MapCruncher enables a user to take existing road maps and aerial imagery and overlay particular, specialized maps to create unique mash-ups tailored to the user’s specific interests . . . “MapCruncher empowers anybody in the world to take whatever data is important to them,” explains Elson, the project lead, “and share it with everybody else in a format that makes all of these types of data interoperable.”
“Microsoft Word processors made it easy for anybody to create documents that look good and distribute them to everybody in the world. Web-authoring tools like Microsoft FrontPage made it easy for anybody, even without technological expertise, to produce content that was then exportable to anybody in the world. Maps are not in that state right now; you have to be an expert, and we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to make it so that anybody who has interesting data can publish their map to the world.”
“In the future,” Howell says, “you’ll be able to just take all these layers and put them together yourself in a browser and bookmark it. Adding layers to each other will be as simple as bookmarking something in your browser today. Once all of these things are placed into the global coordinate system, they can all be combined with each other in ways that the people who created the data never even envisioned.
“When you start to see map layers that are not created by a single person, but become a group effort by lots of people interested in the same thing … When we start to see that, I think then we’ll know it’s caught on.”
It remains to be seen if maps and mashups become that easy to create — I hope these claims are real — so that "ordinary people" can build and collaborate on them. It opens the door to mapping as a "social networking" tool and all sorts of unimagined creative uses for maps. Right now it still seems like a tool for developers more than the product they're describing in the discussion above.