A Review of the Manifests of all OSM US Board Election Candidates

Posted by Nakaner on 12 October 2015 in English. Last updated on 13 October 2015.

As a part of my work for the German Wochennotiz and multilingual weeklyOSM, I have stumbled across the manifestos of the candidates of the OSM US Board elections this week. Because a summary of all nine manifestos would be too long for a posting at weeklyOSM and Wochennotiz, I decided to write it down at my user diary .


This posting contains my own opinion which is not neutral. Please read the mainfestos on your own.

I am not a member of OSM US and I do not want join. My home is Germany and my main mapping is done there.

I am not a lover of HOT and remote mapping in area where you have never been before.

Martijn van Exel

Martijn van Exel is a long time (“addicted”) OSM contributor and member of the current OSM US Board. He brings up a painful subject – the community size. According to graphs at his posting, the number of active mappers in the U.S. stopped increasing about 1 1/2 years ago. These are no good news.

graph showing the zero growth of OSM in the U.S.

Figure: Zero growth of OSM in the U.S., graph by OSMStats/Martijn van Exel

He think that big conferences [like the SotM US this year in New York] will not help increasing the number of active contributors. He would like to supports smaller, local events at the places where the people live.

His manifesto looks well. I suggest you to elect him. He might change OSM US the positive way.

Elliott Plack

Elliot Plack is a very experienced (“addicted”) mapper, too. He wants to work on the cooperations between OSM and the government organizations (on local level) and make them donate their data to OSM.

I think that his way cannot address the zero-growth problem shown by Martijn. He tries to compensate the missing contributors by importing data. I think that the US community has tried this already several times and it does/did not really work (see TIGER). No imported data is perfect. Imported data has to be kept up to date, this can only be done by a large active community. And how to explain someone that there are no buildings beyond the boundary of New York City?

You might vote for Elliott but I myself would not give him my first vote.

Alyssa Wright

Alyssa is no active OSM contributor. She did (account 1, account 2) mainly HOT stuff in Harare and Kathmandu, and only added a few POIs in New York City. HDYC could not find her first account and described her second account as “casual mapper”. To summarize: Her editing experience is, compared to Martjin and Eliott, very low, and that is from my point of view a big contra-argument. She is the president of the current OSM US Board.

She mainly praises herself and her work for SotM-US 2015 in New York at her manifesto and wrote only one paragraph about the next year. She says that she wants to support the growth of OSM in the U.S. (If you read Martijn’s manifesto, you might have noticed that this is wrong. OSM does not grow in the U.S. anymore.) She wants to help hosting a second great SotM-US and make the community grow this way.

I think that she has a totally different understanding of the word “community” than Martijn. Her community are the users at Twitter, the press and other organizations but not the real community which made OSM to be so large and great (see Europe).

I have had lots of conversations with other OSM contributors over the last years. Most people started mapping because they needed a map or already used OSM and wanted to give something back. A nice blog of the OSM Foundation (or its local chapters) or a Twitter account tweeting all day long did not make them joining OSM.

I suggest not to vote for her. I think that she has not realized the bad situations OSM (US community) is in.

Eric Theise

Eric is, according to HDYC, an OSM newbie (46 changesets, 40 times iD, 6 times Potlatch¹). I doubt that a newbie is the right person for such a position.

I still summarize and evaluate his manifesto. He wants to increase the awareness of open data and open source and get OSM in peoples’ minds. He focusses on communication and not on the community. He himself says that he is a minor mapper and a minor developer. Having a look at his Github profile (two clicks away from his manifesto) I only see few OSM-related code. He contributed a little bit to the OSM website (rank #46 of 85, 4 commits, +280 lines of code!). He mentions his contributions to the programming committee of SotM US 2014 in Washington DC. In contrast to other manifestos, his manifesto has a “Qualifications and Experience” section which looks – sorry – strange. He says “[he has] been involved in a number of quarterly mapathons”. I cannot believe this looking at his profile because he has too few edits. What’s the name of his second account he has used for these mapathons?

Some parts of my writing about Alyssa apply here, too. He also has not realized the bad situation OSM US is in.

I think that he has too litte experience at OSM. I would not give him my vote.

