Measuring the OpenStreetMap Economy

When I see announcements flying around like MapQuests $1M commitment to OSM, or CloudMades $12M VC round it begs the question of how big is the OSM economy?

Purely as an academic exercise it’s interesting to think of OSM as an ecosystem around which people find work and provide goods and services. But also perhaps it would be a nice exponential graph to show as a slide along with user growth.

We have some limit cases. In 2004 when founded, the economy was approximately zero. Or was it? Do we measure volunteer hours? How about the power and bandwidth the servers are burning? Or is that negligible compared to the other large numbers thrown around?

Today I would estimate we have about 5 people freelancing on OSM work worldwide. Perhaps 50 that do OSM work as part of their job, say writing a plugin or using the data. Full-time employees working explicitly on OSM? Perhaps 50 again. These are all guesses with some rough education behind them. These numbers would probably follow the kind of growth curves that various projects around linux did, rather than wikipedia I’m guessing. Because wikipedia was much more about the destruction of value around britannica and others, and the secondary service and otherwise market around wikipedia is pretty small (I think?). Unless you count MediaWiki itself.

Once you have the criteria of what goes in to the measuring pot of the “OSM economy” you further have large error bars on the data for each thing. For example, are those freelancers going to tell you what kind of money they’re making?

Still, an interesting thought exercise.

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