AOL launched a version of its MapQuest application on Friday for the U.K. using data from OpenStreetMap, a project that uses volunteers to create detail-rich maps that are free.
MapQuest Open will provide users with community-generated maps that are accurate and of high quality, AOL said in a statement. AOL will still run MapQuest, which uses commercially available maps.
OpenStreetMap was founded in 2004 by Steve Coast when he was a physics student at University College London. He started the project due to the high cost of commercial mapping products, which were controlled by a handful of companies. Many of those products have restrictions on how people are allowed to used them.
Now, volunteers have OpenStreetMap mapping parties, often creating specific maps for particular interests, such as cycling or hiking, tapping the knowledge of the local people who contribute. Volunteer mappers use a GPS unit to record "trace" data, or a list of points on a path. The unit can then plugged into a PC and the trace data can then be labeled, for example, as a road or footpath. It is then integrated into OpenStreetMap.
OpenStreetMaps are under a Creative Commons license that allows user to modify data and publish new maps as long as those new maps must be published under the same license.
AOL also said it will establish a US$1 million fund to support open-source mapping within the U.S. AOL already uses OpenStreetMap for Patch, a Web site that provides news, events and other information for specific locales. The $1 million grant will go toward funding open-source mapping data for Patch for U.S. communities now lacking it, AOL said.