I was impressed recently by the progress of OpenStreetMap (OSM). The maps of most big cities (in Europe at least) are already very complete, e.g. Dublin and Brussels. Many smaller cities and cities in less developed countries are still in need of work, but the current status clearly proves that the project’s aims are practical.
Why is having freely reusable maps important? For one thing, they can be used by other community projects such as Wikipedia. Another advantage is that rather than trying to make it difficult to copy their data (like the corporate map providers do), the OSM website provides lots of features to export their maps. (If you want to link to an OSM map instead of exporting an image, use the "Permalink" link in the bottom right-hand corner.)
When you export an image from OSM, there’s no copyright notice or attribution info (which seems like a mistake to me), so when you use OSM maps, consider adding a link or some text to tell people where you got the map from.
The current licence used for the mapping data is the Creative Commons by-sa-2.0 licence. There are constant discussions about changing the licence – not because people disagree with the ideals of that licence, but because there is debate among legal experts as to whether that licence is valid for mapping data and would work worldwide. For people intrested in that sort of thing, there’s a very good summary written by Richard Fairhurst in January 2008.
To get involved, there’s info on their Beginner’s Guide. You might also find an existing OSM group in your area by checking the Mapping projects page on their wiki. I’ve recently borrowed a GPS handset, so I’m hoping to be able to post more info in the future about how it all works.
In other news, the OpenMoko Neo Freerunner is heading for large scale production. I’ve heard it’s far from being ready for daily use, and you should be comfortable with installing and upgrading software. So this version is mostly for hackers, but if you’re interested in mobile phones powered by free software, OpenMoko is the free-est available. There’s a group discount when people in one region order 10 phones. Because it has built-in GPS and all the software is free software, I’m hoping it will increase the number of OpenStreetMap contributors.