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Should you contribute open data to OpenStreetMap? (ctrl.blog)
240 points by nathan_phoenix 23 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 217 comments

> Microsoft Bing uses OSM in several regions, and is slowly moving from it’s traditional providers to OSM globally. They provide machine-learning (ML) datasets that they have computed from areal imagery. They employ nobody in the OSM community.

Microsoft Bing made its aerial imagery available for OSM editing, this is often very very very useful for mapping (speaking from own experience as an OSM mapper).

See https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/maps/product/imagery-service...

> The rights that you have under this agreement are limited solely to aerial imagery use in a non-commercial online editor application of OpenStreetMap maps (an "Application")

see also extra info in https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Bing_Maps#Terms.2C_Clari...

It is an interesting case as cost of that is basically nothing to Microsoft, this action has a very clear benefits to them, has negative influence on their competition like Google, has basically no negative side effects to OSM community (unlike company hiring people) and provides service that would cost OSM community ridiculous amounts of money if we would need to buy it (it would be impossible for us to buy worldwide aerial imagery of such quality).

It is weird to not mention it in that article.

The article is very weird. If the author doesn't understand the value of the aerial imagery (global) they have obviously never tried to license this stuff globally.

That alone should give Microsoft "platinum" status.

Secondly, you need users to justify investments in these products. Microsoft brings users. Now businesses and others start paying attention, updating their details etc.

As is prefixed in the post, this was originally a private response to Daniel Aleksandersen's post about Google Maps [1]. It was a quick email, not a fully thought out article. I'm not a writer, and defiantly not an author.

I understand the value that Microsoft brings via it's imagery, Map Builder and it's users. OpenStreetMap wouldn't be in the position it is today without Microsoft, and the other commercial interests involved in OSM. I want there involvement, I welcome it, and I'm grateful for it.

I am a little soured by the value that I put into society (through contributing thousands of hours to OSM [2], and my day job), and the value I get back. This email wasn't meant to discus that, but I guess it underlays everything I ever do and say.

[1] https://www.ctrl.blog/entry/maps-public-service.html [2] https://www.hdyc.neis-one.org/?CjMalone

Genuinely it's really a pain. You're not just dealing with intellectual property issues, you're literally brushing with militaries (and different cartographic laws) in the process of licensing high-resolution (those which allows you to see streets and buildings) images. The fact that they were able to do license this, even if it's still restricted for commercial use (seriously, it's really not that easy) speaks volumes to Microsoft's plans on relying on OSM. (Note that cartographic restrictions are now slowly loosening up especially in the US, but we can't say that for sure in other countries like India and China.)

By the way, that's also why Microsoft shies away from cartographic products except when maps are absolutely needed, they have encountered situations (for example, time zone maps and flag emojis) that Microsoft doesn't want to get involved in, and so avoids those if it's possible.

It also probably had interesting internal politics. OSM data can be also used by competitors and it kind of admits that Bing Maps right now cannot compete with Google Maps at all. To the point that improving open data available to all is better.

I really need to link https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2002/06/12/strategy-letter-v/

> most of the companies spending big money to develop open source software are doing it because it’s a good business strategy for them, not because they suddenly stopped believing in capitalism and fell in love with freedom-as-in-speech.

and explains why it makes sense.

See also a bit broader https://www.gwern.net/Complement

> costs basically nothing to Microsoft

I wouldn't be surprised if this agreement was a big headache when Microsoft is licensing imagery from various satellite imagery providers.

EDIT: I rephrased to

> cost of that is basically nothing to Microsoft


I am unaware about internal Microsoft proceedings, but it seems possible.

Though I guess that given Microsoft scale and benefits from that it should be possible to describe it as "costs basically nothing to Microsoft"

It is not low sum, I would be bankrupted either by lawyer consultations on this topic and by extra server traffic if I would be paying for that, but on Microsoft scale it is probably nothing.

Well we have SpaceX now... and Microsoft is a trillion dollar company.

Launch some satellites.

They owned Vexcel for some years:

    In 2006, Vexcel Imaging was acquired by Microsoft 
    Corporation and contributed as a subsidiary to the 
    success of Microsoft’s Bing program by pushing the 
    envelope of photogrammetric hardware and software 
    technology with innovations that underpinned the Bing 
    Maps web service and mapping platform.

The highest quality aerial photography of my country (Denmark) is taken from planes, not satellites.

"Satellite" imagery on Google Maps is a misnomer, and when it launched there was a big disagreement on the name that got brought all the way to Larry and Sergey. At the end of the meeting one of them said "call it Bird Mode", but the devs ignored that and stuck with "satellite" because they though bird mode was silly.

More details in this Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/btaylor/status/1099370126678253569

If you look at for example mapy.cz, they call it "Aerial map".

Same for Australia. NearMap is mostly plane (and hot air balloon) images for the high quality stuff.

Bing actually has the highest quality aerial images of Australia in some places, licensed from Vexcel.

Meanwhile nobody has a good 3D map of Brisbane - Apple has none, Google’s is labeled (c) 2021 but is inexplicably actually from 2010 or so.

Not news to Mateusz, but Microsoft also provide some "streetside" imagery, and there are other imagery providers, like ESRI (lower resolution, but typically more up-to-date and better aligned where I've used it).

Here is why you should contribute to OSM even though there are major players profiting from it:

OSM is big enough and good enough that all the tech giants (except Google) would do better to start with OSM and improve it to meet their needs than to start a new, completely proprietary map from scratch.

That means that we are in an amazing place where in addition to the substantial volunteer OSM community, there are contributions from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and hundreds or thousands of smaller companies all coming back in to a single global map that everyone can use. It's very worth it to do work that strengthens OSM, as it increases the number of companies that will use it, and possibly contribute back, rather than doing work the world at large won't benefit from.

