AOL Launches Open-Source Maps Projects In U.S., UK

Hoping to mount a challenge to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Map’s dominance, AOL’s MapQuest is embracing open-source mapping on a global scale, starting in Europe. It’s launching in beta here built on OpenStreetMap data for the UK. The beta platform will be a stand-alone offering and will live alongside MapQuest’s existing UK platform, which is based on commercially available map data. Additionally, AOL (NYSE: AOL) is creating a $1 million fund to support the growth of open-source mapping in the United States.

The new fund will support projects in specific communities — AOL didn’t specify — over the next year to help expand and enhance the geographic data available to developers, designers and other users as part of AOL’s adoption of open-source. AOL’s $1 million grant will help fund local initiatives to identify and plug gaps in information in open-source mapping data about specific U.S. communities covered by the company’s U.S. hyperlocal offering Patch, which is already powered by the OpenStreetMap platform.

AOL made the announcement as part of the State of the Map 2010, the 4th annual international OpenStreetMap conference, in Girona, Spain.

In his presentation at the conference, Randy Meech, head of engineering, Local & Mapping at AOL, said that the company considers the open-source approach to be the future for all its local applications and projects.

Anticipating being asked why the Mapquest project is kicking off in Europe and not the U.S., Meech said that “navigability needs improvement” there, while the UK and Germany are ahead in the quality of community mapping. To get up to speed on both continents, Meech said that AOL will be hiring full-time staff in New York, San Francisco, Denver, Lancaster, PA and London. They will also expand “contractor positions” for the map project as well.

The idea is that by having “community generated” maps for things like hiking trails, parks and bike paths, it can get attract more users. Also, the embrace of open source mapping should help it quickly — and cheaply — build up its ability to attract local business advertisers and capture some of the advertising related to travel. More details in the Release. Meech’s presentation is here.