Want a Map of Tehran? Use Open Street Map or Google

tehran flickr map

All eyes are on Tehran right now. As the center of the Iranian election protests the city has become increasingly important to websites this week. To keep their site up-to-date with this latest crisis area Flickr switched out the Yahoo road Map with Open Street Map. When I heard about this I wondered how other major mapping sites faired.

So I examined the road and satellite maps of Yahoo, Mapquest, Google, and Bing (formerly Live Maps). Looking at the images below it becomes very clear that user-generated maps win in hard to reach places. Both Open Street Map (above) and Google (below) rely on user-contributions. Open Street Map relies almost entirely on user uploaded GPS tracks for its mapping data across the world. After the jump i’ve included the satellite maps from each service (except for Mapquest who did not have them). They were

Google is using data acquired from their just-under-a-year-old Mapmaker program (Radar post). With Mapmaker users can add roads, POIs, regions and features. It’s a very powerful tool that has greatly expanded Google coverage. Google has been slow and deliberate in using Mapmaker data on their main site. In fact it was just a couple of weeks ago that Iran’s mapmaker data “graduated” to the main site. There are now 64 countries on Google that have been updated with Mapmaker data.

This isn’t the first time Flickr has done this (Radar post). They’ve also used Open Street Map for Beijing, Black Rock City (2008), Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Baghdad, Kabul, Kinshasa, Mogadishu, Harare, Nairobi, Accra, Cairo, and Algiers.

So what’s holding back Microsoft, Yahoo and Mapquest? Unknown, but hopefully they’ll realize that their top-down approach isn’t working.

Compare the Maps for yourself:

Note: I have included data layers where they were available (Google and Microsoft).

Google Maps:

tehran google map

(The markers include Wikipedia articles, photos, video, webcams, POIs, and public transit stations)

Bing Maps:

tehran bing map

(The markers include Photosynths, user collections, photos and Wikipedia articles)

Yahoo Maps:

tehran yahoo map

Mapquest Maps:

tehran mapquest map

(This took a while to find, I had to find the International Maps page and click-thru a couple more pages to get the map)

However, when it comes to satellite maps they are very even:

Google Maps:

tehran google satellite map

Bing Maps

tehran bing satellite map

Yahoo Maps:

tehran yahoo satellite map

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  • Brett

    Up until quite recently Open Street Map (OSM) were the only mapping site/engine that had street level data for Cape Town, South Africa. It was all slowly and painstakingly added through user contributions. None of the other mapping sites had any level of detail, as a result none of the mapping api’s were useful for anything local.
    Google recently updated their street level data – it is quite accurate. I am unsure what data source they used, or whether or not it came from their Mapmaker program. I checked a year ago and the program still wasn’t active in that region.
    All the other sites currently still lack street level detail.

  • Mike

    I assume that the uploads to these user contributed sites are not tagged with some kind of personal identifier? The people pushing this information to servers outside of Iran could be in a lot of trouble.

  • J Angerman

    It is illegal for American companies to do business with Iran. Since purchasing map data constitutes “doing business”, it is amazing that these American companies have anything at all.

    This anti-terrorism strategy has meant that American industry is shut out of the Iranian market; meanwhile our allies like South Korea trade freely.

  • Mike

    @J Angerman: South Korea is also a country that does not allow any map data to be exported outside of the country.

    It is not necessarily the companies presenting the map data that is breaking the (local) law, it is the individuals pushing the data out of the country.

    Although… one could also expect some level of official displeasure directed towards organisations taking advantage of (even making money from) such illegal data distribution.

  • There’s a few keen OpenStreetMap contributors actually in Iran who are helping to create the map, but coverage can also be helped along by anyone and everyone who wants to get involved, by sketching in street layouts based on aerial imagery.

    I put a out a call to action among existing OSM contributors, which may have prompted some mapping progress over the past week, but really anyone can get involved in OpenStreetMap. Give it a try!

  • Peter

    One could argue about the legal implications about this. If an Iranian uploads his GPS log to OSM he may not export “a map”, but merely a set of points. Someone else, outside of Iran connects the dots and converts it into a road. Would this be legal?

    Is a satellite image of Iran (owned by a non Iranian company) the same as exporting a map?

    It gets me angry when useless legal implications hold back innovation. Or is there a good reason why this is illegal in some countries?

  • Robert

    It’s been a fortnight since this. Try checking Tehran on OSM now.

  • Ævar Arnfjörð Bjarmason

    A good effort by flickr. But it’s a shame that they don’t roll out OSM in a more systematic manner. Up until now they’ve only used it in cases like Kabul, for Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, and now in Tehran.

    A commendable effort, but OSM coverage is far superior to Yahoo! Maps coverage in large parts of the globe that aren’t these specific areas.

  • 3pd

    tnx for this nice info!
    i want to know how many cities are in big Tehran
    what kind of list can i search that let me know about this cities and the distance between them
    plz answer me as soon as posible

  • Britney Spear Wallpaper

    In conditions such as in Iran, the map is
    important. Map is like a stick for the blind. Amid an atmosphere that does not allow us to ask questions or consult a map on the other hand became one of the basic ingredients to make a decision.