Is it the moment for OpenStreetMap?

Posted by Zverik on 28 April 2015 in English (English)

Surely now is the moment for OpenStreetMap to accelerate adoption, usage and uptake? But why hasn’t this already happened? Why hasn’t the geospatial world run lovingly into OSM’s arms?

Gary Gale published an interesting article on removing SA clause from our license (actually, the major part was about business-friendly face, but you know the principle: want it? go do it). We've heard it before, from Mapbox. As Richard points out, that won't happen any time soon, because there is clearly less than 2/3 of active contributors supporting the idea.

And these opinions strike me as lacking an understanding of OpenStreetMap project. Are we mapping for PNDs? Yes. Are we mapping for commercial companies? Of course. Would we like a thousand more commercial users promoting OSM by simply using it? Yes, go ahead. What? They cannot do that right now?

Well, we can wait. That what distinguishes us from other map data providers: we can really wait. OpenStreetMap is slow, but unstoppable. Mapbox and other businesses have immediate tasks, and for that they need a fast reaction from OSM. But OSM isn't fast. The last license change took 3 years. That's just a bit less than Mapbox has existed. Some think that because we make maps for crisis areas so fast, we are very responsive – but we are not. And it is good.

What I like in OSM, is that it is not going anywhere. Businesses appear and go bankrupt or sold, new datasets are published and then forgotten, but nothing ever can happen with OpenStreetMap. The question is, what will happen if we wait 50 years? I can bet a hundred bucks I'll still be mapping my town in OSM when I'm retired, but will Mapbox, HERE, Google, Yandex, TomTom exist? If we are to act right now, what good will it do to our project in a scope of 50 years? On that scale, publishing a new tagging proposal seems more important that changing a license, just so that some more businesses and government organizations could use our data without having to change their ways. Tags will remain, organizations – not so sure.

And that's why I think a share-alike license is perfect for our project – at least until another popular mapping project appears with a more open license. If we are starting to look good for businesses, look ahead 50 years and think, why we should adapt to their needs, and not vice-versa.

Of course, we can start thinking about changing the license, but don't expect a reaction in the nearest 10 years. Not at least until we've updated our API.

Comment from SimonPoole on 28 April 2015 at 16:10

If I was given to +1ing stuff I would +1000 the above.

PS: the actual licence change took three years but the whole process started in 2007 and took more like 5 years....

Comment from Hjart on 28 April 2015 at 17:03

Spot on! I love this post. It's not like we need to bow down to anyone or anything to continue doing what we already do.

Comment from pizzaiolo on 28 April 2015 at 18:44

Yep! Businesses can use our data commercially, they just can't claim monopoly over it.

OSM is a free resource: take it or leave it! We're in no rush.

Comment from woodpeck on 28 April 2015 at 19:51

We don't want to appear anti-business - and I don't think we are. Also, we don't want to bite the hands that feed us; some (but notably not all) of the proponents of dropping share-alike have generously given to OSM and the OSMF in the form of software and donations in the past, and continue to do so. That doesn't mean we should do what they want, but at least if we disagree, we should do so respectfully ;)

And respectfully disagree I do! There's a group of people with a very limited, commercial mindset, a mindset that is entirely focused on business ideas, fast turnarounds, and the disruption for profit of existing industries. Move fast, play hard, and all that. They project their everyday business-think onto OSM: OSM needs to move fast, to stay ahead, to anticipate demand, to adapt and innovate or die. And who can blame them, because this is exactly what applies to them - what they have learnt to be the universal truth in their little disruptive startup business world.

How often have I heard people say "if OSM doesn't do this and that then they won't grow fast enough and they will be overtaken by someone else and that's it". Change the license! Make strategic deals with $smartphone_vendor! Kow-tow to $megacorp who will catapult OSM into every household!

And it always gives me the greatest pleasure to reply exactly what Zverik writes above: You know what - we're not in a hurry. You might be, because your investors want to see a RoI next year, or because you've chosen a way of doing business that requires you to re-invent yourself twice a year to escape oblivion. But us? We've been here for ten years and we'll be here for another ten years. We don't need world domination tomorrow; world domination in a decade or two is totally ok.

When projects die, it is usually not because they've not sucked up to business enough. It's because they fall apart, because the human beings in the project stop feeling like a community. I wouldn't rule out a license change in the future, but I think that one is enough for this decade.

I knof that "take it or leave it" may sound a bit arrogant but that's our proposition - here's a data set of huge commercial value but perhaps not suitable for all business models; if you want to do business with us, then your challenge is to find a business model that works.

Or, +1000.

Comment from Mateusz Konieczny on 29 April 2015 at 05:12

Is it even possible to change license without throwing away massive amount of data?

Comment from Zverik on 29 April 2015 at 06:46

Mateusz, it is now. With the new CT, everyone agrees to further relicensing without individual agreements.

Comment from pnorman on 5 May 2015 at 08:32

Mateusz, it is now. With the new CT, everyone agrees to further relicensing without individual agreements.

Yes - and no. It depends on the license. In the case of a switch to public domain, I estimated at one point that >20% of data would need to be removed - basically most non-US imports. There are additional complications with PD, but they're not worth going into since the chances of a license change removing ~10x the data that was removed in the original license change are approximately zero.

In the case of a switch to an attribution license or different share-alike license, it depends what license. There are many attribution licenses used by third-party sources, and I expect some of them are incompatible with licenses we might consider moving to.

Thirdly, third-party ODbL-licensed data can be imported or used as an external source. This data would need to be removed with any change to the license.

What the CTs mean is that everyone has agreed to a license change process for their contributions.

Comment from mcld on 8 May 2015 at 17:03

Another +1000 from me; this puts it very well.

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