GeoMinds: Now Is the Time for OpenStreetMap
There are only four worldwide map data sets: Two are owned by commercial vendors (Nokia’s HERE and TomTom). One is Google. The other is OpenStreetMap.
The United States branch of the OpenStreetMap community celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the open-sourced mapping project with its biggest “State of the Map” event ever last weekend at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In rooms more accustomed to shoe-pounding debate on matters of international diplomacy, more than 800 OSM-ers talked about maps built by people and freely available to people.
OpenStreetMap was started in the UK ten years ago by a guy named Steve Coast who had the idealistic thought that maps, which represent physical observable facts, ought to be available to all…for free. Further, that a bunch of people, each contributing a bit, could together build a map of the whole world.
I met Steve about two years in and thought “Nice guy. Too bad this’ll never work”. Ten years later, I confess my error: OSM has become an international movement; a Wikipedia of maps with detail and coverage that commercial map makers can only envy.
Ten years is a nice round number and its nice to have a big event in a great venue. But OSM is coming of age at a time at a critical time, where map data is in great demand and short supply. This has implications across the mobile and Internet marketing, but especially for the local marketing business.
Maps are core to local marketing, whether visually displayed as a map or as the critical dataset underlying definitions of place and location context. All local services ultimately lean on a map database to give meaning to “local”; namely what is near me or how to find something or what does this place mean.
But map data sets are scarce. There are only four worldwide map data sets. Two are owned by commercial vendors: Nokia’s HERE business and TomTom’s Data Licensing business. One is Google. The other is Open Street Map. That’s it. Four. Period.*
Google is clearly not a neutral player in the local marketing business. And Nokia has announced that its HERE business is on the blocks. The leading contenders seem to be a consortium of German Automotive manufacturers.
They are unlikely to support the mapping needs of the local marketing. Assuming HERE is bought, there will be a lot of acquisition interest in TomTom. Either way, both are in play, with uncertain future ownership. Both seem more interested in building maps for self-driving cars that local search and those have very different product requirements.
Enter OpenStreetMap. OSM is hitting stride in terms of completeness, commercial ecosystems and international coverage just as demand for location based marketing is spiking and alternatives are potentially dissolving. As was in evidence last weekend, interest in OSM has generated new data, new methods to build in quality and more innovation in services and platforms to support commercial use of the map.
OpenStreetMap has a simple value proposition: we can all own the information about where things are, for free, but only if we all are willing to contribute. This is a radical disruption of the location oligarchy. If a company wants to “own” the map, it can. It takes about eight years, requires building a specialized team of at least hundreds of employees and spending about $1B/year.
Alternatively, companies can decide that proprietary ownership isn’t the goal. In fact, by cooperating on a community-owned data set, these companies can squash the competitive advantage of those who have invested those billions of dollars in building their own data. This shifts the competitive playing field to others areas of differentiation, like content, analytics and services and that changes the game for anyone in local marketing. It gives the ability to deploy new services, independent of the ownership and restrictions of the underlying proprietary map content.
The next two to three years will see huge growth in location targeted marketing as the basic value propositions are proven based on the undeniable connection between mobile and location. And at the same time, a data set is maturing that can eliminate one of the historical areas of proprietary advantage for one of the biggest competitors. Now is the time, not just for OpenStreetMap, but for location marketing companies that want to change the game.
* Well OK, Apple’s probably building one too, but that’s a couple years away.
Marc Prioleau is the Managing Director for Prioleau Advisors. This article results from the seemingly divine confluence of GeoMarketing’s David Kaplan’s gentle nagging, a thunderstorm-delayed flight, adequate battery capacity on a MacAir and a passable merlot served by US Airways. For more in-depth details about the author, see his bio page here.
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