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Where’d My Map Go?

Slate

08.08.2016

On July 11, maps broke. In Eastern Spain, a developer raced to fix the social networking app he was working on before his next meeting with potential investors. In Oakland, California, another developer was trying to fix a site that helped people check how earthquake-resilient their homes are, after users tweeted that they relied on his now-broken map and could he please fix it!? In Sweden, a team reached out to other open-source developers for help getting their route-planning application back up and running. All at once, streets, highways, mountains, and oceans had blinked out of existence, replaced by an endlessly zoomable and repeating disclaimer: “Here be nothing.”

Luckily for them, new tile sets arrive where old ones disappear. On July 13, two days after direct access to MapQuest’s tiles ended, the internet got a new free map of the world, built and designed by Stamen, a small map-centric design firm based out of San Francisco. It just released a worldwide version of “Terrain,” its most recent contribution to a collection of beautiful open-source maps, which it offers up to the internet as free and unrestricted tile sets.

For people like you and me, these tile sets are just fun to play with. With rich topographic contours and muted street grids, we get to see our childhood home or favorite city rendered in a new and beautiful way.

But for developers, these tile sets are much more than gorgeous images. They keep our internet growing and our web maps functioning. That is, until they don’t.

There is no guarantee that Stamen’s new map of the world will be here or free and open forever. Though the company has a demonstrated a strong commitment to the world of open-source mapping, and is making all efforts to ensure these maps stay free for everyone, the truth is that maps of the world will come and go. But the open-source community will keep adapting, remaining nimble in order to keep on going. In the meantime, Stamen’s beautiful new maps are here—absolutely no strings attached.