Data consolidated from a farmer's plow's GPS as it circled near Dmitriyev, Russia.
Uncovering unknown territory is more and more rare, as GPS paired with the Web has made even the most remote or unusual routes accessible to the world. The free service of OpenStreetMap (OSM) has more than one million registered users contributing data from GPS, aerial photography and just regular traversing across every possible route in the world. OSM has more than a decade of consolidated data and is often referred to as the "Wikipedia for maps." But the interesting part is that their data are considered their primary product, and not actual maps. Many sites are powered with OSM data—like Craigslist, Foursquare, Geocaching, MapQuest—organizations that want to use it instead of pricey Google Maps. But OSM also powers the beautiful maps produced by the startup MapBox.
Here's an example of a runner's various routes (the thicker red lines represent the number of times he ran that particular route) using data from OSM.
MapBox offers a platform for making custom maps. Most of their work lands on the pages of Uber, Evernote and the Financial Times. And they offer options like MapBox Streets, global street level maps or Natural Earth, a topographic map of the world.
MapBox's routes are color-coded (i.e., the direction and frequency of travel is delineated by hue.) And this helps users determine one-way streets, or the roads less-traveled.
They've bootstrapped since 2010, but a recent infusion of $10 million from Foundry Group is angled to push them forward to become the digital map maker of choice. They say they have the leg up on mapping behemoths like Google Maps because they are built for mobile first, and as their CEO, Eric Gundersen, told TechCrunch, "We're looking way beyond the desktop. We want to have the map as a canvas, and then we want to be this platform for all sorts of other data. This isn't just about the base map. This is about you being able to use some other crazy data overlays—you're going to see us come out with weather data, traffic data, real-time satellite data."
Check out this satellite-generated map of the fall colors descending on the Great Smoky Mountains. The tiny road leads to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.
And then this map made from GPS data in Portland.
For now MapBox offers much its software for free, as open source, but some of it is proprietary and is sold, for what I imagine are pretty steep prices, to companies and government agencies.