OpenStreetMap will take a large leap forward with the introduction of vector tiles on openstreetmap.org this year. This is the first of a series of blog posts where we will share our progress.
Vector tiles represent a significant advancement in how map data is processed and presented. Unlike traditional raster tiles, which are static images with pixels, vector tiles are like the ‘SVGs’ of the mapping world: you get lines and points. This stores geodata in a format that allows for dynamic styling and interactivity, enabling the user to adapt the visual appearance of the map without altering the data. If that sounds like what you’ve seen on other maps, you are right! Vector tiles have become industry standard in interactive maps that, unlike openstreetmap.org, don’t get updated often, and where you can simply recalculate your whole database occasionally.
But the map displayed on openstreetmap.org are quite uniquely different! They get updated incrementally and constantly, a minute after you edit; it’s a critical part of the feedback loop to mappers – and how the author of this blog post got hooked in the first place. This is why we have to invest in our own vector tile software stack.