P.S. As a disclaimer, I am co-founder of Geocode Earth (https://geocode.earth) a small business that does indeed profit from OSM (and other open) data. We also contribute back both through OSM contributions and by releasing our core software as the Pelias geocoder (https://pelias.io)

OSM is so good that even the fire fighters use it in Poland for navigation and finding fire hydrants. The funny thing is that if you modify or add a fire hydrant a guy from the emergency services asks to send a picture of it before he approves the change.

To clarify: they maintain(ed) own reviewed replica of OSM data and asked about suspicious edits.

Any edits in OSM go live immediately without review.

I feel like this is where there could be some improvements. It would be quite nice to allow a review process to be setup for some types of edits. Plenty of examples in the market to get inspiration from.

In many areas there is zero or just one local mapper.

And vandalism and malicious editing remains rare.

That would be enormous effort for minimal benefit.

That is fine when the scale for OSM is intentionally small. But if larger companies want to use OSM as a base for their mapping solution while contributing changes upstream, it will be helpful to have that infrastructure setup for merging in changes without issue.

Edit: I am not suggesting the existing OSM community build this, if companies want to do this they will put in the effort.

That's amazing! I know that lots of local and regional governments are trending towards using OSM as their source of truth for data about their area, but hadn't heard that particular story. Love it!

How does that work? Does OSM verify who emergency services employees are? Or is the item owned by an account of an employee of the emergency services?

It seems like this data should be coming directly from some government database.

To clarify: they maintain(ed) own reviewed replica of OSM data and asked about suspicious edits.

Any edits in OSM go live immediately without review.

And Poland has no government database of hydrants or AED.

In fact Polish community is right now working on making decent AED database - with https://aed.openstreetmap.org.pl/ created recently that shows already collected data

How is this not done by the installer? Seems like a problem that didn’t need crowd sourcing.

That would make sense but at least some companies that maintain hydrants are also using OSM data.

Some things happened before OSM existed.

I second Julian here, as the founder of another company (in profile) that profits heavily from OSM's data set.

It's amazing how good OSM is today, and the rate at which it's expanding and improving means it will only get much better over time.

Thanks for Stadia maps! Happy paying customer here and it substantially lowered my map hosting bill compared to mapbox.

You’re welcome! Reach out if you ever need anything. :-)

Yes, would it be really better to be in situation where standard dataset is proprietary and controlled by Google?

Right! Remember when Google made their Maps API far more restrictive and it broke a whole bunch of cool applications that were built on top of it? That can't happen with OSM.

Yep I worked with a popular scooter company in Taiwan to help build software to implement Taiwan’s left hand turn rules into GPS. It was just a matter of labeling the correct intersections. They wanted to eventually share the changes upstream with OSM. Very fun project that I miss very much.

Sadly I don’t think the map editing SQLite cli/gui tool made it out to OSS, even though that was a request I had.

This article is just factually wrong.

It alleges repeatedly that Facebook, Apple, Microsoft etc “employ nobody in the OSM community”. They do. Microsoft even employed the founder of OSM, Steve Coast, for a while.

If your criterion is ‘involved in OSM prior to current employment’, I could name a bunch of people currently working for Facebook, Amazon, Snap etc of whom that’s true. (One such person even stood for election to the OSM Foundation board this month.)

But, as others have pointed out, I’d hope we’re more welcoming than that. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re editing OSM you’re part of the community.

I sent this article to a friend of mine who works for Microsoft and they came back with an interesting anecdote: several groups inside Microsoft, including theirs, have recurring "hack for good" gatherings, especially during the pandemic when regular get-togethers aren't happening. One of the things they do for this is to log into a community team (I'm not sure of the exact term, I don't contribute to OSM) and spend a couple of hours tagging landmarks and streets and edges of farms and various other geographic features while BSing together as a team.

Sounds kind of relaxing to me, and a way to contribute a bulk of hours to OSM that I hadn't thought of.

Can confirm, this is popular on my team. Additionally, this should also direct actual dollars to OSM - volunteering for an organization is matched in cash by Microsoft, to the tune of 20-something an hour.

> volunteering for an organization is matched in cash by Microsoft, to the tune of 20-something an hour.

I've never heard of a policy like this before, but I like it a lot (admittedly I've been mostly in academia). Is this unique to Microsoft or more common?

Google does this at 10/hour as well. Unsure of others. Both Google and Microsoft match cash donations too up to 15k/year - it's a wonderful perk to have after you've basically covered all your living expenses and savings etc. I can eg fund a minor scholarship at half cost, or direct serious money to a cause I care about.

Yeah, I've heard of matching monetary charitable donations before but this is the first time I've heard of matching volunteer time with money.


Apple had full time OSM mappers as well as sponsored weekly mapping meetups where employees could volunteer to help with mapping. I’m not sure if they still do this. The OSM and cartographers I worked with at Apple were all very passionate about helping map remote parts of the world and the benefits mapping brings during disasters.

They still have a team, you can follow their edits here: https://resultmaps.neis-one.org/osm-changesets?comment=adt

When I was on Apple Maps in 2018–19 they still did this! I’m pretty confident they still do.

My experience with the more extreme OSM folks is that as soon as you are working for a large company, you are no longer a member of the community. More generally, there is nothing the big companies could do to make them happy, short of divesting completely from OSM so that they can get their hobby project from 2008 back.

I’m sure you can find any given opinion in a community of 2m registered users with a public mailing list, especially any community which includes a bunch of 17-year old Linux enthusiasts, but it’s not remotely representative of the OSM community nor a particularly useful subset to identify.

