Comments On The Routability of OSM Data
First, let me say that I am a fan of OSM (OpenStreetMap) and hope that the venture continues its past successes. I am writing this mini-blog to reply to the large number of people who wrote to let me know that OSM data is routable. Rather than reply to each of you, I thought I could reply once in response to all of your comments (and I appreciated hearing from so many of you).
In response to my last article, Richard commented that OSM (and he provided a link to the OSM website) had the most up-to-date map of the I-195 interchange in Providence that I had written about. I thanked Richard and noted, “Although the OSM data is not navigable, it appears up-to-date….blah, blah, blah.”
In my response, I was referring to the OSM page and data that could be accessed though the link Richard supplied. It is my understanding that OSM through its website does not provide routing or navigation services. My comment seems to have caught the attention of a number of readers and since the topic appears of more general interest than most of my other topics, I decided to write a short reply.
The terrific comments I received about OSM data being routable started me wondering. Since others route with OSM data, why doesn’t OSM provide that service? Anytime you see a carve-out, you should strategize that somebody smells money and try to figure out where (as in Where 2.0)! In this case, however, the money (and I suspect there is not much of it) seems to be in providing routing software and associated services, since any augmentations of the data to allow for routing would become part of the OSM map database. There must be more to the carve-out than apparent.
Next, as you may remember, recently I asked Mike Moore about the level of attribution in NAVTEQ’s database after he made a comment that I found it difficult to accept. In the same vein, I would like to ask, “What percent of the road segments in the OSM database are attributed for navigation?” Let’s look a little deeper.
My interest here is in understanding the competitive threat of OSM to commercial providers of navigable database. For example, presumably, one-hundred percent of the streets and roads in the databases of NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas have been attributed for navigation and, presumably, the same is true for the Google-Mapbase. Before anyone starts in, I agree that the depth of attribution is unclear for the databases provided by any of the companies mentioned.
My interest in asking this question of OSM is that anyone can calculate routes between locations of coordinates shown on a piece of graph paper, so being able to route across an unattributed map is not of particular interest. If I introduce directional constraints and turn restraints (in a way that would mirror traffic laws in a community, or barriers or other impediments to navigation), I make the routes less efficient, but more realistic. OSM’s data structure, however, contemplates navigation attributes. Therefore, the question that I would like to understand about OSM is, “What percent of their database is attributed for routing?” From the perspective of the user, this question may convert into “How reliable is routing using the OSM data?”
I realize that OSM data coverage is increasing and that the comprehensiveness of the OSM database will increase over time. However, my interest is its status now in respect to routing.
For many of us, it seems so difficult to discover things about OSM, its data, and the use of the data. Maybe I just need to spend more time reading their Wiki (guilty). However, I admit that I am confused about OSM licensing practices and liability issues. Every time that I start to research these issues, I get a headache. While I think I understand the limitations of the license to use OSM data and why these “carve-outs” are necessary, I find it difficult to understand how to use the data to any commercial advantage and wonder if that will limit the usefulness of OSM’s contribution.
As I understand it, you cannot make any changes/augmentations to the OSM map database unless you provide those augmentations/changes back to OSM. For example, it appears that a company willing to collect road attributes related to the routing of hazmat materials through a country, could not use OSM as a database, unless they were willing to provide their hazmat related attributes to OSM. Since specialized uses of data may require non-crowd sourced data acquisition and considerable expense, it appears that cases like this limit OSM.
Here is a more concrete example taken, from the OSM Wiki about using OSM data in a SatNav System. The question listed there is “The user wants to use OSM data in a satnav system. They need to be able to convert the data into a confidential proprietary format that works with their routing software which they don’t want to disclose.” The answer provided is “Due to the “technical measures” section, a non-confidential, non-proprietary version would have to be redistributed also.” I am not sure how this notion works in a commercial environment, but maybe it does for some.
As many of you who read this blog know, I am a great supporter of User Generated Content and believe it will change the nature of mapping. However, there are areas where User Generated Content may not work. At a presentation on User Generated Content that I made to a group from the automobile industry, I was stopped by this response “Well, I certainly would not want to drive a User Generated Car.” Of course, the audience responded in whoops of laughter, but it sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Perhaps the question translates to, “Do I want to be in a car being routed using data that is entirely user generated and for which no one assumes liability?” Sounds like an interesting topic for a future blog.
Once again, thanks for all of the comments, links and help.
Finally, I apologize for the delay in my response to your comments, but I seem to get up later than most of you. Of course, it is likely that I am in a different time zone than many of you. However, the real reason I have been getting up late is that after finishing my days work, I have been keeping my XBOX 360 and PS3 very busy playing Mass Effect 2 on one and Bioshock 2 on the other. By the way, you can call me “Big Daddy!”