Some clarifications – what is wrong with Open Street Map?

Some lively debate flared up on the tail of my previous post on OpenStreetMap governance, where I made my criticism of the “Just Fucking Do It” philosophy that was labelled “do-ocracy”. Harry noted in his diary that there has been some bickering on Twitter on the question of what might be wrong with the otherwise-excellent OpenStreetMap.

My principal objection to the “do-ocratic” model is that it excludes “those who can’t” from setting the direction of the project, and that as a consequence OpenStreetMap is unlikely to meet the needs of a great many people.

Did I mean that developers are lazily or selfishly ignoring others’ needs? No, I am aware of and indebted to the efforts of many volunteers working to make OpenStreetMap more accessible and usable. Only a handful of community members refuse to engage in grown-up debate.

Do I mean to whine because I am excluded? Not at all. I consider myself to be very technically skilled and sufficiently time rich tohave contributed a lot over five years. I’ve dropped off mailing lists because I’m not that time rich and I’ve not got the skills to develop many tools I’d like, but that’s life.

So do I want developers to be subject to the force of a governing body, to dance to a top-down tune? No, I am a great fan of communities that harness the energy and enthusiasm of people who choose of their own accord to hack on things that interest them.

Do I think OpenStreetMap will fall apart if it doesn’t address my concerns? No, Tom Hughes rightly pointed out that a legitimate path for the project would be to remain a haven for the technically skilled and time rich, leaving others to step in and enable a wider community of enthusiasts or create business opportunities just as MapQuest have recently announced.

Am I suggesting that none of this is being discussed elsewhere? Not at all, I’m aware that some Foundation members are trying to tackle these sorts of issues.

My objection to the do-ocracy boils down to thinking that it’s a shame. I think OpenStreetMap could be much more, and that it stands in danger of being forked or ignored (as it already is) by a great many who would find it useful and add a great deal to the community. So long as key decisions and discussions are dominated by the technically skilled and time rich who can “just fucking do it”, the project will continue to reflect their preferences.

Giving the OpenStreetMap Foundation a wider and deeper remit, putting a corporate fundraiser at the top of the priority list and making an effort to include a variety of Board members from backgrounds other than core OSM hacking will all help. I’m glad that Mikel Maron, Thea Clay, Harry Wood and countless others are actively working to make this happen.