MapQuest Developer Blog

Archives for Antony Pegg

  • Nominatim, Potlach2 and Tiger Edited Map on Developer Network

    As per usual I have a ton of updates, and what seems to be very little time in which to write it all down.  Therefore, at a breakneck pace, and with a casual disregard for grammer and spulling.. here we go: For the record, OSM = OpenStreetMap - read about it on the first draft version of our MapQuest Guide to OpenStreetMap.

    Directions Service Update:

    Since last I blogged, we've added Oceania and India to the routing database - so you should be able to get directions in those areas. The directions data on the Open sites and on the developer web service now updates daily! (Hurrah!).   That seemed very short to write, and doesn't quite convey the monumental effort involved in getting the daily updates working and stable.  If you are not yet familiar with the OSM-powered directions service, it can be found at
    [caption id="attachment_657" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="directions from Perth to Sydney"]Perth to Sydney[/caption] [caption id="attachment_656" align="alignright" width="270" caption="multi-point route across India"]multi-piont route across India [/caption]

    Nomimatim Search Service:

    Nominatim is the main search web service used by OSM and developed by Brian Quinion.  Since pretty much anyone who wants to search OSM uses Nominatim, and the copy hosted on the OSM website needs to have usage limits, we thought it would be helpful to stand up a copy too, to share some of the load.  There are no usage limits at this time.  There is no need for keys or registration, and works exactly the same way as the one on OSM (because the point is that it IS the same as the one on OSM! Open Source FTW!) The Nominatim service can be found at It works just like any other web service - querystring parameters go in, and results come out in JSON or XML. If you don't specify a format, you actually get a rather handy little search interface using openLayers.  Also, like the other web services we host, going to the base URL displays the documentation - so if ever you get lost figuring out how to use it, just back up the address until documentation appears.

    Potlatch 2 OSM Map Editor (Beta. Pre-Beta. More sorta Alpha.):

    We are now hosting a copy of Potlatch 2, the new (still very beta) OSM Map Editor tool as well.  The tool itself can be found at  We've created a primer to give some basic help, found here on our Developer Network. Potlatch 2 is the new version of the flash-based map editing tool on OSM.  Anyone who is familiar with OSM and with editing the map, is probably familiar with Potlatch - it's what comes up when you click the edit button above the map on OSM, and then lets you draw or move roads, add points of interest, and generally add to, or edit, the map itself.  As a side note (because I find it fascinating) Richard Fairhurst, the creator, called it Potlatch after the indian gift-giving ceremony. The new one has been (and still is) in development for quite some time, but is starting to get close to "prime time."  It was featured last week on the Project Of the Week and caused much great feedback that the developers are applying, even as we speak. [caption id="attachment_654" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Potlach 2 Editor"]Potlatch 2 Editor[/caption] It is important to understand that this editing tool is still very much under development, but it IS functional and usable.  It will be upgraded, enhanced, fleshed out, and have increasing documentation as we, and the community, contribute to its growth. Once again, its a completely open source tool, released under my absolutely favourite license.  No I'm not telling, go find it.  Anyone can contribute to its growth, or install it themselves on their own sites. For those who are new, and have never edited before, I feel I should ask for patience when it comes to signing up, and getting the editor registered.  Don't panic, here's a quick cheat sheet of what's going on: 1) In order to edit, you need to have an OSM account.  You can create one ahead of time by going here: 2) When you create that account, it will send you an email, that you must then confirm by clicking on the link in the email they will send to you.  When you confirm, it will open a page of account settings.  Don't worry - you don't have to do anything here (although its really cool if you do). 3) When you sign into the Potlatch 2 editor for the first time, its going to give you a link that sends you back to the OSM website again - Log in on the OSM site with the name/password you just created, and OSM will ask you to confirm that you are OK with Potlatch 2 being able to do things for you.  Once you confirm that, you should be good to go. 4) Congratulations! you are now part of the OSM community, and empowered to edit the map! I highly recommend reading the primer, and also checking out the map features page on the OSM Wiki.

