07 April 2009

OpenStreetMap Navigates to Wikipedia

One of the powerful features of open source is re-use: you don't have to re-invent the wheel, but can build on the work of others. That's straightforward enough for software, but it can also be applied to other fields of openness. Here's a fantastic example: embedding OpenStreetMap in Wikipedia entries:

For some time, there have been efforts to bring OpenStreetMap (OSM) and Wikipedia closer together. Both projects have the mission to produce free knowledge and information through a collaborative community process. Because of the similarities, there are many users active in both projects – however mutual integration is still lacking.

For this reason, Wikimedia Deutschland (WM-DE, the German Chapter of Wikimedia) are providing funds of 15.000 Euro (almost $20k) and starting a corresponding pilot project. A group of interested Wikipedians and OSM users have partnered up to reach two goals: The integration of OSM-maps in Wikipedia and the installation of a map toolserver. The map toolserver will serve to prototype new mapping-related projects and preparing them for deployment on the main Wikimedia cluster.

Here's how it will work:

Maps are an important part of the information in encyclopaedic articles - however currently mostly static maps are used. With interactive free maps and a marking system a way of presenting information can be created.

For some time there have been MediaWiki Extensions available for embedding OpenStreetMap maps into MediaWiki. That's a great start, but it isn't enough. If these extensions were deployed on Wikipedia without any kind of proxy set-up, the OpenStreetMap tile servers would struggle to handle the traffic.

One of our aims is to build an infrastructure in the Wikimedia projects that allows us to keep the OSM data, or at least the tile images, ready locally in the Wikimedia network. We still have to gain a some experience about this, but we are optimistic about that. On one side, we have a number of Wikipedians in the team, who are versed in MediaWiki and scaling software systems, and on the other side we have OSM users who can set up the necessary geo database.

We learned much from the use of the Wikimedia-Toolservers – for example that on a platform for experimenting much more useful tools were developed than it was predicted. Interested developers have a good starting position to develop new tools with new possibilities.

We expect similar results from the map toolserver. As soon as it is online, everyone who is interested and presents his ideas of development projects and his state of knowledge can apply for an account. We want to allow as many users as possible to implement their ideas without having to care about the basic setup. We hope that in the spirit of the creation and distribution of free content many new maps and visualisations emerge.

Now, it's happening:

There has been rapid progress on the subject of adding OpenStreetMap maps to Wikimedia projects (e.g. Wikipedia) during the MediaWiki Developer Meet-Up taking place right now in Berlin.

Maps linked to Wikipedia content *within* Wikipedia: I can't wait.

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