A community mapping project began back in April of 2005, known as the Open Streetmap. They seek to create and provide a completely royalty free map for the use in GPS systems, and web-based mashups not unlike Google’s own.
Why are they bothering? Because pretty much every map available for projects like this are expensive, and often times have artificial errors. By utilizing continually more available GPS units, open standards, and a wiki-style interface, users can upload path data, and aid in the updating and creation of new maps.
The project was initially begun for the UK, for which virtually no free maps existed. However, they’re working on eventually mapping everywhere, having already imported large amounts of public domain US road data, as well as data for the Netherlands. Add that to the data being submitted every day by users, and the maps have great potential to be accurate, not only for driving, but footpaths as well.
Open Streetmap is doing well, and around it an infrastructure of map editing tools, and open source GPS and route planners is forming, projects which would have struggled greatly without the availability of such data. Wikipedia, despite it’s flaws, has proven to be a reasonably successful project. Admittedly, the information on it is sometimes flawed, and there is the occasional vandalism, but overall it’s a reasonable source of basic information, and locations of other sources. Open Streetmap, with it’s more easily vetted information, could prove to be a far more successful community project, particularly as GPS becomes more common.
OSM isn’t perfect, but I’ve found the maps to be reasonably accurate in my areas, and I’m planning to see if I can contribute.