OpenStreetMap: an alternative to Google Maps

  On 23 Jun, 2013   By Comments are Off

Discover the geographical mapping service of OpenStreetMap

When we need to design a software to locate information on maps, usually we use “free” services like Google Maps, Bing or iOS Maps who have been the most renowned. However, in the Free Software world we find an alternative that has nothing to envy to the 3 options above and is really free: OpenStreetMap.

This geographical mapping service is perhaps one of the most complete existing so far and it is known as “Wikipedia of maps”. There are some advantages and disadvantages of that service next:


Advantages of OpenStreetMap:

  • Free: Unlike others, OSM (acronym of OpenStreetMap) is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 (CC BY-SA) which allows almost anything on the information (download, copy, modify, include it in other projects) as long as indicating the respective credits to the author.
  • Full: Actually no mapping service has 100% of the planet’s geographic information. However, OSM is constantly updated through collaboration of companies, government institutions and the wider community that often send information of new locations or corrections of the existing ones. This allows the service to have more precise information of places that are poorly known. Unlike Google Maps that focuses on detailing the information of the major cities.
  • Without restrictions: In services like Google Maps you must pay to use the service when the access traffic is high, while in OSM access is provided free and without any restrictions.
  • Standard: OSM uses the standard EPSG: 4326, one of the most currently used in cartography.
  • Customizable: OSM is a service, and as such, it may be used by third party applications for customization. Currently there are APIs like Openlayers (Implemented in JavaScript) that allows you to create web applications using the OSM service, providing a rich set of functionality (set markers on the map, labels, overlapping layers, widgets, popups, among many other elements that can be seen on the website of examples).
  • Fast: Even sometimes it gives the impression that its loading is faster than Google Maps.
  • Stable: Backed by the University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London (ILC) where the main servers stay. They also have distributed servers around the world to meet demand of users in a reliable and robust way.
  • Effective: The group of developers are constantly working on adding new features to the service.

Disadvantages of OpenStreetMap:

  • Documentation: The official documentation is not complete and not very clear. Many times we must search in forums and blogs to understand some functionality.
  • Incompatibility: Some users have reported OSM erroneous behavior when it is used in conjunction with other tools. For example: Maps are displayed distorted when OSM is used with Twitter Bootstrap. However, this bug is easy to fix (we will share the solution in another article later).

More information on this project can be found on the official website of the project.

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