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OpenStreetMap turns 10

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2014

In August, the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap turned 10 years old.

When the project was begun by Steve Coast in 2004, map data sources were few, and largely controlled by a small collection of private and governmental players. The scarcity of map data ensured that it remained both expensive and highly restrictive, and no one but the largest navigation companies could use map data. Steve changed the rules by creating a wiki-like resource of the entire globe, which everyone could use without hinderance.

The magic of OSM’s early success was not just its timeliness — GPS was becoming affordable, storage was increasingly cheap, and the iPhone was around the corner — but its provision of a read-write canvas where emerging mapping enthusiasts could convert their frustration into action. Maps, of course, are intimately personal, but also overtly political: as a true, citizens’ map of the world, OSM could address that particular paradox — no longer were mapping resources allocated by revenue potential; instead, all one needed was time and a computer connection to add data about their country or their neighborhood.

As you can see, from a fledgling project, a rich collection of data has taken shape:

Still my favorite use of OSM: Stamen’s watercolor maps. Happy birthday, old thing.