“Why OpenStreetMap is in Serious Trouble” blog post by free software/culture (including OSM) enthusiast/contributor Serge Wroclawski. The why includes both technical and business/organizational reasons. Please read the full post, but an extremely inadequate summary:
- OSM Foundation very weak, few resources, technical decisions controlled by two sysadmin/developers
- Project seen as producing dataset, not services; using (end user or API) https://www.openstreetmap.org not encouraged
- Limited, unchanging API
- Poor geocoding (place lookup)
- Messy data/schema (no layers, ids can be resused)
- Inadequate moderation/review
- Inability to import government-produced datasets
- 3D data is now the cutting edge and currently out of scope for OSM
- Commercial entities selling access to services based on OSM data benefit from some OSM limitations above
- Some important OSM contributors, perhaps including sysadmin/devs above, want to keep OSM hobbyist-scale
Note “alignment” of last two. Unfortunately Wroclawski doesn’t know how to get out of this trap, presumably not for lack of trying or experience (he has contributed for years as a mapper, developer, and advocate). I imagine the post was made out of extreme frustration. The post made the top of Hacker News. There Wroclawski (emacsen) responded to someone asking what to do with “Honestly, I have no idea” and on twitter:
I’ve been asked this a lot. I think the question is really “Can the culture of OSM change and address the issues I’ve talked about?” If it can, then these problems will solve themselves. If not, then maybe the lessons we learned in OSM need to be applied to a new project. No idea
I’m mentioning all this here because OSM would seem to have much more potential to be an exemplar of commons-based production, destroyer of proprietary rents, a concentrated interest for commons-favoring policy.
On production, it has both wildly succeeded, and as the post above discusses, is severely limited. I suspect that it has had some impact on proprietary geodata rents, but probably much smaller than possible, given its limitations. Has it destroyed any proprietary companies? I’d love to know more. As far as I know OSM hasn’t been active in policy simply because the foundation isn’t very active period, but some OSM aligned entities and OSM activists likely make an impact with less coordination. One of the commercial entities presumably alluded to, MapBox, does some policy advocacy.
Reading the post above I’m wondering whether OSM is much like other commons-based peer production projects that do not have a wealthy/strong institutional center: amazing production, still hard for some to believe, but with plenty of easy to identify limitations with solutions that are not only hard to execute, but hard to identify, meaning distribution is left to reusing companies, and both market and policy disruption relatively limited. For example, Debian.