Thanks for sharing this, Deb. It's a fascinating and compelling critique of
how the early decisions made by an organization (and a young free culture
movement) can have huge downstream effects.

A couple thoughts and issues this raised in my mind:

I'm delighted by how Serge frames his argument for changes to OSM around
user needs (both contributors and consumers).

I love the case that Serge lays out for what I guess I would call a more
cohesive "product strategy" for OSM.

I think we (WMF, Movement) would do well to consider many of the issues
raised here as we move forward with WikiData development and WikiBase

Serge's description of how OSM works as a stand-alone platform for
contributing and consuming map data, and why it works that way, explains a
lot. I've made a few OSM contributions, and tried to use their API for
research purposes, and was always baffled by how hard it was to learn the
ropes, and do seemingly basic things. I'm probably spoiled by how good
Wikimedia's tools areā€”both the WMF supported ones like RESTbase, and the
broader ecology of community created bots, gadgets, web apps, etc.

It's interesting to hear a call for *more* centralized control over the
platform by OSMF. I don't get the sense that this happens much in OSS
projects! WMF (aka the "Wikipedia Foundation" :/) is often criticized
within the Wikimedia Movement for being *too* centralized. I'm ambivalent
about this argument (obviously), but I can certainly see how the fact that
WMF has employees in traditional tech industry roles (development, design,
research, product management, etc.) has allowed us to adapt our platforms
to changing needs and circumstances. Whether we always do that well is an
entirely different matter--but we have the capacity to do so, unlike OSMF.

And I found compelling his argument that the decision by OSMF to outsource
these responsibilities to other individuals and organizations can create
conflicts of interest which inhibit change--even positive change. This
makes sense to me, based on what I know about organizations and communities
generally. Whether he's right about every point (he asserts a lot of
bad-faith motivations to people's actions, which I'm always wary of) is
another story.

Some researchers at Northwestern and the University of Minnesota did a
study of OSM last year that's relevant to this discussion, I think. They
gave a Research Showcase
about it last July (video <>,
paper <>). They
focused on how the design of the platform created tensions between
different contributor groups with different needs. IIRC, the researchers
come to many of the same conclusions as Serge!

Thanks again,

On Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 9:48 AM, Deborah Tankersley <> wrote:

> Apologies for cross-posting...
> Cheers,
> Deb
> --
> deb tankersley
> Program Manager, Engineering
> Wikimedia Foundation
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Chris Koerner <>
> Date: Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 10:14 AM
> Subject: [Maps-l] "Why OpenStreetMap is in Serious Trouble"
> To:
> In a blog post by Serge Wroclawski, a long time OpenStreetMap contributor
> and the founder of the OpenStreetMap US organization, outlines reasons why
> he believes OSM is in trouble.
> A choice quote.
> "The first problem that I feel plagues OSM is that the OpenStreetMap
> Foundation views the mission of the project to provide the world a
> geographic database, but not geographic services."
> See also this thread on the OSM-talk mailing list:
> Yours,
> Chris Koerner
> Community Liaison
> Wikimedia Foundation
> _______________________________________________
> Maps-l mailing list
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Jonathan T. Morgan
Senior Design Researcher
Wikimedia Foundation
User:Jmorgan (WMF) <>
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