Last week Google announced the “introduction of usage limits to the maps API“, which effectively represents a first attempt to monetize the service beyond location-based advertisements:

If you find that your site does exceed the usage limits each day you can opt to pay for your excess usage by enabling billing on your APIs Console project. We will then start billing excess usage to your credit card when we begin enforcing the usage limits in early 2012.

Logo of the OpenStreetMap project

While some see Microsoft’s bing map as profiting from this decision, the real winner of Google’s decision to restrict access to the maps API might be the OpenStreetMap project (see also the very informative Wikipedia entry). Similar to Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap is created collaboratively by a globally dispersed community of volunteers. Consequently, the self-description reads “The Free Wiki World Map”.

Since both rendered images and the vector dataset are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, commercial usage of the project’s maps is explicitly granted. For example, already in 2010 bing maps started to integrate an OpenStreetMap layer into its services.

And more commercial application does not seem to crowd out the motivation of volunteers to contribute; quite on the contrary – and different to Wikipedia with its recently stagnating editor numbers – the OpenStreetMap community is still growing fast, reaching the number of 400.000 contributors in May this year.