[OSM-talk] Why OpenStreetMap is not Wikipedia

Andy Robinson (blackadder-lists) ajrlists at googlemail.com
Tue Jul 29 00:14:03 BST 2008

Frederik Ramm wrote:
>Sent: 28 July 2008 11:22 PM
>To: Talk Openstreetmap
>Subject: [OSM-talk] Why OpenStreetMap is not Wikipedia
>    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?

You have summed up very well my own feelings. I've no idea if OSM really has
learnt from any other project or if its steered its own course, Steve kicked
off with the cookbook, but so many of the ingredients for the recipe have
been change along the way that I'm not sure if most of us really do may a
comparison with other projects. 

It is very right I feel that we reinforce not so much our differences to
other projects but rather the specific strengths that OSM has. They are
basically in what you have written and I'd list them (in terms of comparing
with the alternatives out there) as:

* Unique
* Valuable
* Reliable



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