Maps & Mapping Software - Open Street Map

posted Apr 1, 2010, 6:14 AM by John Werner   [ updated Apr 21, 2010, 12:24 PM ]

Open Street Map - A Free, Editable, Street Level Map of the World

Wikipedia has revolutionized the world of encyclopedias.  Who would have thought 15 years ago that a community maintained encyclopedia could exist, yet alone be so complete and (for the most part) well written?  The Open Street Map (OSM) project seeks to do the same thing for cartography that Wikipedia did for reference books.

For most people, the power of Open Street Map is that the maps are freely available to everyone.  There are no subscriptions to buy or special software you need to access them.  Quite the contrary, there are actually many ways you can use the data.

Web Interfaces

The simplest way to view the map data is to visit the Open Street Map website (http://www.openstreetmap.org).  From there, you can do simple searches, zoom in/out, and pan around the maps.  The image at the left is an actual screen shot of the a map of the downtown Chicago, IL area.  (You can go directly to that map by visiting through this link.)

Since the Open Street Map data is freely available and different people want to see different information, there have been many different web viewers made.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Townguide - This will generate a "poster" of an area of the map with selected points of interest (click for Townguide Example PDF)
  • Open Cycle Map - This generates a map that includes topographic lines and bike routes.  I don't care much about the bike routes, the the topographic lines are a big plus for me. (click for Sample Open Cycle Map)
  • CloudMade Maps - This is a great site for customizing the map you want to see.  You can choose different styles and even create your own!
For more different viewers, you might want to look at the Geohack US Map Page.

Other Mapping Software

If I tried to list all of the different packages and applications of the Open Street Map data, I would quickly run out space.  There are many different programs available that can use the map data and allow you to add your own information.  There are even programs that allow you to load routable OSM maps onto your Garmin GPS (see this link).  Having done this with my Garmin iQue 3600, I can say the result are impressive: I now have corrected maps on my GPS.

My current favorite piece of mapping software, Viking GPS, can use data from the Open Street Map project to draw map layers.  The main thrust of Viking GPS is presenting GPS data, but it can also be used to generate annotated maps of your own.

Editable Maps?

Have you ever come across a problem in a map?  How about finding out that a road you thought went through doesn't exist?  Maybe you live in a new development and your street doesn't show up so your friends can't find you.  What really makes the Open Street Map different from other maps is that you can fix the maps.   You can also add / remove / edit points of interest (churches, stores, etc.)  Editing the maps is not difficult, but it should be done carefully.  More information on this can be found on the Open Street Map web site, and there are several different packages (both online and local to you PC) that allow updating the data.

Conclusion

The Open Street Map project is changing the way maps are made and map data is shared.  The project is a world wide effort to provide street level mapping.  Best of all, the information is freely, and easily available.  There are many tools for viewing, printing, and even updating the Open Street Map.
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