I agree they are not representative of the community, but they are a quite vocal minority, to whom anyone working on OSM in a corporate context is well-acquainted.

I offer my observations as a warning to take any anti-corporate sentiment from self-proclaimed OSM community representatives with a grain of salt.

I’d fully agree with the latter. Sometimes (often) a gobshite on a mailing list is just a gobshite on a mailing list. (He says, looking anxiously at his own 2000 list postings over 17 years.)

The lists are sometimes attributed a significance they don’t really have any more - they have a few hundred subscribers max in a massive project. Most of the OSM US community discussion happens on Slack, in Germany it’s a webforum, some countries use Telegram and so on.

I've never talked to anyone like this, not sure where you get it from.

You get people that are suspicious and cautious about big corp sponsorship of OSM, and rightly so, EEE was and still is a thing. But in OSM, contributors are contributors, plain and simple.

I get it from personal experience having once worked on OSM for a big company. Next time you’re at an OSM conference, strike up a conversation with anyone from a big tech company and ask about folks like this, I’m sure they’ll have plenty of stories. Better yet, go to their talk and watch the Q&A session get derailed by some guy who’s mad about the way a bike path was tagged.

When I first wrote "employ nobody in the OSM community" I actually wrote it as "they employ almost nobody in the OSM community", but changed it to be more emotive. Daniel Aleksandersen italicised it to be even more emotive.

For the purposes of this email, I used the term "OSM Community" as meaning actively contributing to OSM personally/prior to employment, as you assumed. You could view that as gate keeping the "OSM Community", and you'd be right. But I do think it's important to be able to differentiate people who are employed, and map exclusively as part of that job vs people who are involved for other reasons. The term "OSM Community" was clearly the wrong one, but I'm glad you parsed it correctly.

I believe the amount of people that you could list who were involved in OSM prior to being employee is repetitively small. From the conversations I've had with some Organised Editing Teams, they don't hire out. Employees of the companies can get transferred to those teams/departments, but they don't have public job postings for people to apply for.

Right, and I'm rather concerned that this be taken as representative of the OSM UK community.

Also, it seems pretty easy to add something in the Organic Maps app (né maps.me), for instance, not that I use that for mapping.

Yeah, that struck me as a bit of an odd repeated phrase. I think they mean that these companies don't have anyone employed specifically to contribute to the project. But that's only one of many ways a company might contribute to a project...

About 10 years ago I helped build a piece of software that would use OSM data and that data needed to be precise. Turned out that a lot of the Tiger Maps scans were not super accurate so I urged our company to hire a data entry team to clean up a bunch of it. We had I think 5 or 6 people whose job it was to precisely clean up OSM data based on satellite imagery in a bunch of small-medium cities as well as Chicago. Everyone benefitted from this which was awesome.

The TIGER data was (is?) terrible in terms of exact coordinates, but the graph of the streets is usually accurate.

Back in 2007 or so, I spent hundreds of hours aligning TIGER data to the satellite imagery in OSM, usually in cities I never had been before. If I remember correctly, I did most of Fresno. :-)

I’m totally fine with my edits being used commercially too.

The status of the initial Tiger data varies by county. Many counties were poorly aligned, but many counties were also pretty good, depending on whether the county had been updated in a quality improvement project that Census was doing when the OSM import happened.

In today's AI/ML saturated landscape, your approach to data labeling to augment applications is much needed. Awesome to hear it went well!

It's a good question to ask. Many here probably aren't old enough to remember the cautionary tale of CDDB/Gracenote [1].

Back when Compact Discs were still a thing. on Winamp, WMP, etc you wanted to display a list of tracks, covert art, the artist, etc. Volunteers contributed this data from their own discs (that could be identified). This was before MP3s and ID3 tagging.

So volunteers built the CDDB with this data. The entity that "owned" it silently put in a copyright assignment with any submissions and ultimately became a company called Gracenote, which still exists today. They also removed the free access to CDDB.

None of this matters today but at the time it was a huge loss and a betrayal.

So I personally think it's completely fine to contribute to something like OSM as long as there are guarantees in there that the open access to that data can't be lost. It doesn't bother me if the likes of Apple and Microsoft use that for commercial uses, particularly if in doing so they contribute data back to the project.

This is why Stackoverflow dumps [2] were done in the first place and why they're so important: as a guarantee against that data being taken away or put behind a paywall.

Beware the CDDBs of the world however.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CDDB

[2]: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/224873/all-stack-ex...

> as long as there are guarantees in there that the open access to that data can't be lost.

1) current dataset can be fully downloaded and is available under a copyleft license


2) it would be relatively hard to hijack project https://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Licence/Contributor_Term...

OSMF agrees that it may only use or sub-license Your Contents as part of a database and only under the terms of one or more of the following licences: ODbL 1.0 for the database and DbCL 1.0 for the individual contents of the database; CC-BY-SA 2.0; or such other free and open licence (for example, http://www.opendefinition.org/okd/) as may from time to time be chosen by a vote of the OSMF membership and approved by at least a 2/3 majority vote of active contributors.

> as long as there are guarantees in there that the open access to that data can't be lost

This is the key point. The problem isn't mutual benefit, the problem is when communities can be seized by private entities or have the rug pulled out from under them, effectively stealing a community and shutting it down for their own gain. That's the difference between OSM and GoodReads. If you're going to donate time, make sure you donate time to commons, not to companies.

That being said, OSM does have a lot of guarantees about its data in place, and even better has license requirements that force companies who extend that data to contribute back. It's good that OSM is seeing more usage across the industry.

In a way it is how Google operates: One can send in details about shops and corrections for the maps, but Google is the sole owner of the resulting map.

