'Collaboration is the future of mapmaking': TomTom and Overture speak at OSM's State of the Map 2023
Collaboration is the guiding principle behind the twenty-year success of OpenStreetMap. It’s this fundamental concept that allows OSM’s communities to simultaneously use and make maps. This approach to modern mapmaking was a core theme at ‘State of the Map’ 2023 conference, in Antwerp, Belgium.
Marc Prioleau, Executive Director of the Overture Maps Foundation (OMF), is passionate about synchronicity, simplicity and high-quality data.
“Today, map data has to be excellent – to allow app developers to design the functionalities they need. Since we all started carrying smartphones in our pocket, we can not only use their map, we can communicate data back and that has been a fundamental change in mapping,” he says.
According to the Overture director, there is a sense of how maps are becoming a real-time record of what we see in the world thanks to the availability of data. The best maps are no longer those that survey the most land, in the most detail, but the ones that are used most and provide users with the opportunity to feed data and knowledge back.
Built on this model, OpenStreetMap is growing exponentially in detail and accuracy, owing to the vast community using and contributing to its ongoing evolution.
Mike Harrell, TomTom’s SVP Maps Engineering, praised OSM’s map architecture and how it allows anyone to map anything they want. “And it’s still growing, in architecture and as a technical solution. Steve Coast [OSM’s creator] did an amazing job and created something that’s lasted 20 years,” Harrell says. “You can still map anything you need to map and that’s fundamentally amazing.”
It’s true to say that OSM has long been ahead of its time, knowing that collaboration and openness are key to making a great map. Recognizing that, Harrell is humble; “It took all of us in the industry a decade or two to figure that out.”
TomTom’s Harrell identifies the moment in 2018 when things began to change. OSM began to witness a “massive spike” in input and edits from tech companies that were using the map platform and saw the value of its data in a commercial context.
But OSM remains faithful to its mission — to serve its communities and users and not become a tool solely for corporations or commercial applications.
However, the very things that make OSM great — the fact it has no fixed schema, group or committee mandating what to map — are the things that present challenges for organizations that want to build with it. Commercial organizations that build with maps need consistency, structure, recognized schemas and data that’s easy to work with, quick to build on and scales well.
There’s an evident tension between the wants and needs of businesses and OSM’s community. But it’s clear that organizations want to support OSM and allow it to continue flourishing as it has, they know not to challenge the formula. But then what’s the solution for commercial organizations?
“This is where Overture comes in,” Harrell says.
According to Harrell and Prioleau, the Overture Foundation is seeking to compliment OSM, and other open data projects, by bringing all their data together in a way that works for commercial map applications.
“[Through Overture] we offer a platform with a consistent base map that allows people to attach data to it. This isn’t just important, it’s critical, it’s the way people are building [map-based] apps” Prioleau explains.
A positive change for the future of mapping
“It takes the world to map the world,” according to TomTom’s Harrell; it’s a reflection that sums up the truth in collaboration as the future of mapmaking. It’s also referenced by TomTom across its new map product, TomTom Orbis Maps.
TomTom is implementing an open map strategy, something the industry has never seen before. The company is making its maps using collaboration and collective map building with OSM and the rest of the world’s open data.
Harrell was effusive describing the punch-the-air moment he heard about the project. “It’s finally happening! The industry has figured it out.”Quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
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