Ian Dees

Ian (wiki user page) is a very very long time contributor to OSM, he started contributing to OSM in 2006! HDYC says that he is a “heavy mapper 2.0”, i.e. experienced. (Getting “addicted mapper” with 9 years experience might be difficult)

He is already the board’s treasurer. His manifesto agrees with the manifestos of Martijn, Drishtie and Alex. He also says that the number of contributors has to be increased. The board has made a great job organizing multiple great SotM US conferences but it failed increasing the community. The board should fund and support local events (e.g. mapping parties). He mentions that the current and past boards wanted to start sending a monthly newsletter but nothing happened. Short summary: Improve the basis all over the country and don’t focus too much on large events.

He seems to be a suitable person for OSM US board. I suggest to give him your vote.

Jonathan Witcoski

Jonathan is a “Heavy Mapper 2.0” but started editing last year and still uses an editor which I call “the newbie editor”.

His manifesto is located here. He has joined OSM at a HOT event. Scrolling through his recent changesets, I can only see remote mapping (humanitarian editing) and mapping from aerial images but less or no mapping on the ground. I doubt that this user has really experience how OSM works.

Two thirds of his manifesto are just her bio and a praise of his experience at a government project. I doubt this will really be of use for OSM. He wants to “encouragi[e] participation from colleges and universities”. Does he really knows what he is writing about? Has he ever observed edits by students of a university or school course at OSM? If he had, he would noticed the noteworthy amount of changeset by students which are either vandalism and edits which need to be corrected.

He writes that future professional geographers should know that there are not only commercial data sources. I agree but I have to note that students get teached the existence of OSM as a usable data source if OSM is a usable data source. I can observe this during my own studies², I knew OSM before my studies and I did not make much advertisement for OSM at university. OSM was mentioned at university without my advertisment.

That’s why I suggest you not to give Jonathan your vote.

Lauren Jacobson

HDYC labels Lauren as a “Hit and Run mapper” (24 changesets, only iD, but 7 times more nodes than Eric) –
That’s just a little step above “newbie”. I have had a look at her Github profile which is linked from her Wiki user page. I could not find noteworthy code contributions at all (including non-OSM repositories). I really ask myself why she candidates.

Her manifesto is long. The first and second paragraph are a bio of herself. She mentions her presence at some OSM conferences and mentions the gender diversity events and programs. She writes that she is working on an building import in Zambia and participated at some HOT events.

She wants to “promote local project creation and involve more community leaders with OSM projects”, “encourage diverse participation at State of the Map US” (i.e. gender-related scholarships and such stuff) and “enhance the benefits of joining the OSM US Foundation”. All this sounds good but she does not address the main concerns and problems OSM has in the U.S. at the moment.

I cannot suggest you to give her your vote due to her missing experience with OSM.

Drishtie Patel

Drishtie is a newbie and has edited mainly outside the U.S. Her edits are mainly HOT-related.

Her manifesto seems to be the longest of all manifestos. She write very much about her work all aroung HOT and humanitarian mapping and uses photos to attract votes. She wants to increase cooperation between humanitarian orangizations and universities to get the student map if there is a crisis.

What me really shocks are following two sentences:

I would use this opportunity to be more connected with the OSM community in the United States. There is a vast amount of talented OSM’ers in the country using open data in different ways and I am excited to learn more and expand my knowledge.

This means that she has at the moment no or only little knowledge about the active community in the U.S. and wants to get in touch with the community after getting elected! Sorry, please go to a local community meeting or organize one yourself (just an evening at a pub).

If you give your vote to her, you waste your vote. Sorry.

Alex Barth

Alex (wiki) works at Mapbox and leads Mapbox’s data team (the people getting payed for editing at OSM). He started editing in 2012, HDYC says he is a “Heavy Mapper 2.0”. He is the vice president of the current OSM US board.

His manifesto is located at his user diary. Like most candidates, he first introduces himself shortly summarizing his work and Mapbox’s editing-related tools. Afterwards he describes the work of the current and past OSM US boards and the success of SotM US.

But the succes of SotM US is no real success

While some of these numbers [of attendants at SotM US] are impressive and the seeds we have planted are developing, the people we haven’t reached yet are still in the majority.

Alex wants to connect OSM to people who either may have a benefit from using OSM or may be good OSM contributors. He wants to “tap into existing networks” and to strengthen local communities by mini grants, mapping events and bringing OpenStreetMap to other conferences.

In difference to some of his competitiors, he is no newbie and well known inside the community.


