OpenStreetMap: open data that create services and jobs for everybody

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the Wikipedia applied to mapping: a digital map of the whole world that everybody can contribute to draw. The results is maps that you can print, use with several GPS navigation systems or customize at will. The most important characteristic of OSM maps, however, is another one: everybody can freely, legally reuse them for any purpose, including (unlike Google Maps) for commercial activities. This is why maps like those of OSM can help people to find… a job!

Maps everywhere, from blankets to walls

I recently discovered, thanks to Maurizio Napolitano, Pistill SF: “a San Francisco company that sells blankets and napkins on which they print a map of the place you like”, whatever that place is, from Bora Bora to the neighborhood where you actually live, work or study. If you want to know more about Pistill SF or buy their products, do visit their website. Here we’re going to talk about something else: how can Pistill SF be a profitable business, at the lowest possible cost?

The answer is easy: because the maps that they print on those blankets and napkins are just those from OSM, and they can do it just because those maps are legally reusable for free, without wasting months to asks for permissions everywhere, or file mountains of paperwork.

So, what we have here is somebody who has a job thanks to, and only because of, OpenStreetMap. And we also have something else, that comes from the same place but is much more interesting: just because everybody can use those maps, it looks to me like everybody could, in any part of the world, to legally start a company like Pistill SF (1). This would be better for people that wants those products and live close to that company, since they could have them without paying international shipping fees, having a paypal account or knowing English.

From the same OSM maps you can create, and in some cases people are already doing it, lots of other products and services. Giant wall-maps on canvas, like those of Ikea, jigsaw puzzles, walkability maps for home buyers only scratch the surface of what’s possible with open maps (other suggestions in the comments are very welcome!). Since the maps can be customized in a thousand ways, they also are an excellent base for gadgets for special events, maps on demands for tourists and so on.

All these suggestions have three things in common: they can be done without lots of money, without being professional software developers (meaning that they can create jobs in all sectors for people with any skills, not just programmers) and cannot be easily outsorced to the other side of the world as is the case with many other jobs. If the map-based products are built on demand, in the same city where they are sold, they’re also greener than stuff that had to cross half a planet inside some container before arriving to the store. Come on guys, what are you waiting for?

Let me stress once more that all this is possible just because of the fact that the public data of which the OSM maps are made are open, that is freely usable by everybody, for any purpose. Besides, maps are only one of the many fields in which open public data can create jobs, or really efficient public services (read here for an example of open water management).

Even if you couldn’t care less about software, the examples you just read may be enough to prove that Open Data can create new interesting jobs for everybody. If you want to know more about the benefits of Open Data, you’re welcome to read the Open Data, Open Society report (2)

  1. without, obviously, infringing on their trademarks and similar rights, which are a totally different story. Please DO check the details with a lawyer, if you really want to do something like this. And if you do it, please let me know!

  2. if you live in one of the EU-15 countries you should also ask your City and Region administration to participate in the Open Data, Open Society survey.