    TIGER Edited Map Viewer:

    In 2007 the free US government map data (AKA TIGER) was imported into OSM.  Unfortunately that was a large amount of data, and a lot of it is inaccurate. Basically this map shows how much of the US map is unchanged from that original TIGER import in 2007 in red, and how much of the map has been touched by someone, since, in green.  Our goal, as members of the OSM community, is to turn all the red roads into green roads. You can read more about the project here.  You can go here to see the TIGER Edited Map Viewer A big thanks to Matt Amos who originally built this TIGER tool and has helped us reinstate it.
    TIGER Edited Map viewer
    TIGER Edited Map viewer
    If you use the Potlatch 2 editor, you can also turn the TIGER Edited Map on as a background layer to help you know which roads need attention.  There's a few very simple things anyone can do to help clean up the map in their neighbourhood!
    • Turn on the aerial imagery background and make sure the streets are actually aligned with reality.
    • Un-abbreviate the street names (OSM likes fill street names - south instead of S. or Road instead of Rd).
    • Check that the road classification is good.  Many, many roads were imported with the tag "highway=residential" which is meant for streets full of houses (like suburbia) - when instead many of them should be "highway=tertiary" (larger streets that connect suburban developments for example) or "highway=service" and "service=alley" (this problem is especially rampant in city areas where all the alleys that run down the backs of the houses are incorrectly tagged).
    • For roads that end in turning circles, you can select the last point that makes up drawing the road, make sure its positioned in the center of the circle shown on the aerial imagery, and add the tag of "highway=turning_circle".
    • Once you think the road is good, then find the tag on it that says "tiger:reviewed=no" and change it to say 'Yes'...because you've just reviewed it!
    [caption id="attachment_659" align="alignleft" width="256" caption="Unfixed alleys from TIGER import"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_655" align="alignright" width="256" caption="Alleys after they've been fixed"]Alleys after they've been fixed[/caption]
    Well that's all I've got for now.  Thanks to everyone involved in getting these things together and out, including Brian Quinion, Andy Allan, Matt Amos, Casey Doerschuk, Greg Knisely, Caryn Hughes, Artem Pavlenko, Bob Rudi, Joe Barbara, Hurricane Coast, Thea Clay, Kumiko Yamazaki, Duane Gearhart, Richard Fairhurst, Cameron Thomas, Tom Hughes, Jessica Feaster, Richard Weait, and Dave Stubbs amongst others.  As usual when I mention names, beat me up if I forgot yours, and I'll buy you a frosty beverage as recompense.
  • Four new OSM sites, Draggable Routes, OSM Section on DevNet, and New Team Member

    New OpenStreetMap based sites localized by country

    We've got localization going on!  Four new Open Beta domains rolled out today: - - defaults to Germany as the map, and German as the language - - centers on France, starts in French - - shows Italy in Italian - - tell you what, I'll leave you to guess what this one does You can read more about the new sites over on the Consumer Blog. You can of course change your language setting on these sites, regardless of which one you are on (as described by Deb in this post) and pan the map anywhere in the world.  And, it's powered by Nominatim, so you can search for anything, anywhere from any of the sites.

    New features

    Draggable Routes This release also adds draggable routes to all the Open sites, including the beta site.  If you hover over the route ribbon after getting directions, you can drag the ribbon to go through different roads than we originally calculated. While you are dragging, you get a tooltip that tells you the time and distance of the new route.  Once you let go, your route is updated.  If you click on the little red dot in your route (it represents where you dragged your route ribbon to, and we call it a "via") an infowindow pops up that allows you to convert it to a stop along your route.
    click, hold, and drag the route ribbon
    More Sharing Options The "Send To" section has been beefed up as we figure out how to get it all working with OSM data.  I personally find these features very useful to have, and I hope others do too:
    • Send to Facebook - You can share your maps & directions on Facebook.  If you haven't already used the awesome ability to save collections of places, you should check out My Maps
    • Send to GPS - You can upload your maps or directions as waypoints and tracks directly to your GPS!
    • Send to Email - Enter multiple email addresses and send your maps and directions to people
    [caption id="attachment_461" align="aligncenter" width="461" caption="The Send To button lets you share your map in different ways"][/caption] So how's THIS for a crazy scenario?
    • Run a route you intend to go mapping down.
    • Use the dragging feature to arrange it down the roads you want to go.
    • Save it to your My Maps section.
    • Use the Link function to get a link to the map and add to your mapping party wiki page.
    • Then send to email, to let other members of the mapping party know which area you intend to tackle.
    • Send to GPS to upload the trail to your GPS device that you go mapping with.
    • After the mapping party is done, the data is uploaded, and the map is updated (remember they update every 15 minutes), come back and share the new map out to your friends on Facebook to show what you did!
    In fact, since I intend to run the first Lancaster, PA  Mapping Party on October 14th, I think I will do EXACTLY that. Improved Search I'd also like to point out that the search results also show a vast improvement over our original launch.  A combination of our growing understanding of how to handle Nominatim results in our interface, combined with tweaks and enhancements by Twain have introduced the following noticeable effects:
    • You should no long get ANY " unable to locate" results that you can't click on to see on the map (if you see any, PLEASE send us feedback at and list the search phrase you used)
    • House numbers now show up if they are in the OSM data.
    • Improved understanding of names vs. places when searching (for example, "Pubs in London" was showing The London Pub in Somerset as our first result - Now it actually shows a pub in London!)
    For the developers & cartographers following along at home, we've also updated the map style again.  The awesome folks at Cartifact have provided us with a version of the high quality geoTiffs we use as background images on the furthest-out zoom levels of MapQuest. [caption id="attachment_465" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="High Quality geoTiffs added to top level zoom tiles, and part of open source style"][/caption]

