Update: Meanwhile Bikemap.net and Tiscover.com have been migrated to the new cartography and API.

The short story:

We do the switch2osm from Google Maps, and from the Google Maps API to Maptoolkit v8 with Openlayers! See the result here.

The long story:

When the Google Maps team announced the introduction of usage fees for high traffic websites such as our Bikemap.net, we were shocked at first. Thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month is far beyond what a free service such as Bikemap can afford.

Cartography: Our own Openstreetmap style

When I first heard of the project Openstreetmap, 2006 at a presentation by OSM founder Steve Coast in Copenhagen, when merely London was mapped, I couldn’t imagine the project going very far. But already in 2008 Peter and I were giving OSM presentations ourselves, at BarCamps and tourism events in Germany and Austria. We mapped the West African city of Ouagadougou almost entirely on our own and persuaded some local authorities to supply their GIS data. It was clear that Openstreetmap would eventually outperform commercial map vendors, due to its simple structure and growing community. So when Google announced the end of the free party (which, by the way, we are endlessly thankful for!), we knew we wouldn’t go anywhere else than the open way.

We opted for the hard (but rewarding) development our own map style, together with our newest team member, OSM aficionado Holger Schöner. Just as many others – e.g. Nestoria, Active.com, GPSies, Fubra – we could have used existing renderings but weren’t fully satisfied with the available options.

As most of our use cases involve outdoor activities, we decided to include a nice digital elevation model (with SRTM data from CIAT and OGD sources). As for cartographic information density, we opted for a light streetmap (in contrast to only marginal streetmap information in renderings such as Google Terrain), while toning down feature density in comparison to full street maps such as the original OSM rendering from Openstreetmap.org.

See the screenshot above or the interactive demo at Maptoolkit.net. Our style will be further developed, both with the objective of high performance and of better, more interactive information quality, that is also adaptable to specific use cases.

By the way: Regardless of our own maps we will continue to offer Google Maps within our mashups. They have set standards in terms of web cartography and continue to do so. Hat tip to the fabulous Google Maps team!

New API: Maptoolkit v8

Map tiles are only half the battle. We also needed a decent Javascript application to display them. There are a couple of alternative APIs out there, most notably Bing, Mapquest and Cloudmade. For various reasons we had already abstracted most of the features Google supplies over the course of the last years, moving a lot of functionality into our own API Maptoolkit (MTK) that resides on top of the Google API. As of Version 7 of MTK the Google API merely is responsible for basic interface features. We now have moved that API foundation to the fabulous opensource project OpenLayers, which as of the new Version 8 of MTK covers not only the basic functionality but also provides us with the richness of functions from a large and active community of developers. To which we will happily be contributing to as well.

Don’t get me wrong: We continue to be huge fans of Google Maps. We have been building some of the map benchmarks of the European tourism industry with Google Maps. And we will continue to do so: The Google Maps API is tightly and well integrated (in alignment with Google’s terms) into MTK and can be used as ever. It is just not preconditional any more. Our customers will be able to decide when to use Google Maps basic, when to use Google Maps Premier, when to use Maptoolkit – and when to use Maptoolkit and Google together, in order to stay below usage limits. And they can throw in third party map tile servers such as Mapquest to the mix as well.

We will deploy both MTK v8 and our new rendering style within the upcoming weeks at Bikemap.net and selected customer projects. Please do get in touch if you are interested in any of our services.

Some notes on our demo:

  • It is for now limited to an alpine section of Tyrol in the alps, around the beautiful city of Innsbruck. We are in the course of providing a worldwide rendering up to a certain zoom level and more zoom levels for our most important markets, as needed.
  • Try switching between Toursprung maps, Google or the official Openstreetmap Mapnik rendering for comparison.
  • Try out displaying some geo content from the menu on the right. We have designed our maps in a way that doesn’t interfere with POIs and clusters, as this is a requirement in most of our use cases.
  • Everything is still beta: We are still working on many aspects of representation, interface controls and behaviour, production process and data quality.

Most importantly: How do you like our new maps? Let us know in the comments or on the Bikemap or Toursprung page on Facebook.