HOME
          
LATEST STORY
From rumor to out: Tim Cook reminds us that “unpublishable” facts don’t live in a vacuum online
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 3, 2012, 9:57 a.m.
Reporting & Production

While Apple and Google bicker, Knight invests in open maps

OpenStreetMap gets its first major investment with a $575,000 Knight News Challenge grant.

OpenStreetMap screen shot

September was a big month for maps: Amazon released its own Maps API to challenge Google’s hegemony. Apple, locked in a corporate feud with Google, dropped Google Maps in favor of a homegrown solution for iOS 6 (with disastrous results).

Meanwhile, the Knight Foundation put its money and might behind maps owned by no corporation: OpenStreetMap.

Like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap is a map that anyone can edit. The data comes from volunteers who use GPS devices or just local knowledge to map their environments. If you want to fix a mistake, just hit the ubiquitous “Edit” button.

The site’s existing user interface is clunky and unfriendly, however. Knight awarded a $575,000 News Challenge grant to OSM developer MapBox to refine that user interface and develop new APIs to make the data easily exportable.

“What’s critical about OpenStreetMap is not the map. It’s the data,” said MapBox CEO Eric Gundersen at the ONA conference in San Francisco. The map you see at openstreetmap.org is purposely ugly, a visual wrapper around the wealth of data underneath. “The power of OpenStreetMap is the power of grabbing that data out and doing stuff with it,” he said.

MapBox, a for-profit company, has built very pretty maps with OSM data. The company’s highly customizable mapping platform is used by The New York Times, NPR, The Boston Globe, and Foursquare.

Gundersen had me visit the site, create an account, and look up my old San Diego address. He watched as I worked. I saw that the street name was listed incorrectly, so I went to fix it. The Flash-based interface was pretty rough, but I figured it out. It was gratifying to correct a detail I knew to be wrong; you can’t do that on an iPhone.

People like Gundersen believe data is better if anyone can contribute — and everyone owns it.

“It’s not all about buying data. It’s not all about driving cars around,” he said, referring to Google’s ubiquitous Street View vehicles. “It’s about building a community around data. Google gets that, and that’s why they made Map Maker. The difference here is, Who owns that data? You don’t.”

The Knight Foundation has previously funded mapping projects focused on the end user, such as Stamen Maps and TileMill. In this case, Knight is drilling beneath the presentation layer and investing in the data underneath — fitting for the data round of the Knight News Challenge.

“The big part of the investment is making it easier to get data out, so it’s more consumable,” Gundersen said. He wants to see news organizations ordinary users creating their own projects with OSM data. MapBox will create more intuitive, low-level APIs to help introduce new developers to the community.

Gundersen said he expects the bulk of the new OpenStreetMap tools to be launched in spring 2013. All of the code will be open-sourced and posted to GitHub.

POSTED     Oct. 3, 2012, 9:57 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
PART OF A SERIES     Knight News Challenge 2012
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
From rumor to out: Tim Cook reminds us that “unpublishable” facts don’t live in a vacuum online
The Apple CEO confirmed what some websites had reported years ago — the fragmented lens of online media giving new meaning to the idea of an “open secret.”
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
Before the “teaching hospital model” of journalism education: 5 questions to ask
It’ll take a new generation of academic leadership — willing to incur the wrath of faculty, the greater university, alumni, industry, and analysts — to break through the old ways we train journalists.
What to read next
1020
tweets
The newsonomics of the millennial moment
The new wave of news startups is aiming at a younger audience. But do legacy media companies have a chance at earning their attention?
531Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
413The new Vox daily email, explained
The company’s newsletter, Vox Sentences, enters an increasingly crowded inbox. Can concise writing and smart aggregation on the day’s news help expand their audience?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Journal Register Co.
The Blaze
The New Republic
MinnPost
New West
Bayosphere
Sports Illustrated
BBC News
Center for Investigative Reporting
Circa
GateHouse Media
PBS