OpenStreetMap Foundation

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What's Wrong with the OpenStreetMap Foundation Culture?

By Serge Wroclawski:

"It would be easy to think about the OpenStreetMap Foundation (the OSMF) as similar to the Wikipedia Foundation, but aside from the high-level view of being the holder of Free Data, the two projects are managed radically differently.

The Wikipedia Foundation is a multi-million dollar organization that not only manages Wikipedia but other projects as well, such as the lesser known Wikidata and Wikinews. These projects aid in the organization's broad mission to provide high-quality information to the world. To serve this mission, Wikipedia spends a great deal of money on its infrastructure as well as directing and funding development of new tools for the community to use.

OpenStreetMap, on the other hand, relies primarily on donated hosting services and runs on a shoestring budget. It has no paid employees and does not fund or direct the development of its software base.

This has lead to some organizations trying to take up the mantle and improve the situation, including an organization that I helped found called OpenStreetMap US, which is a US based non-profit organization focused on promoting OSM in the United States. Among our goals for the organization was to fill in the gaps of development and mapping resources by the OSMF, which we partially succeeded in doing, but because of the fragmentation of organizations, we were less successful than we hoped.

In addition to OpenStreetMap US and other "chapters" around the world, there is the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, whose mission it is to help promote OSM in developing nations and rally the OSM community during humanitarian crises. There is no reason that HOT needed to be an independent organization other than the unwillingness by the OSMF to expand its role. Even Steve Coast, one of the founders of OpenStreetMap saw and tried to address this problem with his organization, "Map Club."

The obvious question is why the OpenStreetMap leadership takes the positions that it does, despite the clear need for change. The answers in my view are commercialism in the project, along with a cultural desire to retain the feel of the project's early days.

While there are companies built around Wikipedia's engine (the Wikimedia Server), there are not many companies making money from repackaging Wikipedia. OpenStreetMap, on the other hand, has a commercial ecosystem around it, largely from the business of creating customized maps for customers.

Many of the founders of the project, as well as others, have launched commercial services around OSM. Unfortunately, this creates an incentive to keep the project small and limited in scope to map up the gap with commercial services which they can sell. This also applies to HOT, which has a financial incentive to get grant money for itself and not have those resources going to the OSMF.

In addition to these conflicts of interest is a desire to keep the project small in scope by senior members of the community who see the project as being about people and the mapping hobby and want to avoid imports or other activity that could be seen as removing the human factor from the project. They also see the dangers inherent in creating an organizational structure that demands money and fears it would create a perpetual cycle of needing to find donors simply to support a management layer.

I disagree and view the lack of a more active structure by the OSMF as the cause of the project's both stagnation and significant commercial influence." (

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