[OSM-talk] Why OpenStreetMap is not Wikipedia

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Mon Jul 28 23:21:39 BST 2008


    the similarities between OSM and Wikipedia are many, and easily 
spotted. In fact, we owe a lot of our success to Wikipedia as a "trail 
blazer" - if I tell someone "we're like a Wikipedia for maps", that 
saves me about 5 minutes explaining.

However, there are also many conceptual differences between our 
respective projects, and I would like to list a few of these that I've 
been thinking about lately.

I believe that some people are very quick to simply transfer "lessons 
learned" from Wikipedia onto OSM, sometimes without properly taking into 
account that while there are similarities, there are also lots of 

1. One World

In OSM, everything we have is in one database. It would be technically 
possible to set up osm.de, osm.org, osm.fr etc. with national data sets 
and just let everybody go along. It would even be possible to allow each 
of these databases to contain a map of Karlsruhe, each styled 
differently, with the French map of Karlsruhe highlighting those bits of 
the city that seem important to the French and the American map focusing 
on other stuff. Occasionally, users of OSM America would copy some bits 
about Karlsruhe from OSM France and vice versa. All tagging would 
conveniently be done in the native language of the community. If OSM 
Estonia doesn't feature Reigate, then obviously Reigate is not 
culturally important to Estonians, and who cares.

This is how Wikipedia would do it. To a newcomer this looks very 
puzzling at first - why should there be 50 independently authored 
articles explaining how a laser works when there is one simple truth 
that just has to be translated? But Wikipedia has considerable success 
with this scheme, and probably avoids a million pitfalls.

OSM has only one database that is supposed to contain the truth(tm). If 
the Estonians and the Londoners cannot agree on how Reigate should be 
mapped, we have a problem; Wikipedia wouldn't.

2. Commercially Valuable Product

OSM is creating something of considerable commercial value. The 
estimated market volume of geodata in Europe is way over one billion 
Euros per year (I found varying figures, some even say it's 1.5 billion 
for Germany alone, others are more conservative). - I'm sure there was a 
market for encyclopedias before Wikipedia arrived but it cannot have 
been this big, ever. Or can it? Let me hear figures if you have some.

This might make a difference in attracting funding. I could imagine, for 
example, that OSM could be much more successful in talking to individual 
sponsors, whereas Wikipedia usually turns to the community to raise money.

3. Not an End Product

Working with Wikipedia, what you see is what is there: You always have 
the current version of some article in front of your eyes, and you will 
usually access this product with your web browser and, ultimately, your 
eyes. Wikipedia does not collect raw data, it collects/creates an end 
product. In contrast, OSM does collect data, and you only ever see a 
highly processed version of it. I'm sure there are *some* people who use 
Wikipedia articles as some sort of text body over which to run 
statistical analyses and so on, but certainly not to the degree this is 
done over here at OSM.

This means, among other things, that OSM will always be one more step 
away from the unsuspecting user - OSM is about what is "behind" the map 
you see. Makes some things more complicated. Also, this means that 
software is likely to play a greater role in OSM than it does in Wikipedia.

Just a few ideas. - Not meant to be negative about Wikipedia in any way, 
it's a great project that I use a lot. Just pointing out where we are 
different. I'm sure you will have additional ideas about differences?


Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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