    I don't feel a screenshot really does them justice, so I'd recommend checking them out live on the site (notice the cunning use of the Link feature to put you at a further-out zoom level than default).  The style has been updated on GitHub and the geoTiffs are available under the MIT license.   The style was also upgraded to native Mapnik 2 also known as Version 0.8.0, so you'll want the latest source.  Major thanks to Artem and Gravitystorm for the heavy lifting in getting this done. Along the way we also found time to fix the scalebar so that it actually works now and shows both miles and KM; and, thanks to feedback from the OSM talk lists, we made it change size based on the latitude center of the map as you pan around (most noticeable, obviously, at further-out zoom levels as you pan north and south). As I said, these sites ARE Beta, so if you notice any weirdness (or have any other feedback) please let us know.  There are now three ways to provide us feedback. - Click on the Feedback link, top right above the map - Email - Post on our forums on the Developer Network This is a rather nice segue into telling you about the new pages on the developer network...

    New OpenStreetMap section on the MapQuest Developer Network

    If you go to the MapQuest Developer Network homepage, you'll notice that there is an entirely new section called OpenStreetMap Initiatives.  I've kept the details up-to-date on the OSM wiki regarding what we have available, but we thought it would be good to gather everything in one place on our Developer Network too.  You will find a place for our map tiles that you are free to use, the Mapnik Style file we use, and the RESTful Directions Service that uses OSM data, and you'll also find the new forums where you can post to discuss. Our goal is, obviously, to fill this section up with many more useful tools, so stay tuned in this area.

    New MapQuest Team Member!

    Last, but by no means least, I'm also very excited to announce that Hurricane Coast has joined our Open Initiative team!  She will be focused on the US improvement fund we announced at SOTM 2010. Before joining us, Hurricane has been very active in the OpenStreetMap community.  She has organized and held mapping parties in over 9 states, 6 countries, and 2 continents that I have been able to count so far, been part of the organizing committee for the State Of The Map Conference for the last 3 years, and is part of the OSM Communications Working Group, as well as having previously worked as a Community Ambassador in the United States.  I expect it won't be long before she has banned me from blogging for crimes against literature and grammar, and started providing you with coherent and cogent posts herself! As always, stay tuned, there's more to follow soon.
  • MapQuest Directions Service on OpenStreetMap Data; Sponsors SOTM-US

    A couple of weeks back, MapQuest was proud to sponsor and attend the burgeoning State of the Map US conference, organized by the US chapter of the OpenStreetMap foundation.  Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but others from MapQuest were there, and a couple of them showed off their l33t PowerPoint skillz with presentations. First up was David Cole, who gave a succinct overview of what the MapQuest Open project had done so far and what we were hoping to do next.  He tells me it was very well received, with people being very happy to see the map style open-sourced, and to hear that the map tiles are accessible and update within 15 minutes. Later, our guru of all things directions-based, Dave Nesbitt, dove into our experiences creating routing on top of OSM data, and announced that we now have a Directions Service available in beta. So, to expand on that last sentence a bit... We've created an open sub-domain of - i.e: We plan to host more services powered by OpenStreetMap data over time, and the Directions Service (once again) is the first to go up in Beta form. The Directions Service itself is directly accessible at There are, however, a few differences between the Open Directions Service and the one powered by commercial data at
    • This service is powered completely by free, open-source OpenStreetMap data, instead of commercial data.
    • You do not need a key. To repeat: NO KEY. NO SIGNUP REQUIRED. NO NEED TO AUTHENTICATE - just go use it.
    • This service does not yet have geocoding tied into it, so you need to specify your locations as latitude/longitude pairs instead of addresses or place names.
    • This service currently has two functions - route and optimized route.  Optimized routing is the ability to re-order a multi-stop route for the most efficient way to get to all the different stops you wanted to make on your journey.  You can do a route for up to 50 places, or an optimized route of up to 25 places.
    • This service has European and USA routing data behind it.  Other areas of the globe will follow over time.
    Apart from that, it is the same as our regular Directions Service - key/value pairs, JSON, or XML in, and JSON or XML out. Please try it out, have fun with it, and give us feedback on our forums.
  • MapQuest Opens Tiles and Style; Enables Rapid Data Updates