With OSM however I have the same rights to the combined data as any other entity.

I struggle with contributing to open source but in a different context. In my opinion, the video games industry is information sparse on high quality software engineering practices, for whatever reason (NDAs, language/culture, etc). I am already authoring content that basically imports DevOps practices and experiences I have from my day job into a video games context. I believe practitioners have an edge over non-practitioners. Yet I hesitate to release it.

I hesitate because ultimately I cannot fully silence my ego. I want to release my content and have a positive impact on game creators. I know my ideas and hard work will be taken and rebroadcast by other teacher content creators without credit. In abstract that my ideas will spread to a wider audience will maximize its impact. ...But I want my hard work to be recognized and credited which is hamstringing my willingness to release.

My ego wants me to keep this information private and work in a closed source way. "Ha, I am so smart that I grok this stuff and can apply it," I imagine my mindset saying. "Look at how these fools struggle, ignorant of a better way." However; I have benefited from others making the brave choice to work in an open source way.

How do people who give away their work (MIT or CC license) think about it? I feel like a jerk for benefiting from a culture of open source and yet I have this inner conflict?

I have written some (obscure) open-source software and have contributed to open-source code-bases. I can say that if you are doing it for some kind of recognition, then you are doing it for the wrong reason. I _do_ think that you (and many others) would be worthy of recognition and appreciation, but most people are far too busy optimizing their careers and chasing the dollar to actually invest the time and effort needed to share some of the spotlight with you. Also, so much of our (humanity's) software stack is open source that we would need to share the spotlight with hundreds of people out there.

Most people write open-source for material reasons -- it lets them bring some of their own code into a new workplace, with minimal employer resistance. Also, many people will try to open-source the tooling they built at work so that they can then take that tooling with them to a new employer (avoiding the duplication of effort and potential legal issues).

All of the open-source code that I wrote for non-material reasons, I wrote it because I thought it was fun to write, and I open sourced it because others might find it interesting or useful. But I never expected any kind of recognition (let alone compensation).

In feudal Japan, poets would write poetry anonymously (not pseudonymously), and many historians and scholars debate which known poet wrote which poem. The fact that these works of art are not attached to any author's ego or name, does not diminish their beauty after all these centuries -- arguably this characteristic amplifies and elevates the work beyond the history of people, to the history of ideas and concepts. At the end of the day, we are just transient conduits for concepts. The notion that a person deserves to have "more" for their ideas and concepts and artistry, is as shameful as the notion that artists deserve to starve for not slavishly serving the whims of the market.

I didn’t know about the Japanese poet thing. Hmm. I know I need to silence my ego and take the plunge. It will be better if I help the community even if it’s just a sliver of incremental progress.

I figure I will be forgotten entirely within a generation or three, but maybe my minor contributions to open source software will help folks now and in the future solve problems. That coupled with the fact that I am standing on the shoulders of giants (whose names I mostly don't know) makes the choice to release my code freely easy.

As a bonus, the more eyes there are on my code the more likely it is that I get good feedback, feedback I use to improve my skills.

That last part is real. There are jerks out there and there are people out there who help contribute their power of consideration. I have reminded myself that taking the leap of faith will probably result in others exposing me to ways of thinking that I may not consider in my silo/bubble.

I think it's important to realize this struggle. You can take a myriad of approaches to life, to what and how you contribute to other people's lives. I think that ultimately you'll be taken advantage of a million times, because you can't really affect how other people act, but that shouldn't keep you from acting, if that serves you expressing yourself. So what you should be concerned about is how much it's actually hurting you or keeping you from realizing yourself.

To make this a bit more tangible, you could examine this stuggle from different viewpoints.

For example, does it hurt you that some people benefit a lot from your work, if you otherwise lead a comfortable life?

Or, would your idea/knowledge be popular if you kept it "closed source"? Maybe it's popular now and many people benefit, and if those were paying users, boy, would you be rich. But the alternative could be that the fantastic knowledge of yours wouldn't get traction in the first place, leaving you with a worse outcome, but of course you're not taken advantage of either.

I think what you should examine is what would make you feel like it's worth it to release the knowledge. Does applause sound nice? You could look into presentation. Do you like digital feedback like HN karma or youtube subscriber count? Look into content creation. I think that if you're honest with yourself about what would make you happy, then that should show the way.

I like this insight. It lets me put aside the external consequences and let’s me ask what I want. Expression. Realization.

I'm not a open source contributor in a major way. Just wanted to chime in.

No doubt at least part of your know-how, however small, was built upon others' experiences (also hard to give credit for everything). If you do release your content, this is just giving back to the community.

Also to play with your ego side, let's say some other person beats you to releasing the content that you wanted to release. And that person markets well and takes a lot of credit that you wanted. Would your ego push you to publish sooner?

Haha, I love the concept of leaning into my ego to try to bring out the same desired outcome. It reminds me how RadioLab did a podcast on the idea of altruism as a selfish trait.

I think in a way we are all pilots of this big elephant like meat machine. It has its wants, it has its needs, and as pilots we are trying to steer ourselves with the understanding that the elephant is ultimately doing what it wants. I suppose the trick is to understand the elephant (ourselves) to know how to steer into the direction we want.

Arguably being more permissive could lead to more recognition. Lovecraft's mythos probably wouldn't have taken off the way it did had he been the only one writing it, but he was very permissive about letting others write their own stories in it (although I'm still unclear as to how he kept his name so closely associated with it when there were plenty of other writers riffing on it).

In the tech context, if something you make gets a lot of uptake because a lot of people find it useful, then the spread of the useful thing could mean more recognition for you. But taking hold of that recognition will still require extra effort, like going to conferences to talk about the thing so people can put a face to the name.

