MapQuest API Searches OpenStreetMap Data Without Limits

Adam DuVander
Oct. 21 2010, 01:37PM EDT

MapQuest has launched another API on top of OpenStreetMap (OSM), the Wiki-like editable map of the world. The new search service provides geographic search results for any data added to OSM, such as streets or landmarks. Of note, the MapQuest API provides the service without any API Key requirements or rate limiting.

MapQuest's new Nominatim Search is an interface to an open source project that also runs on OSM's servers. In fact, MapQuest likely wired up its own instance of the service to power the OSM version of its maps, which is now available in about a half dozen countries, including India, according to the OSM list. MapQuest's OSM data is updated in less than a day, according to MapQuest's Principal Product Manager Antony Pegg.

Nominatim accepts landmark queries, such as "Buckingham Palace" and street searches like "Sunset Boulevard." Additionally, you can restrict the results to a specific area, given by west, north, east and south points. There's also the option to reverse geocode, locating OSM objects that are near a specific point. Results from MapQuest's search are returned as JSON, so the service can be incorporated into web maps, mobile apps, or server-side scripts.

Previously, MapQuest released its directions service on top of OpenStreetMap data in the same way. Though the lack of limits may be related to OSM's license, MapQuest's Pegg said he wants it open to encourage developers to build with MapQuest and OSM.

It's a seemingly unlikely pairing of a large corporation (MapQuest is owned by AOL) and a community project. Kate Chapman, President of OpenStreetMap's U.S. chapter, said MapQuest is a good partner. "You see with other companies, they just use the data, build an integration with it and throw it out there," Chapman said. "They don't try to understand the community." According to Chapman, MapQuest has attended OSM conferences and released the stylesheet used to create its tiles.

For now, all of MapQuest's interaction with OSM takes place outside its flagship MapQuest.com. So, while casual browsers will likely not find their way to the site and services yet, MapQuest may be helping nudge OSM toward the mainstream, at least with developers.

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.

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