You can vote for up to five candidates. My personal rank is

  1. Martijn van Exel
  2. Ian Dees
  3. Alex Barth
  4. Elliott Plack

I would throw my fifth vote away because all other candidates are not suitable for OSM US board.


¹ Potlatch is not a newbie editor. I know some experienced mappers which still like and use this editor.

² I study geodesy and geoinformatics.


Comment from robert on 12 October 2015 at 21:56

You are so German.

Comment from Warin61 on 13 October 2015 at 00:21

Nothing wrong with being German, or British come to that.

As I am not American I won’t vote on ‘their’ election.

Regarding imports as being bad because of wrong data.. ‘we’ get wrong data from individual contributors too. In some ways the imported data is easier to ‘fix’… but there is a lot more of it.

Regarding getting more people to contribute data .. the best source would those using OSM as they are ‘on the ground’ and probably noticing missing things. Encouraging them to add that data and then retaining their participation would go a long way to improving the map and expanding the contributors. How to do more of that is the question.

Comment from jonwit on 13 October 2015 at 04:14

Thank you for your strong criticisms. You have pointed out many serious flaws in all the candidates, myself included. I for one have limited experience with JOSM relying mostly with ID editor since the knowledge of the area i’m mapping has been a blank map before I started. I have begun collecting images using mappillary and will soon be using JOSM to do more precise edits.

There have been many great ideas discussed over at the town hall that you should check out.

Comment from Zverik on 13 October 2015 at 07:54

You have an interesting point. Thanks for this summary and your comments!

Comment from Alan on 13 October 2015 at 12:36

Perhaps we should just give the Board seats to the top five mappers within the US according to number of changesets, and then we don’t even have to bother with an election. That way nobody would waste their vote.

Comment from LivingWithDragons on 13 October 2015 at 13:25

Map contributions isn’t essential but this post does focus on that and so that gives people the ability to take it into account. As a voter, it is your choice how much you take map contributions into account. For one, you could consider it difficult to understand how people map, or how to get more people mapping, if you don’t do it yourself.

I don’t think being a new comer alone is a reason to discount a candidate. Relative new comers are great as they have fresh energy and recent views about the community and the organisations. If a voter wants the OSM US board to grow the community, then they should look at people who have been new in the current season and journeyed to being really enthusiastic enough to join. However, if the candidate has only made the odd edit, not been to any meetups, and the candidate pledges to do those things when they are elected then I wonder why they are not doing them now instead of running for the board. Maybe they just want to get on the board for their CV/resume. Maybe being on the OSM US board will support their election to some other board.

On the contrast, those that have not made an edit in several months or years. I wonder, have they not been using OpenStreetMap in the daily lives, showing friends, or even in work? Have they really not noticed anything wrong or out of date on OpenStreetMap? Who do they expect to update it, if not themselves?

Comment from lxbarth on 13 October 2015 at 13:29

Edits aren’t required to serve on the OpenStreetMap US board. In fact some of the most valuable board members in OpenStreetMap US’ past haven’t edited much. The board isn’t about editing OpenStreetMap, it’s about supporting and growing OpenStreetMap in the US. It’s about our ability to put on awesome conferences, to run solid communications, to raise money, to keep our books in order, and to facilitate local events.

As someone who’s served for 3 years on the board and does quite a bit of editing, I welcome anyone to the board who’s passionate about OpenStreetMap and is ready to put in real time. Great skills in organizing, communications, networking, fund raising and a passion for the project don’t always go with mad mapping kills :)

Everyone is welcome. I’m personally thoroughly impressed with each person who I’ve been on the board with this past year and each new candidate running this year.

As jonwit pointed out, there’s a townhall recording from last night to learn more about the candidates.


Comment from Omnific on 13 October 2015 at 21:14

Great analysis; we need someone who understands the plight of OSM in the US. Half of these candidates have nowhere near the necessary experience contributing to OSM to be running. The idea that you don’t need to contribute to be considered a big part of the community is misguided at best. If you aren’t actively making tools or contributing with edits, you should not be in a leadership position. Period.

The fact that the current US OSM head has so little experience is quite disturbing.

Comment from dieterdreist on 23 October 2015 at 12:23

I agree that mapping experience and coding contributions are not the only factors to consider when voting for the US board, but if someone has neither s/he will likely not really know what osm is about, hence will not be the person I would want to be represented by. Why should someone who doesn’t contribute himself to a user generated content project get into a prominent position in that project, and how would that help to convince others to contribute?

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