The post claims both that some companies contribute to OSM and that they do not employ anyone from the OSM community.

There is some level of gatekeeping here, as the blog implies is that that employees at those companies are not part of the OSM community although they contribute to OSM.

With this attitude ("no true OSM contributor unless I approve of"), it is hard to grow the community by welcoming new people.

At this point, I don't really consider OSM an OSS project, but an infrastructure.

It has small value for everyone, but all combined usage, it has immense economical value for the society. All alone, it's not really useful to end-users, but it can help a lot of businesses that couldn't exist before it.

Maps are already considered infrastructure, since they are already made by governments!

The only missing part to say OSM is an infrastructure, is for governments to actually contribute to it.

> The only missing part to say OSM is an infrastructure, is for governments to actually contribute to it.

The best way to contribute is to openly license government datasets, and many such datasets are already in use and being used to improve OSM (and often problems are reported back, resulting in fixes in official datasets!).

Government official editing directly would be in many cases more harmful than useful.

I understand why you say this (which sums up to "governments are bureaucrats, please get out of the way for us to do the actual job"), but the issue is that there are still people needed to go from government data to OSM.

Ideally, governments would simply pay OSM people to do it on their own, but eh, we know this can never happen, and even if it did, greedy people might be tempted by that kind of money and would go into the OSM community just for that.

Once data is high quality actual import is quite easy to do.

Vast majority of time is used up on handling useful but not fully correct data.

I am not aware of any datasets that are high quality, on a compatible license, including data of interest to OSM and existing for longer than a year - that would not be imported already.

There are more people interested in making imports than high quality datasets on a compatible licenses, this is not the bottleneck.

For clarity, I assume "import" isn't meant to mean everything in the dataset is shortly in OSM, but it's available to aid with mapping (e.g. free UK Ordnance Survey data).

At least in OSM context there are several types of use of external data

- import (adding object to database) - for example https://budynki.openstreetmap.org.pl/ is used by OSM community in Poland to import official address and building data after review (sadly, quality makes necessary to review data but still saves time overall)

- using for mapping (for example Bing aerial, Strava heatmap, aerial imagery released by many governments is also available on a compatible license)

- linking (for example many OSM objects link Wikipedia articles about them or their official website)

- used to find places for mapping (if Google starts showing new road I am not allowed to copy it into OSM - both due to licensing and low quality of Google data. But I can select this place for the next bicycle trip and map everything there as I survey this area)

Not sure how it matches general terminology, OSM has some slang/terms which is sometime incompatible or unknown elsewhere.

> The best way to contribute is to openly license government datasets

Second best way to contribute is to force commercial corporations to share the datasets they have of what is essentially public data - what is in the physical world and where. Currently, I see a lot of this kind of data on Google Maps, but not on OSM (e.g. location of various cultural and commercial venues, public transportation lines and schedules etc.)

And by "force" I mean something like legislation or regulation.

Some governments already do, and sometimes at a massive scale. See for instance the mass import of French cadastre in OSM in 2008. We are talking about millions of georeferenced entities.

I contribute to OSM because I want to make alternatives to Google Maps like OsmAnd or Organicmaps more useful. That big players also use open data does not invalidate my reasons to contribute.

In fact, that big players also use it supports your reasons: everyone contributing back data helps make OSM more useful.

I've enjoyed Google Maps for many years and never paid for it. Apple MapKit appears to be free. I improve the experience for others when I help improve the maps and in turn my experience is improved by the contributions of others. It's costs Google and Apple money to provide the infrastructure for this, which they obtain in various ways such as advertising. It doesn't bother me if someone wants to advertise their store on a map I helped create. In fact, even that improves the amount of information I have about a place.

My answer to the title question is a strong "yes" in this case and I consider it akin to a grocery store putting up signs saying "Please help us keep costs down and pass the savings along to you by returning your cart to the cart stand." Giant mega corp Walmart does this if memory serves.

I like that humanity has built such an amazing thing as maps and like it when people return their shopping carts.

> I've enjoyed Google Maps for many years and never paid for it.

You did pay for Google Maps indirectly as you were and still are a product Google sells to advertisers.

I feel like I have derived so much value from Google Maps, especially turn by turn navigation, than I don't even consider the advertisement aspects. I would happily pay a monthly fee to use it.

Before it you had to use paper maps or use those very expensive and crappy Garmin devices.

It used to be a joke that married couples travelling would fight over maps. The man was always driving and the wife was always reading the large unwieldy paper map. The man would get mad about a woman's trouble reading the map. The wife would retort "What happened to your vaunted sense of direction? Why are you such a cheap skate to wait until we are lost before buying a map at a service station?" Good times.

Good times for some, traumatic memories of childhood for others….

I used to have this daydream of a red line painted onto the road leading you to your destination. Never expected it to become real (in a slightly different form). Too late for me but another small way later generations will enjoy higher QoL. Few will realize the benefits beyond occasionally getting lost.

I remember back when we were at an intermediate stage of maps when you could type an address into Mapquest and then print out the directions to it and take that stack of paper with you.

Now days you can drop into the middle of almost anywhere on the globe and get mostly accurate on-the-ground directions regardless of if you walk, take public transport or drive. Made navigating Tokyo so much easier!

Google doesn't need you to pay, they only need you to do your thing using Android, Chrome, Google Analytics, Google Search, Google Maps, etc. They will monetize on your usage. I'm OK with the concept, but the implementation ethics can be, to put it gently, debatable - most of the time people are not aware of the privacy implications.

there is nothing like 'paying indirectly'.

did it overall cost them any money ? no

did it overall cost them any physical effort ? no

did google force them to use the service ? no

Does it really sting so much to admit Google Maps is a free to use service?

