[Osmf-talk] Death and evolution

Ilya Zverev ilya at zverev.info
Fri Sep 26 09:29:59 UTC 2014


Imagine Wikipedia without a strong Wikimedia Foundation. "Just the
servers", they say. Imagine WMF stating that the only resource they
possess and plan to is a gigabyte of textual articles, and their only
task is to support its openness and accessibility. No Wikidata, no
wiktionary, no wikimedia commons. Imagine Jimmy Wales employed in some
third-rate encyclopaedia manufacturer, travelling around the world and
speaking of wikipedia like it's 1999. Because nothing has changed, and
he is still relevant, even having left the project.

Hilarious, isn't it?

We had quite a good time mapping things and publishing planet files.
When I was young and optimistic, I laughed at promises of OSM demise:
our data is open and community is big, nothing can beat that. But with
time, I see that neither data, not community gives us anything. We do
not evolve. When was the last time OSM project had big news? Ah,
spring of 2013, when iD editor was published. Was it made by OSM
community? No, it was created thanks to a grant by Knight Foundation
and MapBox programmers, which are not actually interested in OSM
growing, if it doesn't affect their profits.

I've always been wary of MapBox, because they are the first, very
faint sign of problems in OpenStreetMap governance. Do-ocracy is good
for small projects, but now it literally stopped OSM from evolving.
Nobody does anything, and if someone submits a pull-request, well...
You know, our github is full of wonderful PRs, which won't be merged
in near future because of bikeshedding on an epic scale. Hence, the
power of change in OSM is not in community's hands, but belongs to big
companies outside the project. If a company with ten to twenty
programmers appears and wants to change OSM to their liking, it would
be very easy for them to do. In do-ocracy, a team with more programmers
wins. You will suddenly find out your shiny and easy-to-use tools for
processing OSM data, which everyone, including working groups, have
embraced, are written in a way only a company's programmers can
understand and update. Your data model is set in stone, or else you
would have no tools. Or your tagging or some rules, like for imports,
were slightly altered, and you notice that only after a year or two,
when thousands of novice mappers turn out to see schemes and models a
bit differently than you. All that because you, the OSMF, have lost
the control, telling yourselves you're responsible only for data and
licensing, and for anything else you don't have the means.

When data consumers start improving the project, they focus on things
they need. Rendering and tile stack have significantly improved in
past year, especially when vector tiles became the trend. We have a
lot of routing engines, geocoders and map styles. Startups are happy
to use our data offline. But — what do mappers have? Oh, JOSM editor,
which is still considered extra hard, and which hasn't really turned
smarter or easier than it was in 2006. If you want to edit relations —
the ultimate challenge — that's the only editor you have. Ten years
have passed, but we still, even in Europe, print screenshots and go
outside to draw on them. We collect low-quality GPS data and pretend
it's the best source. We have zero tools for mapping from behind
a wheel. We have no classification of tags. No reverter that can be
used by more than 0.001% of users. Nobody had time to make any of

Every year with the Board elections we hope for change. We wish to
elect somebody who will be active, who will take the OSM governing
structure and evolve it into something greater, so we won't have such
ridiculous problems every mapper faces daily. We hope for better
tools, for more funds, for wider publicity. We secretly with for new
API. But you won't get it. Nothing will change. Well, maybe we would
get some explanations for licenses or working groups processes, but
you, ordinary mappers, won't get a thing from OSMF. I see some members
writing code and publishing editors, but would they do it not being
OSMF members? I'm sure they would.

Here I planned to dive into tons of promises candidates to OSMF Board
have written over the years in their manifestos, like growing the
community, promoting the diversity, favouring volunteer code
contributions and so on. Nothing has changed substantially. Of course,
I see Simon working on a lot of texts. I see Henk helping with a lot
of OSM activities. Matt keeps some working groups running, Frederik
enforces his POV on mailing lists, as usual, and Kate continues to
push HOT to greatness. But OpenStreetMap does not change. The reason
everybody goes to our Charman Emeritus for comment every time
something happens in OSM, is that he is still relevant, even not
participating in the community. Because nothing. has. changed.

And it starts to bother me.

Recently I have been shown the exact way OpenStreetMap is going to die.
It's terrifying, actually, but I'm under NDA and cannot say more.
The only way we can evade that fate is to evolve. Not like before,
but aggressively, fast and visibly. We have 3 to 6 years, in which we
either build a massive, large-scale and well-funded structure like
Wikimedia Foundation, or we will become but a shadow of better — but
no so open, not ours — things to come.

I understand every one of you has their day jobs and family and
holidays. You cannot make OSM excel when working only an hour a day on
it. To take control, we have to create our own day jobs, to be our own
family, and to make holidays enjoyable with OpenStreetMap. We either
start working on an OSM future now, or the future will be lost.
The deadline was faint some years ago, but now it has moved closer.
Please evolve.


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