OpenStreetMap ‘In Serious Trouble’

Much chatter on Twitter about a blog post criticizing OpenStreetMap that made it to the front page of Hacker News; problem is, said chatter hasn’t been linking to said blog post. Here it is: “Why OpenStreetMap is in Serious Trouble,” in which Serge Wroclawski argues that OSM has lost its way on a technical and management level:

Before I criticize the project, I want to state emphatically that I still believe wholeheartedly in the core principles of OpenStreetMap. We need a Free as in Freedom geographic dataset just as much today as we did in the past. When I wrote my article about OSM in 2012, self-driving cars and other services were still a dream. Today the importance of having a highly accurate, libre geographic dataset is more important than ever, and I support those working to make it happen.

That said, while I still believe in the goals of OpenStreetMap, I feel the OpenStreetMap project is currently unable to fulfill that mission due to poor technical decisions, poor political decisions, and a general malaise in the project. I’m going to outline in this article what I think OpenStreetMap has gotten wrong. It’s entirely possible that OSM will reform and address the impediments to its success—and I hope it does. We need a Free as in Freedom geographic dataset.

I do love me a good rant; and as an OSM contributor myself, I do recognize some of the problems Serge highlights, particularly the difficulties in importing data, moderating edits, and vandalism.

Since getting linked there is what drew attention to it, Hacker News comments (I know, I know) are here.

Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads.

Wired Covers the Mapzen Shutdown

Wired’s coverage of the Mapzen shutdown (see previous entry) is fairly comprehensive.

The good news is that, in some ways, Mapzen’s founders built it to fail. “Part of the rules with Mapzen is that everything is open source and we only deal with open data,” says CEO Randy Meech. “Luckily, we’re staffed to help people stand things up on their own.” Users now have T minus 28 days to grab the info they need (or get Mapzen’s help to do it) and upload it to their own data portals, keeping it free and accessible.

The reason for the shutdown is still elusive:

At this point, the company’s coroner’s report is thin. Meech would not comment on the reason for the shuttering. The company is owned by a Samsung subsidiary focused on research and is funded by the South Korean company’s incubator. We do know that running a mapping company ain’t cheap. While Mapzen’s products are built on openly licensed data from OpenStreetMap, it adds valuable software tools to the mix for those who don’t know how to build their own or don’t have the time. Its tools help developers build aesthetically pleasing maps and equip them with search and routing services, while its staff curates, publishes, and creates data. It’s possible Samsung simply decided it didn’t have the money to compete or that it wasn’t worth the price tag.

The article goes on to point out that, Mapzen’s death notwithstanding, the mapping biz continues to be a hot, albeit expensive, sector. [Tyler Bell]

Mapzen Is Shutting Down

Mapzen announced today that they were shutting down at the end of January 2018.

Our hosted APIs and all related support and services will turn off on February 1, 2018. You will not be charged for API usage in December/January. We know this is an inconvenience and have provided a migration guide to similar services for our developer community. Our goal is to help as much as possible to ensure continuity in the services that you have built with us.

Fortunately, the core products of Mapzen are built entirely on open software and data. As a result, there are options to run Mapzen services yourself or to switch to other service providers.

No reason was given for the move.

Google’s Map Data Alchemy

Justin O’Beirne’s lengthy analyses of Google Maps and Apple Maps are always worth reading,1 and his latest is no exception. Looking at the rapid proliferation of buildings, areas of interest and other examples of Google’s Ground Truthing program, Justin discovers that Google’s buildings data are a product of its satellite imagery, its places of interest are a product of its Street View data, and its areas of interest (the orange-shaded areas that indicate business districts) are the result of combining those stores of data.

…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts[.]

This is bonkers, isn’t it?

Google is creating data out of data.

This is slightly more than Google’s competitors are able to match. As always, Justin’s analysis is worth reading in full, and comes complete with before/after animations that make his point visually clear.

China Restricts Foreign Firms from Mapping Roads for Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars require insanely detailed maps in order to function. But, as The Drive’s Stephen Edelstein writes, “The Chinese government is blocking foreign companies from mapping its roads in great detail, according to a Financial Times report. The restrictions, which reportedly do not apply to Chinese firms, are being instituted in the name of national security. China is concerned about spying.” Mapping, geotagging, geographic surveys—all of these have been subject to Chinese government restrictions for many years (recall the trouble Google Maps has had operating in China), so this is more of an additional data point than an actual surprise. [Boing Boing/PC Mag]

Previously: The Business of Making Maps for Self-Driving Cars.

