Crowdsourced Road Mapping Project #3: Wikimapia Beta

1:13 am PHT

As if Google Map Maker and OpenStreetMap were not enough, Wikimapia had publicly opened their Beta website, which is yet another crowdsourced road mapping project, early last month. It seems that they had a private beta going months before and they have not opened it to the public until November. (I learned of the announcement from Google Maps Mania.)

For a little bit of background, Wikimapia is possibly the most popular Google Maps mashup out there. Their tagline says “Let’s describe the whole world!” and the “Classic” site is basically a free-for-all placemark tagging mashup. You zoom into the satellite imagery map of Google, draw a rectangle around a place and give it a name. You can then add tags to that box and enter a description. Users can also comment on each other’s placemarks. A significant later addition to Wikimapia’s feature set was the ability to add a polygonal outline to the placemark so that you can specify exactly the place you want identified instead of just specifying a bounding box. I’ve actually used Wikimapia as a source of information for my secondary blog Vista Pinas.

Wikimapia Beta is a different beast altogether and it marks the diversification of the data that can be entered on their website. Aside from polygonal outlines of places, users can additionally draw various types of roads (even indicating whether they are oneway or not), as well as railroads, ferry lines, and rivers. I haven’t tried adding features (apparently you have to have been a long-time member of Wikimapia), but from the little I’ve seen, Wikimapia Beta’s data seems somewhat like a very simplified version of Google Map Maker’s database schema.

Following are screenshots comparing the rendered data between Wikimapia Beta, Google Map Maker, and OpenStreetMap of the area surrounding the Ayala Avenue–Makati Avenue intersection. Being screenshots, these images of course can’t show the interactive nature of the data, but they are pretty good gauges on the quality of the contributions, specialization of data, and usefulness. (The screenshots link to the actual views on the respective websites.)

 Wikimapia Beta screenshot

 Google Map Maker screenshot

 OpenStreetMap screenshot

While the types of data that can be entered into Wikimapia Beta is much too limited compared to the other two projects, one nice thing about Wikimapia Beta is that it’s highly interactive (I’m saying this from a user’s point of view, not that of a contributor). Hovering the mouse pointer over various features lights them up and clicking on them brings up the description box (this is exactly the same behavior as the Classic Wikimapia). Unfortunately, there’s no such hovering for the linear data such as roads and rivers and they are completely unlabeled making Wikimapia Beta utterly useless as a road map.

From the Wikimapia Wiki, it seems that Wikimapia Beta was privately launched in September 2008. Since Google Map Maker was launched earlier in late June, I really don’t get why the people behind Wikimapia decided to launch a competing product. (Well, it’s possible that they had been developing Wikimapia Beta long before Google had announced their service.)

I won’t begrudge the Wikimapians their very own project, but this unfortunately splinters the mapping effort of the Philippines into three projects. (This is the primary reason why I was vehemently against WikiPilipinas last year.) Already we have several collaboration sites just for crowdsourced mapping of the Philippines: filimapia (the wiki site for Filipino Wikimapians), Mapping the Philippines Google Group and Google Site (for Filipino Google Map Makers), and the WikiProject Philippines and mailing list (for the Pinoy OpenStreetMappers).

Regular vaes9 readers would know that I’m an ardent supporter of OpenStreetMap because among the three, OSM is the only one committed (so far) to truly open-licensed data. Right now, you cannot use the data submitted by users to Google Map Maker or Wikimapia except through their website and APIs alone. On the other hand, OSM data is free for anyone to use for whatever purpose as long as attribution is given to the OSM contributors and the data is kept in such a free state.

I guess it would be best to continue advocating for OpenStreetMap. And as a salvo for that, I’d like to introduce to you the OpenStreetMap Philippines website. This is an advocacy site meant to introduce Filipinos to the OpenStreetMap project. Many thanks to Ahmed Farooq of Enthropia, who says he’s been “a supporter of OSM for a while [now]”, for sponsoring the website! (I’ll make a proper blog post about this in the future.)  :D

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