OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap and the Open Data Movement

Posted by SimonPoole on 4 May 2014 in English (English)

[As always this is just my own, personal, opinion, and is no way an official statement by anybody]

Yesterday I had a short exchange of tweets with somebody that was surprised that http://opendata-hackday.de/ was using google maps instead of OSM. Given that it is rather a convoluted subject, explaining why this in fact is not surprising was a bit difficult in 140 letters and is what prompted me to create this post.

It is probably just natural that outsiders, even members of both the OSM community and the Open Data movement, simply assume that these are essentially the same and have a large overlap in motives and goals. Numerous OSM contributors are active in the Open Data movement and undoubtedly we are a very large consumer of open data in various forms.

However this apparent overlap shouldn't hide the fact that both our goals and motives are in large parts completely different. The Open Data movement is about liberating, accessing and exploiting data that is already there, and, please don't take this negative, about improving the bottom line of the companies involved. One of the major arguments used in prying data out of the hands of government is that it will have a beneficial net effect for our economies and the involved companies and I don't have an argument with that. On top of that, the “we have already paid for it” justification is surely, at least in some ways, correct.

The OpenStreetMap project is very different, it is all about producing free and open geo-data and while we do utilize open sources, we are clearly at our best when the data has been surveyed and curated by mappers on the ground. Our goal is, in the end, to produce the best “map” of the world that is at the same time freely usable and re-reusable. Yes, some of the economic arguments apply just as well to the OSM ecosystem as they do to the same in the Open Data movement. I think we should be all be proud of the enlightened view the OSM community has had on commercial re-use of our data from the beginning.

But it has to be very clear: the OSM community created and owns the OSM data, and we control the terms on which it can be used, we have not been “already paid for it”.

Hopping off the soap box, I believe it is now understandable why complete alignment of goals cannot be expected. For “joe open data” google is a just as valid member of the open data community as OSM. google may even fit the open data model better: consumes and produces non-open products from it. We are just the crazies that spend our own time producing something free.

Comment from cutterkom on 6 May 2014 at 14:11

Hey Simon,

first of all, thanks for writing a whole post just because I didn't understand your answer :) Your distinction in goals – opening data and creating data – is indeed interesting.

In your last paragraph you write: "Hopping off the soap box, I believe it is now understandable why complete alignment of goals cannot be expected. For “joe open data” google is a just as valid member of the open data community as OSM."

Well, I don't know, if this is truly the case. If it's valid, that's tragic, because the free use of Google Maps is the free as in beer – and not as in freedom. IMHO both, Open Data Movement and OSM, should be strategic partners in the case of a CC-alternative to commercial options like Google Maps. Isn't OSM more powerful when it's used by more and a wider range of people? Even though the goals are not a perfect fit?

Best, Katha

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Comment from lxbarth on 6 May 2014 at 20:29

There's a very interesting convergence between government open data and OpenStreetMap - this is where government and citizens start to collaborate around common datasets. While the open data movement right now is very much about opening up hitherto closed datasets, its ultimate goal should be to allow citizens direct input to government datasets where possible. OpenStreetMap is one of the closest models for future citizen-government collaboration we have today.

OpenStreetMap has a lot of what it takes to be such a collaboration space even today. Exploring this question better is one of the goals we're pursuing in working with the New York City government's building footprint and address data in OpenStreetMap.

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Comment from SimonPoole on 6 May 2014 at 20:55

@lxbarth [sorry for the following bit of tongue in cheekness]

Hasn't the ultimate form of collaboration with government already been invented?

We pay them for their work.

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Comment from lxbarth on 7 May 2014 at 14:00

Hasn't the ultimate form of collaboration with government already been invented?

We pay them for their work.

And we'll probably continue to do that ;-) but we can make their work more efficient and we can make citizen input more direct - especially when it comes to base level geo data. So much of how geodata is managed today is simply an inefficiency of old non-digital systems.

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Comment from TeleTommy on 13 May 2014 at 14:20

Hava a look at a project that uses OSM POI data to find places: http://thenextis.com

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Comment from pnorman on 14 May 2014 at 04:29

Yesterday I had a short exchange of tweets with somebody that was surprised that http://opendata-hackday.de/ was using google maps instead of OSM. Given that it is rather a convoluted subject, explaining why this in fact is not surprising was a bit difficult in 140 letters and is what prompted me to create this post.

I'd probably boil it down to they're using closed data instead of open data on their page. Many people assume open data is government data. Some even go so far as to say that any government data posted is open data, regardless of license. There seems to be a widening awareness that there are many non-government open data sources, including OSM, and that they come from a variety of sources, including companies.

Note: I gave a talk on how open data isn't just from governments.

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