OpenStreetMap vs. Google Maps

OpenStreetMap vs. Google Maps


If I’m right, today will be marked as a turning point for the mapping industry. Something huge has happened: We broke the sound barrier. Telenav’s consumer facing navigation app Scout is shipping with OSM data!

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is nearly ten years old and until now has been a great display map. Looking at it, it looks great! You can put pins on top of it. You can print it out. It even looks better than most maps, due to the insane detail the community put in to it every day. People have founded companies to monetize OSM based on a great looking, open and free map of the world.

OSM is made by people like you. We use our phones, GPS devices and laptops to add streets, footpaths, parks and anything else you can imagine in to the map. It’s been wonderful to watch it grow.

But adding turn restrictions and every stop sign in a city is not as fun. In fact, it’s kind of boring compared to the other things. Getting every address in Kansas and putting them in OSM isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries either.

This is why up until today there hasn’t been a great navigation experience using OSM. The data wasn’t there. To make a great route from A to B you need to know where B is and all the navigation details in between, and OSM just doesn’t have that data.

To make sure you arrive on time, your routing software has to know about all the one-way streets, the turn restrictions, the speed limits and much more about all the roads between you and your destination. OSM doesn’t have any of this today.

Enter Telenav, where I work. We’ve spent approximately a zillion man-years to fix these issues and today we’re announcing navigation using OSM within Scout, our consumer navigation app. We’re starting in the US and on iOS with the rest to follow.

Scout has a lot of users and so we need to make sure the quality bar is very high. If we shipped OSM as-is in it, we would quickly have not as many users.

We’ve built that quality by first analyzing GPS data. We take anonymous traces of where people drive and looked for patterns. If everyone drives one way down a street, maybe it’s a one-way street. If they all drive at 35mph on average, maybe it’s a 35mph road and so on. We license address data and point of interest info to find your destinations.

We’ve spent time automatically and manually correcting things in OSM to bring it up to what a consumer would expect to see.

And of course, we’re giving all that we can back. Via our own editing, maproulette and competitions we’re pumping all the good stuff that we can back in to OSM. This takes time due to OSMs consensus on not importing the masses of fixes we generate.

We’ve spent time drive testing. We’ve sent real people out across the United States with Scout using OSM to find out how it works. We’re very happy with the results.

Will it be perfect? If only! No, no map is perfect. The world is changing all the time and you can invest billions of dollars and still have map issues. But whenever anyone finds an issue, they can fix it. That’s the difference. We have feedback mechanisms built right in to Scout and we’ll take care of issues our customers report too.

I’m sure we’ll find issues in the map. We want to! That’s the whole point! Every issue we find and fix is making the map better for everyone. Since it’s open and free, every fix means it’s fixed forever, out there being loved instead of stuck in a dead dataset.

Feel sorry for how proprietary maps are currently built. When there’s a new road built, they all have to scramble to add it. Repeating each others work, trying to own everything and not sharing their corrections. It’s hardly efficient. Then it takes months and years to ship corrections compared to OSM where these things are instantly available.

What does all this mean?

It means OSM is ready for prime time!

Navigation is the very peak of Mount Map. By leveraging a decade of OSM and sprinkling on top some expertise and GPS data we’ve surmounted all the major issues in making open mapping available to all.

We’ll look back and wonder why we ever used closed maps.

OSM will roll out to iOS Scout users over the coming days. Watch for the OpenStreetMap attribution in the lower-right of the map.

OSM Attribution

OSM Attribution in Scout

A decade, you say?

It’s hard to believe but yes. I started OSM, designed the API, wrote all the early code, did hundreds of speaking events and a bunch of other things… but a lot of that was a while ago now. We need to thank a lot of people who were key along the way or have quietly toiled to make the project work. So in no particular order and surely, inevitably, missing people:

OSM wouldn’t be here without thanks to Matt “genius” Amos, Tom Carden (no home page without Tom), Ben Gimpert (with Tom, one of only 4 people at the first anniversary event), Alexandra Lotinga, Andy Robinson, Andy “the biker” Allen, Tom Hughes (for keeping five 9s uptime for 6 years or so), Richard “boatman” Fairhurst (first (and maybe last) decent web editor), Mike Collinson, Ian Brown, Mikel “the beard” Maron, Artem Pavlenko (the first colour maps), Henk Hoff, Tim Bruce, Jon Crowcroft, Nick Black, Imi (JOSM!), Etienne, Simon Poole, Frederick “serious” Ramm, Jochen “linuxhotel” Topf, MapMyShaun McDonald, Harry Wood, Gur Kimchi (MSFT aerial imagery), everyone at AND, Richard Weait, Grant Slater, Russ Nelson, Migurski & Rodenbeck (and all at Stamen), flickr/brickhouse, Jay Bregman (eCourier – first GPS traces), everyone at MapBox, Rich Gibson, Schuyler Erle, Jo Walsh, Randy Meech, Philipp Kandal & Oliver Kuhn & all at Skobbler, Serge for being Serge, Ed Freyfogle, Kate Chapman, everyone at the first mapping party on the Isle of Wight, anyone who dared enter legal-talk, Petter Reinholdtsen, Nick Hill (first servers), Joerg Ostertag (GpsDrive started it all), Nick Whitelegg, Dan Karran, Jon Burgess, Dermot McNally, Hiroshi Miura, Simone Cortesi, Dave Stubbs, Brett Henderson for osmosis, Paul Norman for being an important steward of the database, Kai Kruger for invaluable work on the OSM tool chain, Robert Barr, Andrew Turner, Iván Sánchez Ortega, Ant Pegg,Ed Parsons (and all the motivation from OS), Tristram Cary, whoever invented the Garmin Gecko, the Jeremey Bentham pub, UCL for all the bandwidth and electricity, Alasdair Turner (RIP), Mike Batty, Alan Penn, everyone I offended, everyone I missed, Hurricane and then Matt Amos again because awesome.

Wow, someone should write a book about all that history.

Another set of folks need thanking from Telenav to make Scout with OSM happen. It would only be complete by listing hundreds of employees so again forgive my brevity:

Loren Hillberg, Ryan Peterson, Martijn Van Exel, John Novak, Guoyuan Xiao, Eric Godwin, Robert Stack, Vlad Lemberg, Kristen Kam, Chris Zontine, Jon Locke, Tony Ma, Song Gao, Matthieu Nahoum, Huiheng Kuang, Chris Yu, Ben Luo, Rob Daniels, Dariusz Paczuski, Xiaotao Liu, Jonathan Zhao, Yong Yang, Ran Lei and everyone I missed.