The crowd-sourced mapping project OpenStreetMap has amassed a million contributors since its inception in 2005 and, according to navigation app maker Skobbler, boasts greater accuracy in England, Russia and Germany than rivals such as Google Maps.
Berlin-based Skobbler has a tool called GeOS to help developers more easily incorporate OpenStreetMap (OSM) maps into their services. Given that, and since its own apps such as GPS Navigation 2 also use OSM, it is not surprising to see the company talking up the platform. That said, it has some good points to make about the OSM model’s success.
The key point is that traditional mapping services such as Navteq come out of the automotive GPS market. Google(s goog) also collects most of its data by driving around. OSM, by way of contrast, is generally better at collecting details that are to be found off-road or by pedestrians.
However, for a service that’s often compared with Wikipedia, contributing to OSM is still a specialist business, limiting the number of active contributors to those with the technical know-how. Indeed, while the million milestone is notable, the number of active monthly contributors is less than 20,000. (This is not that surprising – a very small proportion of Wikipedia’s 18.3 million registered users make regular edits.)
“While reaching one million [contributors] is a major milestone for OSM, it’s still early days in terms of fulfilling its potential,” Skobbler co-founder Marcus Thielking said in a statement. “With 90 percent of the population still realistically unable to participate, we’re expecting easier OSM access to allow everyone and anyone to help increase the success of this amazing modern alternative to conventional mapping.”
The question is, where is that easier access going to come from? Unsurprisingly, Thielking reckons the solution lies in more commercial products using OSM, a shift that would spur demand for more – and more standardized – contributions.
That would benefit Skobbler but it would also be good news for those that already use OSM data. The biggest name there is Apple(s aapl) – the maps in iOS 6 use OSM data for some parts of the world – but others include Foursquare, Craigslist and, of course, Wikipedia.