Make open source mapping and location tools work for you

Free tools can add geolocation tools your business

By , ITworld |  Open Source, mapping, open source mapping

The online mapping world is an exciting place to watch these days, thanks to a combination of open source tools, the rise of hyperlocal search, and ubiquitous and cheap GPS devices. There are applications galore, including some recent innovations that corporate IT managers should pay attention to.

These three trends are coming together in new and interesting ways: now just about every smartphone comes with an onboard GPS, further driving down their costs. Hyperlocal search is becoming more important as businesses try to forge better ways to connect with their customers in a specific geographic area: witness the rise of apps such as Foursquare, Facebook Places, and Gowalla, which allow you to "check in" your location and find out where your friends are located within a few hundred feet. Another example of this trend is Everyblock.com, a hyperlocal news site that is currently available for 16 different cities around the US. On this site, you can search on a particular address and pull up events happening nearby, calls for city services, crime reports and properties for sale.

And the number of open source mapping tools is also on the rise, making it easier for programmers to add mapping features to their apps without having to tie themselves to a particular mapping provider.

Online mapping used to be simple: go to a Web site, enter an address, and view the street map of the surroundings. Then came a series of innovations from Google, who sent out teams of drivers with car-mounted cameras to capture the street view, showing homes and other buildings as they drove by. (Google also got into trouble with capturing open Wi-Fi networks as they photographed things, but let's not get into that imbroglio right now.)

All that has changed lately, and the mapping arena is getting more complex. Innovations are happening literally all over the world: Take a look at this sample video from Nokia's Ovi mapping unit (or check out the screenshot below), showing you a more natural three-dimensional view flying over San Francisco where you can see buildings and terrain much as you would in real life.

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