What Map Maker is /is not

Last week Google introduced Map Maker a set of online map making tools to very positive… but not universal acclaim.

I can understand where SteveC is coming from, but I think it’s important to clarify a few points.

Map Maker is clearly not an open source project, and as such is not in competition with openstreetmap and does not I believe represent a forking opportunity for the creation of open geodata. If you wish to help build an open geodata based global map then openstreetmap is the project for you.

What Map Maker represents is the public exposure of the tool Google has been using internally for a while to “fill in the gaps” of our global mapping coverage, specifically mapping areas not currently covered by the commercial map data providers. We are now asking the users of Google Maps to help us by providing mapping data using the same tool. The data submitted is licensed by contributors to Google to eventually become part of Google Maps/Earth following moderation by Google.

This is a key difference in approach to openstreetmap, most end users of Google Maps/Earth etc. and most developers using their api’s don’t want or need access to the raw data, for them such information is most usefully made available as pre-rendered tiles.

Although not currently an open source project, it does produce data that is free to users, the information contributed by the community becomes freely available to them via Google Maps and the Maps and Earth API’s

At the moment, I believe this is the best way to rapidly expand the availability of mapping and to provide access to detailed online maps to communities which up until now have just not had access to something most of use take for granted.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.


  1. Sjors Provoost

    Hi Ed,

    I agree that Map Maker does not provide “a forking opportunity for the creation of open geodata”. However, it does fork the global geo data creation effort. You did not mention what I think is the greatest advantage of open data: it only needs to be created once.


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  4. Richard Duivenvoorde

    quote: “Although not currently an open source project, it does produce data that is free to users, the information contributed by the community becomes freely available to them via Google Maps and the Maps and Earth API’s”

    Nope: the data is NOT ‘free’ for users. I cannot get the DATA. I can only VIEW it through Google’s api (still in ‘beta’??? 🙂 , and can become paid whenever that suits Google …).

    Please Ed, do not trouble the water by mixing words like ‘open source’ in this context. We do not want the Google api’s to be open sourced (though you can do very nice things there at Google, and I think we can learn something from that 🙂 ).
    We are talking about open GEODATA here. Of which the whole earth population can have profit, even in cases where Google can’t offer ‘services’ because of (too tight) ties with goverments…
    Open GEODATA serves a higher cause, and should not be forked in my opinion.

  5. David Earl

    I can see that people might make corrections to an existing map, but I can’t see why someone would volunteer substantial amounts of their time to donate comprehensive virgin map data to Google. I can imagine if they were paid to do it, that might be a cost effective way for Google to acquire missing maps for comparitive peanuts though.

  6. Rob

    Hi Ed,

    Just because GMapMaker is not open source doesn’t mean it’s not competition…Apache is competition for IIS, MySQL competition for Oracle. Such competition for OSMCloudMade is a good thing, and recognition of their business model based on user generated data.

    I ponder the future success of GMapMaker; why do Google users want to spend time digitizing maps?


  7. Archaeogeek

    “most end users of Google Maps/Earth etc. and most developers using their api’s don’t want or need access to the raw data, for them such information is most usefully made available as pre-rendered tiles”

    Hmm, I don’t know. I think developers would love access to the raw data- think of the mashups you could create with that rather than just tiles. Google have no real idea whether people want or need that data- AFAIK they’ve never given people the choice.

    I agree with Rob as well- it *is* competition because it’s another entry in the “marketplace” for people’s time and skills. The question is though, for the majority of motivated people who really want to improve mapping- will they go for the one-way google approach, where their data is sucked into the googleplex, spat out in a single form, and no longer under their ownership, or will they continue with the collaborative, two-way, flexible, openstreetmap approach?

  8. Ed

    @Richard & Archaeogeek, Apologies for my loose langage I am not trying to cloud the issue, my point is that the resulting maps (not data – you are correct) are available free to users and developers, and yes I maintain that most Google Maps and Maps API developers are not actually interested in access to the “raw” data at this time, and find map-tiles more useful.

    It is the case that some developers want access to the data, and at this point in time for various reasons I am sorry we are not able to provide it.

  9. karouf

    The fact is that OpenStreetMap also provides map tiles, and different sets as well (think hiking and cycling for example). So people can still contribute to OpenStreetMap even though they don’t care about getting the raw data.
    Then I really can’t see for which good reason people would work for Google for free, except for fanboyism (if the word even exists…).

  10. Richard Fairhurst

    Ed – can you elucidate on the copyright of the aerial imagery?

    Is it (as the copyright notice suggests) (c) Google, not anyone else? And if that’s the case, would you be prepared to make it available for tracing within OSM, as a goodwill gesture – as Yahoo have done, and as a questioner at last year’s State of the Map suggested you might consider?

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  12. Tim Waters

    Work for an hour and choose a pint of free beer from the big brewery, or get half a shandy from the local brew-pub?

    David Earl, above, and a few others cannot see why people would donate their time to adding to Google Maps. He cannot see the thousands of websites that use Google Maps, and cannot hear the moans of those users when they see that the maps do not have their homes on them.

    These users want the big glass of beer.
    They will work that hour for that “free” beer. Openstreetmap, for their hour, doesn’t even give them half a shandy – just instructions for a home brew, and the promise of great tasting things to come. (One side effect of making more people mapping alcoholics should be more appreciation of the finer tasting open geodata brews).

    Ed is correct, (at this time) most users and developers couldn’t care less where their maps come from. Some may say this view is mistaken – time will see.

  13. Ed


    Google licenses the imagery for the commercial providers so don’t usually own the copyright. I can’t make any promises about making the imagery available to anybody outside of Map Maker users therefore sorry.


    You are able to draw any feature you like on the maps using the api tools, however you must not trace (copy) any feature such as a road for example, or the shape of a lake with the intention of exporting the data to a different application. These are licensing restrictions imposed by Googles commercial data providers.

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