Making map apps is a tough challenge. Of course, Google and to a lesser extent Apple have cracked the formula, but both companies use massive datasets. That's why some big tech players, such as Meta, Microsoft, TomTom, and Amazon, joined forces under the Linux Foundation to create a new initiative for mapping the world. Known as the Overture Maps Foundation, the initiative was first announced last December and is now moving to its first version.
The collective of companies realized that they could not compete with Google Maps on their own, but by pooling their data on business locations, satellite imagery, and other features, they could offer a viable alternative for map app developers.
The initiative Overture Maps Foundation has just released its first alpha version of its mapping data. It includes millions of data points for buildings, roads, and geographic boundaries. It's only the beginning of a huge project that aims to collect and update more data from different sources and regions.
The leader of the Overture Maps Foundation is Marc Prioleau, who has a long history in the mapping industry. He worked on GPS technology in 1995, and later on location-based services for Meta and Uber. He knows how hard it is to keep up with the changes in the world, such as new businesses opening and closing, or new roads being built or closed.
What Overture Maps Foundation Currently Offers
The first Overture release has about 59 million points of interest (POIs), which are places that people might want to visit or know about. These POIs have not been available as open data before. The release also has about 750 million building footprints, which show the shape and size of structures. The road data is mostly based on OpenStreetMap, a crowdsourced project that anyone can contribute to.
Speaking to Gizmodo, Prioleau said that the POI data covers about 60 to 70% of the world, but he hopes to reach between 80 and 100 million places in the future. He said that too many POIs would include irrelevant or outdated information, but too few would miss important locations, especially in less mapped countries.
The building data is pretty comprehensive, according to Prioleau. He claims that most of it came from Meta and Microsoft, who shared their data from Facebook, Instagram, and Bing Maps. However, there were some duplicates that had to be removed. The Overture director adds that they plan to add more building data from other sources in different continents.
The road data is different from the other two types of data, because it relies heavily on OpenStreetMap.If you're unfamiliar with OpenStreetMap, it is a free map of the world that is open source. It can be publicly edited and is a community project. Major mapping companies leverage OpenStreetMap data, including Microsoft Bing Maps.
Prioleau says that Overture has modified and standardized the data from OpenStreetMap to make it easier to use and more accurate. He claims OpenStreetMap has some advantages over Google's approach of spending billions on maintaining its own map data.