In the beginning, there were two. Two major vendors of map information. It was a near-perfect duopoly. There was Chicago-based NAVTEQ and Netherlands-based Tele Atlas (purchased by Nokia and TomTom respectively). But as GPS chips became cheap and ubiquitous, the potential new business models for location-based services attracted fresh blood.
So Google brought together their own map-making team. They drove and biked around and noted coordinates and WiFi MAC addresses and they even accidently grabbed a personal e-mail or two.
Because Google Maps and the accompanying APIs were free and rather fun, they became the platform of choice for third-party location-based services. Foursquare and even Apple threw layers of information on top of Google Maps. But then, suddenly, the party was over.
Back in October 2012, Google announced its intent to begin charging services that were piggy backing on its maps. There would be a fee for constant trespassing as of Jan 1, 2012.
But there is a free lesser-known alternative: OpenStreetMap. The OSM project uses crowd-sourcing to created an open-source competitor to the commercial map platforms mentioned above. OSM started slowly back in 2004, and gained global contributors over the years. And now, according to Wikipedia, there are more than half a million OpenStreetMap contributors.
While a few companies such as AOL/MapQuest, Foursquare and some smaller navigation vendors have backed OSM over the past few years, the biggest acknowledgement for the volunteer group came last week when Apple introduced the new iPad. Some keen observers noted that a number of Apple's map-related applications were no longer layering information on top of Google's maps, but rather OpenStreetMaps. Photos on places, for example, are shown on top of OSM maps.
This means significant street cred for OSM. It looks like OpenStreetMap has found its way.