I’d like to help and spread the word about a project I actually came across quite a while ago but which I’ve rediscovered recently: OpenStreetMap (German version here). In short, this project is a community effort to create a copyright-free world map.
The look and feel is basically the same as with Google Maps (without the satellite coverage of course) but the big difference is, that OpenStreetMap maps are completely free. Not like Google’s maps which are “free” as in “you can do this and that with our maps BUT YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO …………………. <LONG TEXT FOLLOWING> …………”.
Of course they don’t have all the features of the big players like Google or Microsoft; there’s no Street View, no Bird’s Eye View and sadly but understandably no satellite coverage but the maps (and the data behind them) are completely free and you can use them for practically anything. You can even download the world database which the maps are based on onto your computer and use it for whatever you like. Besides, in some of the more crowded areas, OpenStreetMap maps are even more accurate then Google’s version, as you can see in the following picture.
So how are they making these maps? Simple answer: You make them. Take your GPS unit and record your track while you’re driving your car, riding your bike or just walking. Afterwards, get online, upload those tracks to the OSM website and name the streets. As mentioned above, it’s a community effort. So the success of this project depends on as many users willing to take part as possible. There’s still quite a few blank spots on the maps, especially regarding smaller villages, etc. So feel free to contribute! Speaking for myself, I’ll definitely give it a try and provide a few tracks in the near future since I’ve found a few spots that I can fill.
Last but not least, as it is with Google, OSM can be customized with overlays and different views. In particular, there’s a cycle map…
… and a skiing map.
I really like the idea of this project, especially the fact that we have a worldwide street and address database that is available for free to everyone. Besides, talking about normal street maps, it definitely is an alternative to Google Maps. So make sure, that at least every now and then, you use OSM for your address searches.