By Nick Judd
DevelopmentSeed will receive a $575,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge to improve tools for working with OpenStreetMap, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced Thursday at the Online News Association conference in San Francisco.
OpenStreetMap describes itself as the Wikipedia of map data. At the best of times the flexibility and speed afforded by a community-driven mapping project can make OpenStreetMap an engine of creativity. As an open-source map, it comes with far fewer licensing restrictions and can be used in a variety of ways. That's the incentive for users to improve it as opposed to improving some other mapping data — invest time in OSM and use it exactly the way you want to use it, rather than navigate the licensing terms of, for example, Google Map Maker. OSM especially shows its usefulness in places where Google cannot or does not often go, like Islamabad, Pakistan, or Jalalabad, Afghanistan, or Tbilisi, Georgia — anyone can contribute to OSM regardless of how they or their government feels about big, largely Western, multinational corporations.
But at the worst of times, OSM reveals itself as a volunteer-driven project without the polish of a commercially supported product. For example, reports indicate OpenStreetMap is backing up primary vendor TomTom as a data source for the by-all-accounts-awful performance of Apple's new Maps program, included as part of iOS 6 in lieu of Google's mapping offering.
The DevelopmentSeed grant will be put towards making it easier for users to improve the data in OpenStreetMap, DevelopmentSeed CEO Eric Gundersen said in an interview Thursday morning.
"OpenStreetMap doesn't have cars to drive 5 million miles," Gundersen said. "It doesn't have a fleet of planes. What it does have is a really rich community of people who want to map around their house.
"We maintain a full worldwide basemap," Gundersen said later on in our conversation. "A basemap that folks like Foursquare are using is all part of OpenStreetMap. We want to make sure that that data in our basemaps is highest quality and there's the best data in there. Improving these tools within OpenStreetMap is going to put us down that path."
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.