The project, born at University College London in July 2004, was founded by Steve Coast. In the beginning, UCL supported and hosted the main server infastructure.
— Mordechai (Muki) Haklay, Patrick Weber (2008) "OpenStreetMap : User-Generated Street Maps" IEEE Pervasive Computing, October–December 2008, pp. 12-18.
Created in 2004 by a British academic, OSM is a sort of Wikipedia for maps, with volunteers contributing geographic information into a centralized database, which can then be accessed by anyone for free.

OSM was mostly the domain of academics and hobbyists until 2012 when Google announced it would start charging more businesses for using Google Maps. Since then, companies from Amazon to Meta to Snapchat have built mapping products on OSM.
— Jason Tanz (2023) "Lyft’s secret plan to take control of its maps — and its future Lyft Rev


Earlier this year, in April, John Krumm from Microsoft Research, the editor of IEEE Pervasive Computing commissioned me to write a paper about OpenStreetMap for the magazine. It went through the magazine peer review process, and it is part of a set of articles in the October-December issue of the magazine that are dedicated to aspects of user-generated content.
—Muki Haklay (2008) "OpenStreetMap: User-Generated Street Maps – IEEE Pervasive Computing paper"
At the heart of OSM's technical infrastructure lies the central database holding the live data, which is implemented in MySQL. The database schema is designed to support wiki behaviors, such as versioning and rollbacks, and keeps copies of modified or deleted features indefinitely.

All geographical entities are recorded as points (nodes), which contain the coordinates along with username and timestamp information. Linear and area features are defined by reference to a list of ordered nodes, called "ways". Area features aren't explicitly defined in the database schema. Rather, they're defined implicitly by the condition of a way that's closed (the first node of a way is the same as the last one) and explicit tagging conventions.
— Mordechai (Muki) Haklay, Patrick Weber (2008) "OpenStreetMap : User-Generated Street Maps" IEEE Pervasive Computing, October–December 2008, pp. 12-18.
OpenStreetMap is an interesting project because they actually started on MySQL and then they started having performance problems with MySQL. So they decided to consolidate on Postgres. So most of their editing stuff is just using raw Postgres and the tile server use PostGIS.
—Regina Obe (September 8, 2023) "Why people care about PostGIS and Postgres" Path To Citus Con


The State Bureau of Surveys and Mapping reiterated that it would continue to prosecute people who conducted surveys which threatened to reveal State secrets or jeopardized national security.

Last April, two Japanese scholars were fined a total of 80,000 yuan and deported for collecting information on an airport and water facilities in Nortwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The scholars had arrived in Beijing in September 2005 with a Japanese tour group. They broke away from the group a week later and hired two translators in Hetian. They set up a GPS and collected geographical coordinates for Hetian airport, water facilities and highways. According to the Xinjiang Surveying and Mapping Bureau, the Japanese scholars drew up maps with data accurate to within 20 centimeters exact enough for military use.

In another case, a joint-funded electronics company in Weihai, East China's Shandong Province was fined 30,000 yuan last December for hiring foreign surveyors without approval from the government. Based on a map provided ilegally by local town officials, the company hired South Korean surveyors to conduct surveys and maps on a scale of one to 2,000. The town government was also fined of 50,000 yuan.

In total, surveying and mapping offices across the country tackled 571 illegal surveying and mapping cases in 2006. The ministry said many field projects were carried out illegally, potentially threatening national security. To address the problem, a new regulation restricting surveying and mapping by foreigners in China came into effect on March 1 this year. "The regulation will strengthen management of surveying and mapping by foreign organizations and individuals, protect national security and promote economic and scientific cooperation with other countries," said an official from the State Bureau of Surveys and Mapping.
—Xin Dingding (2007) "Unlawful surveys to be dealt severely" China Daily