MapBox has a straightforward business model: take a good, open source solution; mix in open data and make a better map. It uses OpenStreetMap as a foundation to build open source mapping services that companies like Foursquare and USA Today find very appealing. Directions Magazine asked Zack Pasavento, MapBox media relations manager, where the company is headed.
Directions Magazine (DM): What was the opportunity MapBox exploited in offering enhancements to OpenStreetMap such as MapBox Streets or MapBox Terrain and “productizing” the solution? How did you position MapBox to attract new types of users?
Zack Pasavento (ZP): We need the best and most up-to-date data for the entire world - OpenStreetMap has that. Since the project started back in 2004, over a million people have registered to start adding data to the map. At MapBox, we take OpenStreetMap raw data and turn it into maps that power everything from Foursquare, to Evernote, to USA Today - now everyone is benefitting from the growing OpenStreetMap community.
Right now our team is making two critical investments in the core OpenStreetMap infrastructure, specifically improving performance and interface design - all with the goal of giving the community a better tool to make an even better map.
DM: What kind of feedback are you now receiving from your clients about applications they want to build? Will OSM continue to fit your needs in supporting your clients or do you see a need to leverage other APIs like Google Maps?
ZP: MapBox is all-in on OpenStreetMap. The future of data is open and OpenStreetMap is the community to make this happen. Our primary focus now is to expand OpenStreetMap's address coverage. As public data becomes increasingly available we can add this data to the map. This is key for making OpenStreetMap a good database for geocoding.
DM: At this point, is moving to an open source solution more appealing to businesses than it was two years ago? Was there a particular catalyst in the market you could point to that allowed you to make it more palatable to clients?
ZP: It's a no-brainer in the wider software space to go open source. Across the industry, there has been a broad realization that there is no money to be made by selling lines of code. The real value is in offering services. Our clients don't want the code for the map -- they want a map. And since owning a map can be prohibitively expensive, they prefer to rent it. What really changed over the past couple of years in the geo space -- especially around OpenStreetMap -- is that both the open data and the open source tools have arrived at a level of maturity that finally makes them a compelling and increasingly superior alternative.
DM: What can you tell us about iD 1.1? In what ways will it make mapping and map editing more intuitive?
ZP: As cool as the editor is now, this is just the start of making it easier to add more data to OpenStreetMap. We want iD editor to expand the horizon on OpenStreetMap for power users and beginners alike. The iD 1.1 release will implement a user interface for editing advanced features like turn restrictions, routes and transit and performance improvements. We will also roll out smart tools for feature extraction from aerial imagery on the horizon.
DM: As a mapping startup, are there specific vertical mapping markets where you think you can be successful? Do you favor any particular markets? Enterprise? Non-profits? Mobile?
ZP: Everyone. We're making it easy to add any custom map to your app or your site. In addition to an OpenStreetMap base layer, we offer a high resolution satellite layer, geocoding, tools for creating your own tile maps, and open source Web and mobile libraries. So the goal isn't to focus on a particular market vertical -- maps are part of everything. This is a huge market and we have giants to tackle. We can do this with open source and open data.