This weekend's cover story in New York Times Magazine looks in detail at Google's grand plan to map everything:
Street View cars have already mapped six million miles. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a quite a lot (equivalent to 12 trips to the moon and back) or not much at all (only one-tenth of the world’s estimated 60 million miles of road). Either way, Google’s huge investment in the camera-equipped cars — not to mention trikes, boats, snowmobiles and, yes, rafts — has yielded the most detailed street atlas on earth.
Early last year, Google’s United States market share for where-type queries topped 70 percent, and Google started to get serious about recouping the fortune it has been sinking into making its map, putting a tollbooth in front of its application programming interface. Henceforth, heavy users would be charged for the privilege.
Today, Google’s map includes the streets of every nation on earth, and Street View has so far collected imagery in a quarter of those countries. The total number of regular users: A billion people, or about half of the Internet-connected population worldwide. Google Maps underlies a million different websites, making its map A.P.I. among the most-used such interfaces on the Internet. At this point Google Maps is essentially what Tim O’Reilly predicted the map would become: part of the information infrastructure, a resource more complete and in many respects more accurate than what governments have. It’s better than MapQuest’s map, better than Microsoft’s, better than Apple’s.
The article also looks at Open Street Map, the Wikipedia of GIS, and wonders whether Google's proprietary database will ultimately win.