It was by understanding a little earlier than the others that betting on online mapping was a major strategy that Google succeeded in imposing Google Maps and its ecosystem of services everywhere. Without there really being alternatives that stand the comparison. Even the best endowed projects, such as the Maps application maintained by Apple, are less precise (and therefore useful) than the application developed by Google.
However, the success of the Google Maps application is in itself nothing surprising. Since the first maps published between the 6th and 5th centuries BC, maps have always had a profound impact on representations of the world, the place of territories and their interactions. Today’s maps are not limited to depicting cities, mountainous topographies or dangerous sandbanks in straits and near shores.
Big tech is getting organized to launch a completely free alternative to Google Maps
Maps can describe virtual worlds, and many wonder what ways of interacting with cartography can still be developed. While Google’s control over its application implies, by definition, arbitrary choices and the impossibility of developing improved variants yourself. There is also the essential question of the development of specialized cards for self-driving cars.
So many elements that impose for certain actors, the advent of an open alternative, which would allow the greatest number of people to innovate, and thus to open the next chapter of online mapping. A base that implies simplified access to data, and better interoperability. That’s why Amazon Web Services (AWS), Meta, Microsoft and TomTom are announcing with the Linux Foundation the launch of Overture Maps Foundation.
To achieve their goals, the actors of the project will pool existing data and aggregate them with data from other open source mapping projects such as OpenStreetMap and free access cadastral data. The set will be fed with data from AI analysis. The actors of the project pursue in fact four objectives:
- Collaborate to build the next generation of mapping platforms
- Develop a unified reference system – i.e. a system that simplifies interoperability between various services
- Ensure data quality through a validation process, error detection and vandalism
- Develop an open structured data format and drive its widest adoption
A project manager points out that Overture is more of a platform, an infrastructure, than a single mapping service: “you won’t be able to log in and ask how to get from point A to point B”. But multiple third-party services will instead be able to use this infrastructure to offer various mapping applications, whether classic (competitors of Google Maps) or more innovative (for example by taking advantage of mixed reality).
For now, however, the project will have to be given some time to learn more about the technical details behind it.