I’m a huge fan of OpenStreetMap but the organization is a mess. Last year I fished around thinking I should get deeply involved with OSM, it’d be a good use of my time. But I gave up on the idea because I didn’t like what I learned about the culture. I think OSM could grow to be as important and influential as Wikipedia. But not with the current trajectory.

The problem boils down to a question of scale and influence. OSM has accomplished a huge amount with very little. No full time staff, lots of borrowed server resources, annual budget of less than $200,000. Think what it could do with more! The impression I’ve got talking to the folks who make OSM work day to day is they’re perfectly happy with the current scale. The de facto leadership, the most active mappers, sysadmins, developers, don’t want a change. And there’s no single visionary leader to bring things forward.

There are related problems with OSM. There’s a strong anti-commercial bent which not only results in an awkward license but also an inability to engage with potential partners like Apple or MapBox. The community itself has some toxic elements; I gave up asking questions on the IRC channel after the seventh time someone implied my questions were dumb. And right now there’s a bunch of drama around elections for new leadership that indicates structural problems, years-old grievances getting aired ineffectively on mailing lists.

I don’t have a solution to get OSM to grow into the massive influence it could have. I worry there can’t be one, that culturally the active OSM members want to remain small and unsullied by commercial interests. I could say and do a lot more to try to help, but I don’t think it would get me anywhere.

  2014-10-26 19:40 Z