[OSM-talk] will we be nuked from orbit?

Steve Coast steve at asklater.com
Tue Jul 24 22:25:14 BST 2007

Two things have happened over the past few days in the community  
mapping world, of which we /were/ the only participant.

First, TeleAtlas is getting bought by TomTom. You can easily see the  
match up between TT owners becoming surveyors, perhaps in a  
simplified way, and owning that data. TT can't do a whole lot with  
10e6 people uploading turn restriction data if they don't own the  
underlaying map. They've fixed that problem, and they're going to  
have an awsome product.

Second, the way Google has been collecting data in India. From the  
sound of it, it's very close to OSM but with a brilliant twist.  
Rather than having thousands of people contribute to a central map,  
they have thousands make their own maps and then use some magical  
software to aggregate over all those individual maps. It's a very  
google black box way of doing it.

My point is that in 12-24 months we will be only one of three or more  
active community-contributed base maps, beyond sticking pins in  
copyrighted data. Real, owned, active base maps.

As you know, we have two differences. The first is that we're openly  
licensed (or that was the idea). The second is we have a community.

Google don't get community (it's just the way they operate as a black  
hole, witness picassa, blogger &c.) and unless TT do some very clever  
things you won't get TT mapping parties any time soon. And to come  
back to the first point, it's unclear (and perhaps unlikely) that the  
data will be licensed in any useful way.

Wikipedia didn't have two commercial competitors, but we now do.  
We're simply outclassed in budget and the number of surveyors from  
both efforts. That's just a fact. What we rely on to be the 'better'  
map are our community and the license. This could change any time  
from within or without. On the one hand, our flamewars could get a  
bit too hot and the community fragments or the license problem blows  
up. On the other, if Google or TT change course a bit they could  
license CC or start to think about communities. I don't think either  
company will really care about killing OSM. And why should they? If  
they release data in a useful way like we try to, then they have  
completed our aims for us.

And of course, in theory, we could pull in their data to OSM.

I don't know what any of this means yet, but I do think it's worth  
thinking about. Perhaps worrying about. What do you think?

18 or 24 months ago Tom Carden said to me that OSM could be shut down  
and we could start all over again with relative, /relative/, ease. I  
still think he's right. If we started again today, it would not take  
3 years to get 9,000 people, or design JOSM, or the code, and so on.  
All of the tools are there, we would just have to restart with a  
better idea about the license. Or perhaps restart with two separate  
licensed projects. If OSM restarted today, how would you run it?

have fun,

SteveC | steve at asklater.com | http://www.asklater.com/steve/

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