It's not free. Maybe your privacy is worth nothing -that's up to you to decide- but mine is close to priceless. So to me using Google maps would be hugely expensive.

lol, my privacy is worth same as yours but you are too technologically challenged to hide it online.

Question: if I contribute a fix to Google Maps or Apple Maps, does that fix back-propogate to OSM? My home address needs to be slightly shifted and wondering for best practice.

No and that is IMO the point of using OSM in the first place. The data is public and free for everyone and if you contribute there's the possibility of other services adopting your change. I know that mapbox integrates osm data, Google and Apple might too.

No, in fact copying from Google Maps is a violation of their terms of service:


If you contribute to Google Maps then you fix private Google database.

this is not true, you fix it for everyone using Google maps (which is basically everyone)

Where I can download Google map data dataset for my own processing?

Yes, Google makes apps usable by general public but their database is proprietary - including what people contribute for free.

The argument that OP may or may not have intended is that any change in Google Maps benefits a fraction of “everybody” that equal to Google Maps’ share of the market. That’s maybe 80-90%. Telling users of Google Maps that their contribution is worthless if they don’t submit it to a free & open database may be net-negative if only a small fraction gets discouraged from contributing altogether.

I have a few million edits on wikidata to proof my sympathy for Open Data. But the openness is only useful if it leads to more people having access to the data. And a proprietary service being involved doesn’t diminish the value by itself.

ok I thought parent comment meant to say it only changes your private maps, not for everyone. I see what you mean

The answers saying “no” are not necessarily correct, but the actual answer depends on which country you live in.

> They employ nobody in the OSM community.

I imagine many of the employees that do the work mentioned in the article would consider themselves part of the OSM community.

Here's one example of a person employed by Apple to work on OSM: https://www.openstreetmap.org/user/andrewwiseman

Facebook and Microsoft are also "Gold Corporate Members" of OSM which costs €10,000 / year, and they are "Corporate Partners" of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, which does employ people to directly work on OSM: https://www.hotosm.org/.

Also apparently "nearly 17% of the global road network was last edited by a corporate data-team member" (https://2020.stateofthemap.org/sessions/SPRQVZ/), and lots of people must be employed by corporations to make that happen, even if it's mostly automated edits.

I was hoping they'd include a comment describing what they mean when they talk about employing someone in the OSM community (and how they'd know).

Seems like circular reasoning:

Being a part of the OSM community means they aren’t employed by OSM as employees. If they employ the person, they’re no longer a community member but an employee.

I don’t actually see the issue.

> they aren’t employed by OSM

Note that OSM does not employ anyone (Open Street Map Foundation has very limited employees and contractors, see https://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Contractors_and_employee... )

I suspect they are suggesting a difference between working to contribute as part of the community, versus being solely to further their company's product.

> They employ nobody in the OSM community.

Malone keeps saying this but I don’t think it means what he says it is.

Those large entities employ lots of people who add to OSM. Not only do they add content but by his own description they do QC and add other new features and support.

Their contributions are no different (except in magnitude) than a single, tiny contribution I might make, yet presumably that would make me “part of the community” but not them?

Actually, one difference is that contributions by, for instance Amazon in my experience, have been lower-quality than the typical amateur on-the-ground mapping. However, their contributors have been gracious and apparently willing to learn when you point out you've surveyed the area and they've put a service road -- it's usually service roads! -- through a wall next to the house numbers you added, for example.

But, yes, it seems rather like saying that Intel or IBM contributors aren't in the GNU community, and that would have been absurd to argue about Cygnus. The worry might be organizational take-over by commercial interests (Linux Foundation?), but that's different.

> The only one I can recommend as being easy to use is StreetComplete for Android

This is nice to hear as major contributor to that software (if you use that app and something is unclear then it is likely a bug that should be reported to https://github.com/streetcomplete/StreetComplete/issues )

> They employ nobody in the OSM community.

If they are contributing data, they are part of the OSM community.

I use OSM data for free too, and don't employ anyone from OSM.

Why wouldn't I fix the data around where I live, if I can, and if it helps me, and everyone else trying to navigate here? I fix stuff here, someone else fixes stuff somewhere else, there are also gamified apps (atleast one), where you can get "badges" to input basic data to OSM, and everyone profits.

If all open source software had new license terms tomorrow that said "no commercial use unless you pay me a license fee", they'd just stop using open source. Using it is a business calculation. If you don't get support and you have to pay for it, you might as well pay for proprietary software that you can get support from.

And maybe that's fine! Maybe we shouldn't let companies use the software at all. But that would have ecosystem-shaking results as the costs are passed down to consumers and fewer engineers are employed. At this point, the whole world is dependent on OSS.

Open Source does not exist for people to get paid. If it did, it'd be the worst software gig in the world, by pay anyway :) To ask for money just because somebody else is getting money and you're not is simply envy and greed. Either ask for the money up front before you release the thing, or don't worry about what other people are getting paid.

No, but they can change the licence to indicate it cannot be used for displaying "data agregations" (like the one FB does), that way forcing those wanting to use the OSM data plus that of their quality asurance to either not using OSM data or to make their QA data public (hoping they will chose the latter) which would in deed benefit us all

The (strict) philosophy of open source isn't to take money from its adopters, or to prevent them to monetise, it is to spread the openness to serve humanity by having the intelligence reused and built upon rather than energy wasted on replicating and competing.

Competition is a waste, contrary to the misinformation we have been subjected to, it only serves a minority at the expense of everyone else. Collaboration offers far greater efficiencies, the essence and success of open source lies in the openness and contagion of openness to share the yield of commutative expenses.

