Over the past few months I have been getting involved with the OpenStreetMap project — a Wikipedia style map that anyone can edit, and use for whatever they want.

I had downloaded a few map apps for my iPhone, which used OSM as a background. I spotted a few errors, so looked into how to correct them.

I had looked at OSM a few years ago, when it was just a series of straight line roads connecting the major towns. Since then it has improved significantly, and now has most roads accurately located, as well as a multitude of minor tracks and paths that are not on other maps.

Over the course of this year, I have noticed the map grow, with people adding and tweaking things here and there. For example, the routes of the new M80 and M74 appeared as they were constructed, and were changed to live motorways on the day they opened. Six months later, they are still not on Google, Bing, or Yahoo Maps; and thus any of the services that use these.

While the motorway network is a more obvious differentiator — I actually think that the local addition of tracks and paths, for walking and cycling, is the biggest asset of OSM. The likes of the Ordnance Survey, Google, and Navteq will update their maps of the motorways at some point. But they are unlikely to add the minor paths that make up an interesting bike ride, or a great walking shortcut.

As for why I contribute my time to this project, it is an interesting project, that could — in the same way as Wikipedia — become a de-facto standard for maps in a few years time. If everyone (or at least a reasonable number of people) add there own favourite shortcuts and routes, they will all be mapped for everyone to use.

I will post more on the editing I’ve done, the tools I’ve used, and the outputs I’ve seen in further entries. At some indefinite point… probably!