Over the last couple of years, I’ve made use of a couple of OpenStreetMap based projects, both on a personal and professional level. While the projects themselves were very different, the supplier for the software was the same, Cloudmade Software
The first project is the Android based application, MapDroyd This application had all the makings of a superb offline mapping application, with stability, regular delivery of updated maps and a strong following. The benefits of offline mapping here in rural mountain states USA cannot be emphasized, with phone and data service being spotty and often non-existent, depending on the carrier, making Google Maps useless. Incidentally, Open Street Map holds a serious mapping quality lead in rural areas, Google still relying on unmodified years-old Tiger data in some places.
About 18 months ago, Cloudmade ceased updating the maps but left the application up on the play store with increasing numbers of complaints, leaving those of us attached to the product, and who had worked to improve local mapping quality lost.
A recent discussion with a committee member of “Denver Sister Cities about delivering technology to support the gift of a utility vehicle to Axum,Ethiopia had me thinking about the product again. With seriously spotty phone coverage, the problems of Africa are embarrassingly similar to those here in the rural areas of the USA. An offline map product available to cheap Android platforms should be a winner.
Ultimately, the question is: Does a commercial company hurt an Open Source projects standing by failing to deliver a promised value-added product based on that project. Personally evangelizing for open source solutions as an alternative to strictly commercial implementations can be damaging professionally when the delivery of the product fails to live up to the promise. To the layman, the fortunes of the underlying project and the value-added provider are inextricably linked, as in, “The OpenStreetMap data is good, but we can’t rely on company xxx, so we’re going with Google”.