, Founder of CloudMade.

Mapzen is an online tool that aims to simplify the process of editing data in OpenStreetMap. Much of the data in the map is based upon satellite imagery. Individual users can then use Mapzen to draw over the satellite image and create a map of streets and other routers. Black told us: "Google Maps is really focussed on roads, but OpenStreetMap has much more information on paths and cycle routes – it's much better for pedestrians."

As well as routes, users can add local landmarks to the map, attaching features such as post boxes, shops, restaurants and cafes.

CloudMade also has an iPhone application called Mapzen POI Collector awaiting approval from Apple. This enables users to search the OpenStreetMap and to add points of interest. There are already a few apps on the iPhone that access OpenStreetMap data, including MotionX GPS which enables users to track outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling and trekking. One slightly disappointing aspect of the CloudMade iPhone app is that in its first incarnation it will not enable users to use the GPS of the iPhone to track routes. This is a technique whereby individuals track paths using the GPS of a device and use the paths to create accurate maps. It seems that the initial aim is to use a combination of satellite imagery and user-added landmarks to create maps – with the more in-depth tracking application to follow.

Not that there's any shortage of data already on OpenStreetMap. We were surprised to find it contained far more information than Google Maps on our local areas in London. Nick Black explained: "There are over 185,000 users adding to OpenStreetMap so it has a much greater level of detail than other maps on the market. Sometimes the level of detail is actually too much, but we provide tools that enable users to customise the view of maps so see a lower level of detail."

Of course, much of the detail depends upon what area of the world you are looking at. Although we were surprised to find that the level of detail provided by OpenStreetMaps exceeded Google Maps when we searched for the remote island of Koh Samui (recently visited by Macworld's editor-in-chief Mark Hattersley). The search results also seemed more accurate – Google seemed more intent on providing businesses in London referencing Koh Samui than the actual island itself. Nick Black told us that Google's real focus is on expanding its search results.


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