    When we launched the during the State of the Map conference, we received some immediate feedback that we've already taken steps to address.  I figured we've now made enough updates to warrant blog post - so here goes:

    Will we add footpaths & cycle paths to the MQ style?

    Done!  Our biggest piece of feedback on the map style was the missing footpaths & bicycle paths.  We're now picking those tags up for styling. Tiles are updated with the new style and several other changes have been made too as we continue to refine the style.

    Will we open-source the style files?

    Why, yes! If you are interested in using our map style in your application, we've uploaded the style files to GitHub and released it under the MIT License.   As we've updated & improved the style, we've uploaded the changes to Github. Follow this link to find the repository for our map style files.

    Can you use MapQuest tiles in your application?

    Yes! Please feel free to do so!  And feel free to let us know at we love it when people use our stuff. Our MapQuest tiles are available for use for free under the following conditions:
    • OpenStreetMap must be given credit for the data - see this section of their legal FAQ for details.
    • Please place "tiles courtesy of MapQuest" on your page, or in the copyright area of the map and please link the word "MapQuest" to or
    • If your application will get heavy usage (currently defined as more than 4,000 tiles per second) please let us know by sending us an email at Please include the estimate of your expected usage so that we will be aware and accommodate the extra traffic.
    • If there will be an announcement (ex - a press release or a corporate announcement) please contact MapQuest at to let us know of the good news and any expected jumps in map tile usage.
    • Usage of these tiles are at your own risk.
    • Usage of these tiles are governed by paragraph 9, section (a) of the MapQuest Developer Network Terms of Use.

    How do you use the MapQuest-hosted map tiles?

    You can learn more about how to use OpenStreetMap tiles in general, here on the OpenStreetMap wiki.  Once you know how OSM tiles work, then it is very straightforward to use. The tile URLs are very similar to regular OSM tiles, with only the front of the URL being different. OpenStreetMap tile URL MapQuest tile URL Just replace the "" bit with "" [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="256" caption="OSM tile:"]OSM tile[/caption] [caption id="" align="alignright" width="256" caption="MapQuest tile:"]MapQuest tile:[/caption]
    Note: There are 4 subdomains set up for the MapQuest-hosted tiles: otile1 to otile4.  All subdomains point to the same CDN. Just like with OSM's a.tile to c.tile subdomains, the MapQuest subdomains are provided to work around browser limitations on the number of simultaneous HTTP connections to each "host". Browser-based applications can request multiple map tiles from multiple subdomains faster than requesting map tiles from just one subdomain. More information can be found on the wiki at and here on the wiki page for MapQuest.

    When do we update our data?

    Well, when we were at the conference, it was a static load.  Getting automated updates in place was our top priority when we returned.  I am happy to say that we now have the map tiles updating within approximately 15 minutes of any edits to the data being made, and the search data updating within 2 hours to a day, depending on traffic load at the time.  We're still working on getting routing data updated automatically (our first goal is daily updates) but I understand we are periodically refreshing it manually while we build that process. More news to follow soon.
  • MapQuest Style File for Mapnik Open Sourced

    Today we placed our style files for the site up on GitHub. The source is available at and is available under the MIT License. There are some changes in there that haven't gone live yet, mainly around adding in the bike and foot paths. We're also working on highlighting the Kibera Project data better than we had originally. If anyone out there has any advice on which key/value pairs to focus on, please let us know at Anyway, the style is currently built to work against Mapnik 0.6.1+. It is not directly compatible with Mapnik 2 yet. We were moving so fast that we figured it was best to isolate Cartifact from having a constantly changing renderer during the project, and just run it thru Artem's converter for production.  It is a to do item on our list to get it properly converted to Mapnik 2, but as I write I realize it probably gets a wider audience right now if we leave it as is. The style updates are not yet live on, we haven't finished them, but since so much of the feedback since launch has been around tweaks to the style, we figured we'd just get it up now and start the ball rolling! Hopefully I'll be back soon with news of some more changes, enhancements, etc.