History of OpenStreetMap

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Steve Coast founded OpenStreetMap in 2004, initially focusing on mapping the United Kingdom. In the UK and elsewhere, government-run and tax-funded projects like the Ordnance Survey created huge data sets, but failed to freely and widely distribute them. On August 22nd 2006, the OpenStreetMap Foundation was established to encourage the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data and provide geospatial data for anybody to use and share.

The volunteer mappers made edits to the OSM data using a java-based applet on the OSM homepage or stand-alone “offline” programs supported by own surveys, self-recorded GPS traces and public-domain satellite imagery. One of those offline editors was JOSM which was constantly improved from then on and is still one of the most used editors. In December 2006, Yahoo confirmed that OpenStreetMap could use its aerial photography as a backdrop for map production. Half a year later, a new online data editor Potlatch appeared on the OSM homepage with the intention to make the start of new users easier.

Ways to import and export data have continued to grow; by 2008, the project developed tools to export OpenStreetMap data to power portable GPS units, replacing their existing proprietary and out-of-date maps.

In November 2010 the completely rewritten editor Potlatch 2 was made available and the use of Microsoft Bing vertical aerial imagery allowed for tracing. “Simple and friendly” is the concept of the new online editor iD, which appeared in May 2013.

Founding and Early History

Tom's new editing Java Applet as of September 2005 (have a look at the map of this place today for comparison)
OSM data of Europe (circa April 2006) placed onto a satellite image.

(More historical milestones needed here, see discussion)

The Start of Our Current Technology Stack

Screenshot of the editor Potlatch in 2008 (have a look at the map of this place today for comparison)
  • 5th May 2007 – The Rails Port came online with API v0.4 as did the Potlatch editor on the openstreetmap.org homepage.
  • 14th–15th July 2007 – First conference, "State Of The Map 2007", held in Manchester.
  • 1st August 2007 – 5 million ways
  • 7th August 2007 – 10,000 registered users
  • 11th August 2007 – 3rd Anniversary Party, London
  • 18th August 2007 – 100 million GPS points
  • September 2007 – TIGER data import for the US started
  • 20th September 2007 – AND Data for The Netherlands imported
  • 7th October 2007 – Move to API v0.5 with segments dropped and relations added
  • 18th November 2007 – 150 million GPS points and 100 million nodes
  • 25th December 2007 – 20,000 registered users
  • 8th January 2008 – 20 million ways
  • 13th January 2008 – 200 million nodes
  • 23th January 2008 – TIGER data import for the United States finished
  • ▶ Take a journey into the past (February 2008 until January 2009) by watching Steve's OSM editing tutorial videos(in case the playback does not work automatically, the downloadable .flv file could be played with e.g. VLC media player).
  • February 2008 – a series of workshops were held in India.
  • 19th February 2008 – 25,000 registered users
  • 12th–13th July 2008 – "State Of The Map 2008", held in Limerick, Ireland.
  • 8th February 2009 – Map updates more than once a week
  • 17th March 2009 – 100,000 registered users

New API 0.6, Explosion of User Growth and the License Change

Accumulated registered users (linear scale)
Active contributors per month
  • 21st April 2009 – Big switch to API version 0.6 which introduces changesets
  • 10th–12th July 2009 – "State Of The Map 2009", held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  • 25th August 2009 – Potlatch did not only have friends: there was the running gag to "ban Potlatch" (due to bad editing made by some of its – new – users using Potlatch's "live edit" mode) which even made its way into the node editing density history (visible in the USA area in a heatmap timelapse of node edits).
  • 5th January 2010 – 200,000 registered users
  • 13th January 2010 – Appeal for mappers launched after earthquake strikes Haiti. A detailed map is produced in 48 hours.
  • 1st April 2010 – Ordnance Survey Opendata releases. OSM partly responsible for bringing this about.
  • 9th–11th July 2010 – "State Of The Map 2010", held in Girona, Spain.
  • November 2010 – One year after its first public version, the new editor Potlatch 2 was embedded into the openstreetmap.org homepage and set to be the new default editor another four months later.
  • 30th November 2010 – Use of Bing vertical aerial imagery allowed
  • 29th November 2011 – 500,000 registered users
  • 9th–11th September 2011 – "State Of The Map 2011", held in Denver, Colorado, U.S.
  • 29th August 2012 – 750,000 registered users
  • 6th–8th September 2012 – "State Of The Map 2012", held in Tokyo, Japan.
  • 12th September 2012 – License switched over to ODbL
  • 23rd November 2012 – The map display of the openstreetmap.org homepage was switched from the OpenLayers to the Leaflet library
  • 6th January 2013 – 1,000,000 registered users

New User Interfaces and Continued Growth

Screenshot of the editor iD in May 2013

See also