Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Article: foursquare is joining the OpenStreetMap movement! Say hi to pretty new maps! | Foursquare Blog

foursquare is joining the OpenStreetMap movement! Say hi to pretty new maps! | Foursquare Blog

foursquare is joining the OpenStreetMap movement! Say hi to pretty new maps!

Feb 29th

We usually use this blog for big product announcements, but, as a startup, we also often think about how we can make life easier for other startups. Today, we’re doing both – a little announcement, and hopefully some help for other startups that are thinking about the same things.

So, the announcement:
Starting today, we’re embracing the OpenStreetMap movement, so all the maps you see when you go to foursquare.com will look a tiny bit different (we think the new ones are really pretty). Other than slightly different colors and buttons, though, foursquare is still the same site you know and love.

Now, the explanation:
If you’re still reading this, you’re either really bored or you’re curious as to why we would make such a big technical change.

We’ve been using the Google Maps API since the early days of foursquare. In the last six months, though, we’ve seen an increasing number of companies migrating to other options. So, during our January hackathon, one of our intrepid engineers wondered what the world would look like if we made our own maps. To do that, he used data from OpenStreetMap. (It’s a crowd-sourced global atlas, and it’s kind of amazing! It’s like Wikipedia for geography.) We love the idea of open data, and were happy to try it out.

The hard thing, though, is taking the OpenStreetMap data and turning it into map images. Millions of map images, for every corner of the world. OpenStreetMap has a set of default map tiles, but they didn’t look quite right for us. Open MapQuest, another alternative, didn’t feel right, either.

Around this time, we reached out to the wonderful team at MapBox (hot new startup alert!) to see if they had any ideas. They were making gorgeous maps with the OpenStreetMap data. And, like all great love stories, the timing here was perfect. Earlier this week, they launched MapBox Streets, which now powers all of foursquare.com’s maps.

There were a few reasons we chose MapBox:

  • It’s based on OpenStreetMap data, so it’ll continually get better.
  • They give us a ton of design flexibility. We can alter things like colors and fonts, so we can match our own aesthetic. And we’ll keep tweaking the look to make it better.
  • It also allows us to use the open source Leaflet javascript library to power the maps. We look forward to contributing to that project and being part of that community.

When we initially began looking around for other map providers, we found some incredibly strong alternatives. And while the new Google Maps API pricing was the reason we initially started looking into other solutions, we ultimately ended up switching because, after all our research and testing, OpenStreetMap and MapBox was simply the best fit for us.

To take a look at how the new maps look, visit foursquare.com or check out MapBox’s blog post.

We love the idea of supporting open data through OpenStreetMap, and MapBox gives us greater flexibility on tile design for custom maps. And while OpenStreetMap has come a long way, there’s still a bit of work to be done to create an atlas of the whole world (the world is pretty huge). But we’re extremely excited about what we’re building towards.

We hope you like them, and look forward to figuring out better ways to use them in the future!

(A bunch of you have asked if this affects the maps in the foursquare app on your phone. It does not. We use the mapping components that come integrated with iOS and Android. Since the iPhone SDK and Android Maps API use Google Maps in connection with their platforms, we’ll still use those maps.)

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