There has been a lively thread on the talk mailing list about adding “consumer” features to the main openstreetmap.org page. This is really about adding routing, clickable points of interest, and geolocating support to the top level home page.
Some people, including our Chairman, Simon Poole, worry about several issues
- Diluting our energy on a non-core activity
- Diluting our web design, making the main page less functional for core mapping activities.
- Competing with our partners and downstream data users, making them less likely to work with us.
- Trying and failing, hurting our brand. It is a hard task.
- Trying and succeeding, driving zillions of people to our front page. The increase in scope will require a professional organization to manage. This is also known, as let’s not look like Wikimedia Foundation, with 176 employees.
Start with first principles, our mission statement: provide free geographic data, such as street maps, to anyone, for the entire world. This is a big goal, just a tiny fraction of humanity lives in places with a good OSM map. We need more people, a lot more people. If we want the entire map to looks like our gold standard, Germany or London, we need around 35 million mappers. By that metric, we are only about 2.5% complete. Another metric is Wikimedia, which currently has 20 million named user accounts. The mission statement is not going to be fulfilled, if we don’t have enough people editing the map, period. The best way of getting those mappers, registered, and mapping is for us to provide a service to allow people to use our data for their day to day needs on our site, with the big fat “edit” button on top. Our third party data consumers will not put that “edit” button on their interfaces. There is no benefit to them to dilute their interface to help us. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that people are using our data on other services such as apple, motion gps, craigslist, 4 square, etc, however, they are not going to carry our water for us and hand over our next 34 million mapper. We have to go get them ourselves. I don’t see any way of getting 34 more million registered mappers unless our site is can be used by everybody for normal mapping activities. So sorry, the current mappers are just the first 2.5%, getting the next 97.5% onboard is more important than serving the first 2.5%. To say otherwise, is giving up on our mission statement.
Our second principle is that we are a “do-ocracy”. When somebody shows up on the lists asking for routing, clickable POI, location service, mobile support, etc the only acceptable answer should be to ask them to help do it!
- If they can write code, do that,
- If they are system administrators help with that.
- Volunteer to test out new code.
- If they are good at raising money, get some money.
- If they can get some big servers donated, do that, hosting, donated bandwidth, do it, do it, do it!
- or the simplest way to help is to go work on the map and be as supportable as possible of the people that are working on these features.
The reality is that getting routing, or good POI support, mobile, etc are all very tough jobs. When they launch, we should expect them to not be competitive with the commercial providers. To be blunt, we are going to suck at it for years after we launch. The probability of everybody crushing our website the day, week, or the year after we turn on routing is exactly zero. However, this is how software is developed; without shipping something crude first, it is impossible to make something great later.
Please no more “no’s” on this topic.