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OpenStreetMap Founder Steve Coast Leaves Microsoft For Telenav

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Along with Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is one of the flagship crowdsourcing projects on the Internet, but unless you are watching this space closely, it may come as a surprise that Steve Coast, the founder of OSM, worked at Microsoft for the last three years. Today, in the shadow of Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia, Coast announced that he is moving to Telenav to work on OSM and to lead Telenav’s crowd-sourced mapping initiatives for its Scout navigation services.

Coast joined Microsoft in late 2010 to become the principal architect for Bing Mobile to develop “better mapping experiences for our customers and partners, and lead efforts to engage with OpenStreetMap and other open source and open data projects.” Specifically, Microsoft made its aerial imagery available to the OpenStreetMap project.

For Telenav, Coast is a major hire. The company has long been a contributor to OSM, and the current U.S. OSM board president Martijn van Exel is already a Telenav employee.

“I have watched Telenav for a few years now as the company has invested in the OSM community and has developed technology to help improve data across the country,” Coast writes in today’s announcement. “It was fascinating to observe over time how the team developed the technology that allows OSM to work well in a navigation environment — a task that is much more complicated than just providing a display map. Moreover, the community benefit of adding billions of GPS data points into the map-editing process is exactly how I had hoped that the crowd-sourcing process would evolve.”

Given Coast’s timing, it’s hard not to look at Microsoft’s Nokia acquisition, which includes a licensing deal for its HERE maps, as a motivation for Coast’s move, though it seems unlikely that he would’ve known about the acquisition in time to finalize his transition. It’s worth noting, however, that HERE does not count OSM as one of its data suppliers, and Microsoft seems to have slowly weaned itself off of using OSM data lately. Chances are, then, that Coast saw Microsoft’s waning interest in OSM — which did none of the things Coast praises Telenav for doing — and decided to call it quits.