I think the valid discontent you express is with regards to the open source flag being used to promote goodwill while in reality building a business model on it with closeness to protect monetisation. that I agree has been a plague and a very disingenuous approach to doing business, at the end hurting opensource, at least tarnishing the goodness reputation open source has built for decades.

My understanding of the philosophy of open source is different. I believe it was always more fundamentally about freedom and specifically encouraging a marketplace of ideas.

Going back to the early days with Stallman and the GPL it was about making software more transparent and empowering users. You can see how something is implemented, modify how it works for your own needs, etc, just like if you were to buy a physical machine like a car.

Competition is not a waste, it is the means by which free actors improve society. In theory there if there's one provider of everything, there is less waste, and that may be true for certain periods of time but not in general. Power structures ossify, become bloated, corrupt, and inefficient. If you have a monopoly, even if it's the most benevolent, open one in the world, the incentives to improve are diminished. The most powerful incentive to improvement is the threat of those you depend on for money, power, or status, freely choosing against you, which requires competition. You need people that are able to look at the status quo and decide that they can do it better, creating the next generation of whatever it may be.

The OSS community has lots of competition and is better for it. Linux competes with the BSDs and private OSs. There's tons of distros building off each other trying new ideas. Forking is expected. It doesn't always lead to the next great project but it moves the needle.

> Competition is a waste

I partially agree with this claim, but - FOSS software does not prevent competition, it just takes the intellectual property and copyrights aspect from it. You compete in conditions of access to your competitor's data as well as yours. And there is intense competition in FOSS! It doesn't devolve into everybody working on the same thing. But the point is it is always possible to derive from one of the "branches" of competition and do your own thing.

(Case in point: Desktop environments which based themselves on GNOME 2 because they didn't like where GNOME 3 was headed design-wise.)

I guess we should be more specific: in OSS, there is licensing competition in that there are multiple licenses. Competition between different OSS platforms is platform competition, and competition between applications on a platform is ecosystem competition.

When you think about it, there are many levels of competition, and very little code re-use. Only a few shared libraries or APIs/ABIs are actually reused by more than a handful of apps.

> and very little code re-use.

Well, first, a "handful of apps" is already quite a bit of reuse; and second - it's quite a lot of libraries that get reused (or used outside of the original application). It's true that you have many libdo-stuff-for-foo-app that's not very reusable, but if you search the web, or github/sourceforge/etc., there's a hell of a lot that's available for use and reuse. Finally, some (re)use is from toy projects or ones not intended for mass usage.

So it's really not bad at all :-)

> I’m not gonna lie, I kind of like that idea. In the OSM world you just have to have faith that your edits are helping people. There is basically no feedback loop.

Do people really need this? I use OSM whenever I go on a walk anywhere in the world and I often think about the local mappers who maintain the data. I can say with almost complete certainty that someone, somewhere has appreciated my own OSM contributions at some point. That's enough for me.

Yes we should definitely kill off the only mapping solution accessible to bootstrapping startups because big players are semi-freeloading.

OpenStreetMap has an "on the ground rule" where a street, a street name, a city, a city name etc. are determined by who currently has control on the ground. So the Malvinas are the Falkland Islands, Derry is Londonderry etc.

The sole exception to this is the Crimea, which the OSM board ruled is exempt from this rule, as they favor the Ukrainian government over the Russian government.

"Eschew flamebait. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


Also, looking at your comment history: "Please don't use Hacker News for political or ideological battle. It tramples curiosity."

Your summary seems inaccurate per https://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Working_Group_Minutes/DW...

I.e. they ruled that any mass changes based on administrative declarations weren't OK, but changing street names was fine if the on the ground signage had been changed.

Well, the secretary of the OpenStreetMap foundation also said they are making an exemption to their rules in the case of Crimea ( https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/osmf-talk/2019-Feb... ).

So either what I and the person in charge of it are saying is inaccurate, or what you are saying is inaccurate.

You started that they were making an exception to "[on the ground rules] where a street, a street name, a city, a city name etc. are determined by who currently has control on the ground".

This falls under criteria #3 on the linked page[1] and as far as I can tell is being done with the same "on the ground" rule that OSM has always used.

The exception you're linking to is relevant to what country relation and similar data structures Crimea is in. The usual application of the rule would be to have it Russia only, but it's in both Russia and Ukraine.

Almost nobody who uses OSM ever has to deal with country relations, so implying that this is some major policy change is blowing things out of proportion.

It also seems like the least bad way to mark up the data to me. To the extent that geopolitical borders mean anything it's in fact the case that Crimea is still to some extent Ukranian, even though Russia has "on the ground" control. I.e. various other countries have sanctions etc. in place that recognize that that's the case, as opposed to the rest of Russia.

If WWII happened today wouldn't the most useful thing for OSM to do to still have say the Channel islands in the UK to some extent in 1943, and under Axis control? I.e. to have overlapping claims of sovereignty, and simply add disputed/occupied relations on top of those?

1. https://wiki.osmfoundation.org/wiki/Working_Group_Minutes/DW...

I am not the one saying OpenStreetMap is making a special exception only for Crimea, the secretary of OpenStreetMap said it. I agree with the secretary that an exception is being made.

You are right that this exception is not all-encompassing of everything pertaining to Crimea.

I was replying to your claim that "a street name, a city, a city name etc. are determined by who currently has control on the ground [...] the sole exception to this is the Crimea".

The linked page specifically addresses this, and shows that you're wrong about that.

If the Russians update a street sign in Crimea it's OSM general policy that the data should be updated to reflect that.

You then moved the goal post to there being some specific exception to general policies relating to Crimea.

That's true, but nobody in this thread claimed that wasn't the case. I'm saying that you're misrepresenting those exceptions.

