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Atlanta openstreetmap, mapathon atlanta
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The skyline of Atlanta, Ga., Oct. 6, 1977.

Atlanta to Become Digitally Mapped

October 15, 2009 11:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
OpenStreetMap’s “mapathon” in Atlanta will make the city the most digitally mapped city in the world, and offer that information for free. But can it stand up to Google Maps?

Newcomer to Digital Mapping

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Many companies, including MapQuest, Google Maps and most recently, OpenStreetMap (OSM), have been competing in a high-stakes race to map the world. To that end, OpenStreetMap’s large-scale “mapathon” in the city of Atlanta, Ga., promises to turn the state capital into the “world’s most digitally mapped city,” Maggie Shiels reports for the BBC.

OpenStreetMap
is a new company that has modeled itself as the “Wikipedia of maps,” Shiels writes, yet doesn’t have “the same problems of providing this passive neutral point of view,” OSM founder Steve Coast told the BBC. “The fact is there are either 25 exits off Highway 101 or there aren’t,” he said.

Describing itself as “The Free Wiki World Map,” OSM is built entirely by volunteers, and its content is offered to the public for free. The Atlanta mapathon was organized as a group effort that aims to produce extremely detailed maps that are “more accurate than anything else on the market,” Shiels notes.

Approximately 200 volunteers will participate in the Atlanta mapathon this weekend. Volunteers will be equipped with “global positioning devices” that will allow them to map portions of the city, the BBC explains. Coast views this project as “a really big mapping party” that doesn’t end after the physical mapping is over. The success of the OSM collaborative project, in Coast’s mind, depends on the “passion and enthusiasm of the volunteers.” These volunteers will continue perfecting the map, updating information and adding extra details. “We have over 160,000 people around the world constantly updating the maps,” Coast told the BBC. “In Germany, the people there have done so much work that they are mapping trees and overhead wires.”

As Frank Howell from the Atlanta Office of Research and Policy Analysis explained to the BBC, the communal aspect of this massive mapping effort takes the production to an entirely different level, and makes the information collected available to everyone. “[W]hat is neat about it is this information is free,” he said. “It will be owned by the community—not by Google or other mapping services like Tele Atlas. These two things together really captured my imagination.”

OpenStreetMap’s free, communal approach to mapmaking could give the new company an advantage over giants such as Google Maps, which has more restrictions when it comes to data sharing.

Background: Google Maps to rely on their own data

According to recent data, Google Maps is also changing the way in which they make maps, reportedly “ditching Tele Atlas as its data provider for Google Maps in the US in favor of a do-it-yourself approach,” Frederic Lardinois reports for ReadWriteWeb. The partnership with Tele Atlas is likely costly and limiting for Google, restricting the ways in which map data can be offered to customers. By creating maps with its Street View car system, supplemented by information from “government sources and a crowdsourcing approach,” Google would free itself from the data-sharing conditions of a third party.

For many, however, Google’s investigative approach to mapmaking seems invasive. In June, Germany forced Google to remove raw images of the country from its database, and to allow the public more control over the images that are being uploaded onto the Google Street View system. 

Related Topic: Monopoly City Streets

In September, the gaming company Hasbro launched Monopoly City Streets, an online version of its popular board game, Monopoly. As J.R. Raphael explains for PC World, the game uses Google Maps as the game board, along with extensive street data from OpenStreetMap, and allows players to buy streets on a worldwide scale.

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