Street View Car Gets Disrespected by the Bing

What happens when a Google Street View car meets its Bing equivalent? The Verge explains: “As it turns out, when two Google Street View and Bing cars pass each other, only one (in this case Google) will admit to it publicly. Like an embarrassed or jilted lover, Microsoft masks the memory of the Google encounter with a giant white rectangle in Bing maps. […] Google however, proudly shows off the Bing car in all its glory.”

What the Hell Is Going On with the International Society for the History of the Map? 

A power struggle involving two factions of the International Society for the History of the Map has drawn the attention of, of all places, Deadspin’s The Concourse. The factions are, on the one hand, Dr. Zsolt G. Török, the former president who maintains control of the original ISHMap website; and, on the other, a new executive, chaired by Matthew Edney and elected at an AGM after Török failed to hold an online election, who maintain that Török vacated his post by failing to renew his membership. The latter group has a temporary website here, which outlines their position and details how the organization arrived at what they describe as the “constitutional crisis of 2017.” Both sides claim to be in charge of the society. One imagines the cartographic community splitting into pro- and anti-Török factions: Team Török and Team Edney. It’s the People’s Front of Judea vs. the Judean People’s Front all over again. [WMS]

The Future of Mapping: Semantic Maps

The future of mapping, according to John Hanke and Brian McClendon, who basically created Google Earth, is something called a semantic map. Now, semantic mapping has very different meanings in literacy, statistics and data science; in this case a semantic map refers to “a map that continues to learn about the physical world and refine its predictions of what objects are and how they will act through huge amounts of data. Without semantic maps, self-driving cars won’t ever be able to intelligently move through the world–at least not without crashing into something—a development that will arrive when self-driving cars do.” Also has augmented reality implications. The Co.Design article explains. [Dave Smith]

Michelin Acquires Streetwise

On 1 September Michelin announced that it had acquired the assets previously held by Streetwise Maps, in an all-cash deal. Streetwise announced that it was closing last year. Michelin will continue to publish maps under the Streetwise name; their publishing wing already produces a ton of travel guides, restaurant guides and maps (my Michelin map of Paris was essential during my trip there). [MAPS-L]

 

Robert G. Bartholomew, 1927-2017

I’ve belatedly heard the news that Robert G. Bartholomew died last April in Edinburgh at the age of 90. Robert and his older brothers John and Peter, who died in 2008 and 1987, respectively, were the last of six generations of Bartholomews working for the eponymous family mapmaking firm, John Bartholomew and Son, that was, among other things, responsible for the Times series of atlases before being subsumed into the HarperCollins publishing empire. Robert served as production manager, John as director and Peter as chairman. See the NLS’s Bartholomew Archive and the family’s website for more on the firm’s and the family’s history. [WMS]

The Great Lake Winnipesaukee Map Fight

Last month, the Boston Globe reported on a curious rivalry between two mapmakers and their boating maps of Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. Bizer and Duncan Press, both family businesses, are locked in a bitter battle with one another, as each touts their own map of the lake as the best map. Bizer’s Map (above) claims to have charted more buoys, rocks and boating hazards; Duncan Press takes every opportunity to rubbish its competition on its website: see the comparison page and the FAQ. Some of Bizer’s claims seem unimportant, and so are some of Duncan Press’s critiques of Bizer’s map. All the same it’s fascinating to see such a rivalry on such a small scale. [Andy Woodruff]

‘Mildly Eccentric’ Maps of South Africa

South African cartographer Peter Slingsby, got a profile in the South African newsmagazine Financial Mail last month; his company, Slingsby Maps, produces a number of “mildly eccentric” hiking and tourist maps that contain “the idiosyncratic asides and flourishes that make Slingsby’s maps such a pleasure to consult.”

On his incredibly popular map of the Cape Peninsula, for example, there are helpful little clouds of information among the place names and contours. One such tells of the people of Brooklands, who lived on the tableland above Simon’s Town. “The Brooklands community, who farmed here and worked in Simon’s Town, were evicted under apartheid because they were not ‘white’. The ruins of their village are their monument,” says the bubble.

[WMS]

New York Nautical

Last month the New York Times had a profile of New York Nautical, a store specializing in nautical charts, publications, instruments and related goodies in Manhattan’s Tribeca district. If you’re wondering how they stay in business—because that’s inevitable when talking about a store that’s in the business of selling paper maps today—it turns out that most of their business comes from commercial ships buying charts required by the Coast Guard. [WMS]