Cloudmade, a ZXY Ltd venture, is going to use Open Street Map, the community-built mapping site, as the basis commercial venture out of the OSM data and software. OSM has grown over the past three years and is being used commercially by real estate site Nestoria (Radar post).
The Open Street Map data has been created by user-submitted GPS traces and is free to download by anyone. However, the data is sporadic in both quality and quantity and it is not currently available in any common geo-formats (e.g. shapefiles). Cloudmade is offering to verify the data and to make regular updates for client (the OSM updates every night). Cloudmade will also update the data for certain geographic areas if needed. It will also combine OSM with metadata
The OSM has been built on open source software that manages thousands of GPS traces, coordinates editing of that data, and generates a map. In their software services side they are offering to package this software for use by third-parties. This could be particularly handy for companies that need to create their own maps in under-supported regions of the world.
ZXY, the company behind Cloudmade, is comprised of London-based entrepreneurs Nick Black and Steve Coast. They are two of the proprietors of Open Street Map (Steve launched the project and is on the board; Nick is a spokesperson; Both contribute to the map). ZXY is also behind geo-advertising company Mappam (Radar post). As two of the leaders of a large, open source project the pair will have to balance the needs of their business with the needs of the project — luckily these will usually be in sync. OSM now gets over 1000 contributions a month (a huge milestone). I suspect that commercial deals will be viewed as validation by the community
Why would a company consider using Open Street Map data when anyone can use the maps of Google, MS, Mapquest or Yahoo for free? In a word: control.
An OSM data & map user has significantly more control over their maps than someone who uses a free API. The data is is licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0. It can be modified to create a customized map (see this Radar post on very cool OSM visualizations for an example). Using OSM data will let a company add to the data as they see fit. The quality of the data is the biggest concern for a client right now, but that will only improve in time. As seen lately in moves by Google (Radar post), Nokia (Radar post), and TomTom (Radar post) that are reminiscent of OSM’s pioneering techniques, crowdsourcing is going to be an accepted method of capturing geodata from now on.
Nick Black and Steve Coast are going to be doing a session on location at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin. I am going to be discussing the Business of Mapping Data at the Web 2.0 Summit on the 19th with representatives from Google, Tele Atlas, and Microsoft.
Disclosure: Fellow Radarite Nikolaj Niholm is backing this venture; I am friends with all three of them.