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Interactive maps

Interactive OpenStreetMap features in development

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By Aude
Adderley Street (Cape Town, South Africa) in OpenStreetMap

A new initiative is underway to make OpenStreetMap available as interactive maps within Wikipedia. OpenStreetMap is a collaborative project to create free, open source street map data, mostly generated from user-submitted GPS tracks. To get the project going, Wikimedia Deutschland (WM-DE, the German Chapter of Wikimedia) is providing €15,000 (~$20,000) for a map toolserver, which will be a place for the project team to setup a prototype infrastructure and for developing other mapping-related ideas.

The maps will be integrated into Wikipedia pages that have coordinates. The default option will be to have a link in the coordinates template that allows the maps to pop up and expand, similar to how the WikiMiniAtlas currently works. There will also be a tag (e.g. <map>) that can be used (with parameters) to place an individual inline map in an article or infobox. The map will be rendered as a .png static map, which works whether or not the reader has JavaScript enabled, and the static map images can be cached. If the reader does have JavaScript enabled, then they will also be able to click on the map and interact—zoom, pan, etc.—similar to how Google Maps works. The dynamic maps work by displaying map tiles, which are .png images and also can easily be cached.

Wikimedia Deutschland is providing three servers: one that can host an independent copy of the OpenStreetMap planet.osm data; another for rendering and tile caching; and a third server for developing new applications and other mapping ideas, tools, and uses for OpenStreetMap data. With this setup, the project team can determine the exact technical setup that would be needed for deployment on the main Wikimedia production servers. Another part of the project is to develop a MediaWiki extension, expanding upon the existing SlippyMap, Simple image, and other extensions, making them robust and very reliable, and working to make the whole map system usable and well-integrated with Wikipedia.

The plan is to get the maps ready for implementation on English and other language Wikipedia versions as quickly as possible; developers hope to have mapping ready for deployment by the time of the Wikimania conference at the end of August 2009. The initial implementation will be kept simple, just focused on OpenStreetMap. Once the maps are working, there are many possibilities to improve them, such as integrating satellite imagery from NASA World Wind and adding map icons showing the location of Wikipedia articles. At some point the project developers would also like to provide a number of different map style options, as a street map is not a good fit for all types of articles (e.g. showing bird species ranges and migration patterns).

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