[OSM-talk] Advertising debate held hostage by Wittgenstein

Lars Aronsson lars at aronsson.se
Sat Jul 7 21:09:02 BST 2007

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his Tractatus, pointed out 
that "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent".

I'm currently reading through the advertising debate of the last 
week.  I'm not done yet, and this is not my final conclusion.

If I thought that there was too little or too poor leadership in 
this project, I can't post a message to the list stating this, 
because that doesn't add to the leadership, but only adds to the 
general confusion, which actually undermines the leadership.  
Leadership requires a leader.  I must either work with the current 
one (Steve), or seek to replace him.  Either way, this needs to be 
done behind the scene.  I certainly can't write a long discussion 
of how we need less discussion, because that would be a self 
contradiction and I would undermine my own argument.  If in great 
confusion I were to write such a piece, I should press CANCEL 
rather than SEND. Unless I make a mistake. Wittgenstein was right.

When Frederik Ramm called for more discussion on the list of each 
proposal, rather than writing directly to Steve, I think he hasn't 
really grasped the practical impossibility of this.  First of all, 
Steve didn't write to the list asking our opinion before he 
started OpenStreetMap.  It took me a year to realize it had been 
created before I joined OpenStreetMap.  I'm often that slow.  My 
only excuse is that most other people are much slower.

In the last week, after the advertising debate started, I received 
some 400 postings over the talk mailing list.  158 of them were 
about the Mappam ads.  Of those, 22 came from Christoph Eckert, 15 
from Frederik Ramm, 14 from Steve Coast and 11 from Tom Hughes. 
The only message that Christoph succeeded to communicate (to me, 
anyway) was that he doesn't like ads.  This could have been said 
in fewer messages, and Christoph would have had more time to spend 
on more productive tasks.  In effect, there was one more message 
that he got across, and that is that he has far too much time on 
his hands.  This weakens his argument, doesn't it?  Over the 
years, it has occurred to me that one can appear more credible if 
one restricts oneself to one message per day, when these "storms 
in a glass of water" are stirred up on mailing lists.

Because it was a storm in a glass of water.  Much ado about very 
little.  One person (Steve) added some code to a website.  It was 
ugly and not very fitting in the context.  But it happened in the 
middle of the summer, when people have better things to do than 
surfing the web.  The harm done was minimal.  The reaction was out 
of proportion.  But that also tells us Steve stepped on some very 
sore toes.  And that should be no surprise.

It is an interesting exercise to pick apart compounded concepts. 
Apple pie is the most American thing, but is more of America in 
the apples or in the pie?  I think it's the pie.  Blueberry pie is 
more American than apple juice.  Pick the apple pie apart, and 
substitute one part at a time.

What is OpenStreetMap?  It's a much compounded concept.  It's a 
volunteer community effort to create free maps, started by Steve 
Coast, operated under the umbrella of the OSM Foundation, which is 
a membership association mostly overlapping with the community.
Pick it apart.  Which part can you live without?  Steve could 
instead have started a commercial mapping company.  He could 
instead have started a volunteer effort to create free music.
Someone else could have started a volunteer mapping effort.

I think Steve is the essential component.  I'm on Steve's project 
and that happens to be a volunteer mapping thing.  With Mappam, 
Steve has shown that he also wishes to try other things, a 
commercial company based on a new advertising technology.  With 
the clumsy and controversial introduction of Mappam ads on 
www.openstreetmap.org, Steve proved that he isn't capable of 
communicating such an idea to his own volunteer community.  
That's bad, but no disaster.  No need go into hiding, just make 
sure you always have people around to help you with communication.  
80n did a wonderful job in his lengthy post.

Steve's knee-jerk reaction to ask what others have done for 
fundraising, is part of the communication failure.  The question 
of fundraising wasn't brought up recently, and there is no proof 
that Mappam brings any substantial money to OSM.  It might do so, 
or it might fail.  Mappam is an interesting technology.  It is 
also a good practice to have your eggs distributed over several 
baskets.  Jimmy Wales started Wikia.com in 2004 as a commercial 
wiki hosting service, rather than trying to fit everything into 
the Wikimedia Foundation.  But to maintain face and credibility in 
front of the volunteer community, it is essential that no 
suspicion arises that the commercial enterprise benefits from the 
volunteer project.  The argument that all profits from ads on 
www.openstreetmap.org go to OSM is not enough, since Mappam would 
benefit from using the OSM website as its showroom.  And this is 
the key: As a hi-tech startup, Mappam is not in the position to 
generate a lot of money.  Instead, it should be seeking venture 
capital and for that it is in dire need of exposure.  Finding a 
showroom is the hard cash for any such company.

Steve is no doubt spending a lot of his time on OSM, and as I 
wrote above I consider him to be the project's essential 
component.  I often worry if he earns enough money to make a 
living, and how long he can continue this way.  If Mappam can 
bring him wealth, that would be wonderful.  But from my own 
experience, startups are a cost rather than a source of income.
That is troublesome.

One more note on the compounded concepts: Both OSM and Wikipedia 
are volunteer communities to create free content, that *also* 
operate increasingly popular websites.  That latter is actually 
not necessary. The website, especially for Wikipedia, is a large 
cost because of the many people who *read* articles without ever 
contributing.  Serving the reading audience can be made by others, 
such as answers.com or informationfreeway.org.  Or mappam.com.  
For Wikipedia's readers in Europe, there is a large caching web 
proxy in Amsterdam which is paid for by Kennisnet, a Dutch 
governmental school network.  Only the logged in Europeans access 
the Wikipedia servers in Florida directly.  If similar proxies 
were in place for the rest of the world's Wikipedia readers, there 
wouldn't be the same need for fundraisers.  In this context, 
Frederik's ideas about instant database replication could serve as 
a substitute for directly providing a map display website.  It's 
an idea worth investigating, especially to study its effects on 
OSM's budget and scalability.

  Lars Aronsson (lars at aronsson.se)
  Aronsson Datateknik - http://aronsson.se

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