[OSM-talk] OpenStreetMap Future Look

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Tue Jan 8 00:38:46 GMT 2013


On 07.01.2013 23:32, Johan C wrote:
> In analogy, I would like to see the OSM Foundation to start such a
> process with the OSM community and others outside the community. And
> once there's a vision and a strategy for 2020, money might/will be
> needed to carry out the strategy.

There's lots of things to be said about, and sometimes against, that and 
I'll probably go off on a number of tangents in this post.

It is quite possible that OSMF will eventually have paid staff but it is 
not necessary either. Take a look around - Mapnik has been mentioned, 
and the the main Mapnik development investment comes from two people 
(Dane and Artem) who are both now paid for their work (just not by OSMF 
but by Mapbox). Mapbox have also acquired some funding from the Knight 
Foundation that might give us a Javascript editor, iD. Other valuable 
contributions to OSM came, and continue to come, from people getting 
their money from MapQuest (notably Nomiatim development by Brian and an 
alternative rendering stack done by Matt, as well as contributions to 
the Potlatch editor by Andy), or from Cloudmade (even though their 
interest in OSM has ebbed now), or Geofabrik (that's me). There's also 
nonprofits like HOT or CycleStreets who often fund some work related to 
OSM which benefits the project in one way or another, and OSMF (proto-) 
local chapters starting to acquire funds of their own and do stuff with it.

All this is not controlled by the OSMF and has largely happened without 
OSMF involvement. This may have disadvantages - these people don't have 
to submit to any strategic planning by OSMF - but it also has the 
advantage that OSMF doesn't have to deal with fundraising and spending 
in the million dollar range, which would require a well-oiled and mature 
organisation to do properly. Such an organisation would have to be built 
before one were to embark on any grand schemes.

The current situation demonstrates that even in the face of a small 
OSMF, the OSM ecosystem does evolve. It may not be steered and centrally 
planned but it isn't static either.

The Wikimedia strategic planning process has been mentioned. Wikimedia 
spent an awful lot of money on professional consultants to help build 
the strategy, and indeed Mikel (member of the OSMF board until September 
2012) had made initial contact with a few consultancies who work with 
nonprofits, with a view to finding out whether they could help OSMF with 
their strategic planning. The results were inconclusive; compared to 
Wikimedia when they started their strategic planning, OSMF is still very 
young, much less mature, and has much less cash, and many of those Mikel 
talked to correctly said that we might not yet be "there". Before we 
embark on grand strategic planning, we must be able to answer questings 
like whom we want in the driver's seat at OSMF, what our core values 
are, and such. If you don't know at least roughly what you want, 
strategic planning doesn't help you. Thing is, many of us know what they 
want individually, but we don't have good methods of finding the 
collective will from that.

Someone mentioned that it would be great to have paid programmers on 
hand to make improvements to the web site and tools. But again, the 
question is who would task these programmers? There are lots of people 
who want something from OSM - routing on the start page, cool offline 
apps, a nice mapmaking toolkit for everyone to use, an different kind of 
editor, whatever. Bascially, any feature you see on any online map 
anywhere, someone will be there to tell us that OSM needs this feature 
"or else". I've even heard people argue that OSM should buy aerial 
imagery so openstreetmap.org can compete with Google maps.

Attracting people to openstreetmap.org is good but only if it leads to 
more contribution; getting "market share" is worth nothing if it doesn't 
also improve contribution. Net contribution, I should say, because more 
prominence will also attract more vandals whose work has to be repaired 
by others. So if we attract pepole to osm.org we should try to attract 
those who are likely to contribute. Someone who comes to us because we 
have the prettiest aerial imagery might not be our target group.

Our current model requires that if you want something, you will either 
have to code it yourself or find someone who codes it for you (or pays 
for it). This creates a hurdle which I, personally, find very welcome; 
it makes sure that only those who persist, only those who are willing to 
spend serious effort, only those for whom it really matters, are heard 
and get their ideas implemented, while those who have just seen OSM for 
the first time and sign up to enlighten us with their wisdom and cool 
ideas, only to go away and enlighten someone else next week, are ignored.

This means that our whole project is very firmly rooted in the 
community; most things we do are by and for the community.

If we had a lot of money and paid staff, It is possible that strategic 
thinkers with high-flying plans and buzzword bingo lingo take over the 
helm and have our paid programmers implement whatever fancy strategic 
plans they have, and then issue grand statements about how great we all 
are. And before too long, every December you'll have a large banner on 
openstreetmap.org asking for money (and of that money, 10% goes into 
hardware, 20% into development, and 70% goes to pay the fundraisers and 
the strategic thinkers who develop the next fundraising campaign which 
will net even more). That's my personal horror scenario.

In another thread, Pawel writes that he'd like to work on OSM full time 
if someone paid him for that, and he suspects that there are others like 
him. Personally I think the money is not so much the problem, but the 
guidance is. If we all agreed that we would like to have a certain 
feature, and we got a contractor estimating a certain price for it, I 
think it would be within OSMF's capabilities to ask around for funding 
and once that is secured, ask the guy to go ahead. Much like Mapbox did 
when they applied for the Knight Foundation grant. However, there's no 
way we'll simply employ someone and tell them "do what you think is best 
for OSM" (not least because it would be much more difficult to find 
funding for such an unspecified endeavour). So we're back to the 
question: What are the important features? Who decides how they should 
be implemented? Can we even agree on something that we all find 
important? Most of you use fluffy words like "moving forward", but what 
does that mean? I have a hunch that many things that someone considers 
"moving forward" would be considered a step back, or at least a step in 
the wrong direction, by others. Who is "we all"?

I am disappointed by the fact that so many people react to this 
difficult situation with a knee-jerk call for "leadership" and "vision". 
We have led ourselves pretty well until now and if leadership and vision 
don't come from within then where will we find them? I think just like 
you need to understand the complexity of the code before you can 
contribute, so you require a good understanding of how the project works 
and why and how people are motivated before you can develop a vision.

A danger I see with many arguments I've read is that they are too much 
"user side". In my eyes, the one thing we absolutely must have is a 
strong, world-wide community of committed individual human beings who 
contribute to OSM regularly and out of their own volition (i.e. because 
they want, not because they're paid for it). If we build a sleek 
interface for people to put their business on the map then that's nice 
candy but certainly nothing that helps us build such a community 
(because it will simply help us garner one edit from each business owner 
at best, who will log in and enter his name and think it's some kind of 
yellow pages). If we offer a nice map application for mobile devices or 
a web page where you can order prints or a superb routing solution on 
the web page - are these the natural next steps in building a large 
community of committed mappers? If yes, let's do it. If it's just about 
"market share" - forget it.

For example, assume that Apple were to use OSM data exclusively for a 
map application on the iPhone, but they'd use data that is half a year 
old and update only in half year intervals. That might be a reasonable 
quality map in many areas, and will drive our "market share" through the 
roof, but would anybody bother to log in to OSM to make an edit that 
he'll only see on his iPhone after half a year? This is a fictitious 
example but it shows that market share and editing activity don't 
necessarily go hand in hand. OSM is something other than, say, the Linux 
kernel - with the Linux kernel, the fact that you can download the 
source and compile your own kernel is a distinct theoretical possibility 
that only the tiniest fraction of Linux users will ever make use of; we 
must not allow ourselves get into this kind of thinking where a small 
group of map maintainers makes the great map for millions of people out 

So the next time you say that something must forward or needs a push or 
must be more usable, if you explain how that feature will help us form a 
stronger community of committed mappers I'll be much more likely to 
agree than if you just say "our map page would be more useful then".


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

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