Adoption by Sochi Olympics Crowd Raises Profile of OpenStreetMap

Archived Published: 13 February 2014 ID: G00262542


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Winter Olympics attendees' use of OpenStreetMap to navigate Greater Sochi has confirmed the marketability of crowdsourced cartography. By year-end 2014, Gartner expects government agencies will increasingly embrace OSM.

News Analysis


On 10 February 2014, news sources reported that many attendees and participants in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Olympic Park and surrounding area — which extends 40 miles from the Black Sea to the Caucasus Mountains — are using the crowdsourced cartography of OpenStreetMap (OSM) for directions (see ). OSM enables registered users to create free and editable maps for both personal and commercial exploitation using data (aerial photography and satellite navigation) and mobile sensors (GPS and smartphones).


Sochi attendees' use of OSM confirms that it is a marketable option and demonstrates that OSM has evolved from a niche solution, used only by the highest levels of government, into an everyday tool for the average user. Increased adoption helps OSM accumulate local context and makes it more personalized and impactful at the local and municipal levels.

OSM's more than 1.5 million registered users deploy location information derived from mobile devices and applications equipped with GPS and Wi-Fi assistance to edit, alter, update or fact-check various maps and features. The technology providers Foursquare and Uber have adopted OSM, and developers such as Geofabrik and Mapbox have combined OSM, privately purchased data and navigation applications for commercial and government use. But OSM differs from proprietary solutions in several ways:

  • It lacks licensing fees and proprietary restrictions.

  • It offers greater speed and personalization.

Until now, the adoption rate for OSM has been low, partly because it does not vertically position itself to pursue government business. Gartner expects government will remain somewhat cautious in its OSM adoption and will not immediately react to its success in Sochi; nevertheless, OSM will likely appeal more over time to budget-conscious government agencies. By year-end 2014, we expect undersourced government agencies will increasingly embrace OSM to attain greater efficiencies, to innovate without concerns about legalities, and to engage citizens to complete repetitive tasks that help develop programs or deliver services. Several government entities are already using OSM to support new business models or crowdsource:

  • The U.S. Geological Survey uses OSM to allow volunteers to map structures such as schools and hospitals.

  • The U.S. State Department provides aerial imagery to a humanitarian OSM project to support crisis management.

  • The city of Portland uses OSM to plan and route traffic.

Demand in the public and private sectors will build as open-data mandates and policies take effect. This will, in turn, create competitive pressure on proprietary price schemes and lead to greater commoditization of data. Though OSM adoption could lag or be limited as its novelty wears off, or if government is wary of its use in sensitive areas, Gartner expects OSM will compete with professionally developed content and positioning features from Google or Microsoft Bing Maps, which consumers currently view as more accurate, functional and visually appealing. Gartner expects continuous refinement and expansion (such as navigation and turn-by-turn directions) will also drive proprietary competitors to continue to adopt OSM-like mapping solutions.


Government IT leaders:

  • Leverage crowdsourcing and OSM to innovate or engage citizens to complete repetitive tasks to improve the efficiency or efficacy of developing programs or delivering services .

  • Plan and architect for open mapping systems and applications, taking into consideration how the expanding open-data movement will remove mapping data from government control and make it more generally available.

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