Google Maps is built on uncompensated user submissions, much of it involuntary (data from navigation, live and historical location, etc).

We aren't their customers, we're the employees. That's why data ownership is such a verboten topic, it breaks their entire model.

My friends and I use a lot of Garmin fitness trackers and bike computers for endurance sports training. Those devices use maps derived from OSM. So when I contribute data to OSM for free I (eventually) see a direct benefit with better navigation on my devices.

The main difference is that, with OSM, a third party can make direct commercial profit from my edits, but so can anyone else including me.

Your edit to google maps is a competitive advantage. Your edit to OSM is a public utility.

Google's competitive advantage?

Yes, exactly. If someone improves Google Maps then such contribution is under control and owned by Google.

If someone improves OSM then such contribution can be used by anyone - from hobby map maker, through artists, maker of open source navigation to evil corporations.

> It may be mainly made by individuals in there spare time, but the big tech companies are making millions of it.

Dude please proof read. I walk into an article making a statement and the very second sentence has errors like this, you're losing credibility.

> They are reasonably good at fixing and contributing data to OSM in those regions. They employ nobody in the OSM community.

Except whoever contributes data to OSM in those regions? The same for every example in the list. Amazon is literally mapping towns for all of us and giving it away for free. What's the criteria for "in the OSM community" if not "contributes to OSM"? What's the point of FOSS if not this?

> Dude please proof read. I walk into an article making a statement and the very second sentence has errors like this, you're losing credibility.

Your first sentence has punctuation errors, and your second sentence it littered with grammatical errors...

Deliberate, nuance. To get my point across articulated with my sentiment and attitude about what I'm saying. A similar approach to the cultural context included in colloquial dialects. A far cry away from "there" instead of "their" and "of" instead of "off."

Stranger on the street asks for directions:

I’m sorry, I can’t provide directions. I make $80/hour. Spending a minute giving you directions costs me more than $1 per minute, so please give me a $1.33 and then I’ll tell you where to go.

I’m curious to know if the companies that use OSM actually contribute back? Like fixing all the wrong/malicious data.

Microsoft Bing made its aerial imagery available for OSM editing, this is often very very very useful for mapping.

See https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/maps/product/imagery-service...

> The rights that you have under this agreement are limited solely to aerial imagery use in a non-commercial online editor application of OpenStreetMap maps (an "Application")

see also extra info in https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Bing_Maps#Terms.2C_Clari...

Yes: https://2020.stateofthemap.org/sessions/SPRQVZ/

> nearly 17% of the global road network was last edited by a corporate data-team member.

...and their share of edits is growing. Maybe one day OSM mappers will wake up and realize they provide free labor to corporate giants that sucks economic value from community. Hopefully it will be not too late.

Corporations, whether giant or not, create products which people chose to purchase because they are useful. That's creating value, not sucking value.

Sometimes a corporation can "suck value" by using anticompetitive behavior to prevent competitors from offering better/cheaper products to consumers. But in this case, Google is the big corporation, and contributions to OSM benefit smaller competitors at the expense of Google, creating more options and more value for consumers overall.

Can you expand on how contributions suck economic value from the community? What community, and what value is being lost?

The economic value left on the table by volunteers is consumed not by the ones who need it most, but by people who need it the least. This breaks the 2nd principle of justice as formulated by Rawls. Shall I say more...

As a user of OSM (and having contributed in the past but that's not relevant to my point) it looks like, to me, that if their share of edits is growing that they are providing free labor to me and people like me, no?

Yes, it is mentioned many times in the article itself; several paragraphs in fact.

Here is a few:

> Apple uses OSM data in parts of the world where their commercial partners don’t provide data. They are reasonably good at fixing and contributing data to OSM in those regions. They employ nobody in the OSM community.

> Microsoft Bing uses OSM in several regions, and is slowly moving from it’s traditional providers to OSM globally. They provide machine-learning (ML) datasets that they have computed from areal imagery. They employ nobody in the OSM community.

Klokantech uses OSM data as a base data for their Maptiler platform.

They maintains and contributed to some open source tool and they are hosting (for free) some open source maps.

Does anyone know what happened to the Amazon team ? I was following their edits here: https://resultmaps.neis-one.org/osm-changesets?comment=amap

They were one of the main contributors to OSM and now they nearly stop contributing to OSM (they are still contributing but maybe 10 times less than before)

Outsiders profit from a public commons project, so we shouldn't contribute to the commons? Am I misunderstanding the argument here?

Wikipedia helps innumerable companies do basic research. Should I stop contributing to Wikipedia? When I clean trash from a local river, Sam's Row Boat rental benefits. Should I stop cleaning the river?

> Outsiders profit from a public commons project, so we shouldn't contribute to the commons?

That actually really resonates with me, thanks for writing it. It sounds like something I'd say in a conversation, flipping/re phrasing the argument to make someone see it differently.

I often try to equate OSM to the commons (physical land, and digital software/media/culture). I'm glad I found OSM, it's the sweet spot for me, technical enough to interest me, but not to complicated that I can't contribute. I've tried (sometimes successfully) to contribute to Free Software, but unfortunately I'm not a developer. Obviously I can't add more physical common land to the world, but I do advocate for it, and our PRoW.

Thank you.

> When I clean trash from a local river, Sam's Row Boat Rental benefits. Should I stop cleaning the river?

But should Sam's Row Boat Rental contribute to cleaning the river too? What about Sam's Fish and Chips, whos packaging is littering the river? Do they have a responsibility to clear the river post-littering? Do they have a responsibility to put bins around to stop the river being getting littered in? :P

I agree Sam and Chips should probably contribute (although it depends on details).

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