It's all good - more students involved in mapping, better data for Google's own maps, etc. Moreover, it's just great Google can fund, promote, and adjudicate such a contest, something for which grassroots efforts may not have the staff or resources.
I've had an idea for some time, one that outdoes Google's efforts on many levels. It hits some of the same goals - student involvement in mapping, better data, etc. It's not even a contest. It's a course. The title, overview and objectives below are just a quick pitch, but I think they get the idea across.
Title: Introduction to Geodata and GIS Using OpenStreetMap
Course Overview: There is no better way to understand the nature of geospatial data than by creating and using them. In this course students will learn and use a variety of tools to enhance OpenStreetMap, a free worldwide map. In doing so, they will begin to understand the complexities of these data and the processes required to collect and maintain them. They'll also explore other open and not so open datasets, data and software licensing, and the idea of geodata being fit for purpose.
At the successful completion of this course, students should be able to:
- Collect, input, and edit geospatial data for the OpenStreetMap database via a variety of tools
- Identify key issues regarding geospatial data quality, appropriateness of use, and workflows to ensure data integrity
- Evaluate the value of OpenStreetMap and other worldwide datasets, APIs, data collection processes and licenses for use in geospatial solutions
I imagine courses like this at four year and community colleges, even in high schools, worldwide. Such courses could be both an intro for those who might go on in the field and the one course in geo for those who do not.
Even as students are learning about the nature of data, they'd be continuing to enhance OpenStreetMap, a map the whole world can use (in contrast to Google-owned Google Maps data created in the contest described above). If a residential school runs the course multiple times per year it might cover campus one semester, town the next, look at one feature type the next, do a neighboring town the next, support an emergency response effort on the other side of the world the next. And, imagine the potential coverage if this course is taught online! There's plenty of geography and thematic layers to go around!