Author Archives: SimonPoole

Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

simon-poole

Simon Poole
OpenStreetMap Foundation Chairman

It’s customary at the end of the year and at the start of a new to reflect on what has been achieved and highlight noteworthy events in the past year. For OpenStreetMap 2013 would seem to me to be the year in which using our data is no longer extraordinary, but normal.

Over the course of the year we have seen devices from Bosch, Garmin and others being announced or delivered ex factory with OSM based maps, and we’ve seen a number of media houses switch to using OSM for their online publications. None of these seemed to be perceived as earth shattering, just matter of fact. The downside is that we have to actively remind ourselves that we, a small free and open project, are achieving astounding inroads in to an area of activity otherwise open only to governments and multi-billion dollar corporations.

For old hands 2013 is more likely to be noteworthy for two quite visible changes. One was the introduction of the new default editor iD. I would like to take the opportunity and specially thank the authors of previous default Potlatch 1 and 2  that are so closely coupled to the success of OpenStreetMap and which have served us, and continue to do so, well over many years.

The other change  naturally was the deployment of the web site redesign replacing the sidebar and tab layout with the current design. If archive.org is to be believed the previous layout had been with us since December 2005  and it was not a surprise that there was some turmoil and emotions accompanying the change.

At the end of the year our special thanks should also go to the volunteers that keep our infrastructure running and further to all contributors big and small that make OpenStreetMap what it is.

From the perspective of the OpenStreetMap Foundation among our goals for 2014 are  formalizing the relationship with our national and thematic organisations and to stabilizing our funding model going forward.

The project as a whole continues to show healthy growth both in coverage, participants, quality and usage. If I was personally asked what we need to consciously add more of, instead of just doing what we always do, I would point to address collection. While we added up to an incredible 1 million addresses per month in 2013 we really need to increase this a bit and while, naturally, some of this will come from imports, just walking around a block and jotting down the house numbers every time we are somewhere new could greatly increase the rate at which we approach the goal of including a free address dataset in the OSM data.

On this note, I wish everybody a happy new year and have a fun 2014 mapping.

The “PD checkbox”

If you signtickbox-distorteded up for an OSM account after May 2010 you may have noticed a check box with the label

“in addition to the above agreement, I consider my contributions to be in the Public Domain”.

Many years ago when the discussion started on the new licence for OSM data, one of the larger issues was if we should not adopt a very liberal (as in free) stance and use something close to a public domain distribution instead of the share-alike provisions we had in the existing CC by-SA licence. In the end, as you know, last year we switched to a licence with strong share-alike provisions, the ODbL, We did however add the “PD checkbox” in an attempt to span the gap between the two camps.

Unluckily what ticking the box would actually imply was, and continues to be, rather unclear; interpretations range from participating in an informal survey to actually giving permission to use the data on PD (or similar) terms. On top of that, at least for some time, there was a design issue with the specific page that potentially led to new contributors selecting the option inadvertently. Not to mention that the explanatory text changed multiple times in different locations.

To make a long story short: it is a mess.

In June MapBox asked the board for a list of the users that had checked the “PD checkbox” on sign up or later, see board minutes 2013-06-20. After some discussion and feedback from the LWG WG minutes 2013-06-25 the board decided to publish overall numbers on the one hand to give an answer to a not unreasonable information request and further to try and lay this issue at least partly to rest:

Data per 19th September 2013

“PD check box selected” all active accounts: 37%

“PD check box selected” active accounts with at least one edit: 44%

As outlined above, the numbers can at best be taken as an indication of sentiment.

If it wasn’t clear from the discussion of the quirky history of the checkbox and the legal uncertainty that surrounds it: this does not imply that an extract could be made from OSM data that contains a substantial amount of “PD” data. Outside of the already mentioned issues, edits from accounts with this flag set are intermingled with edits of those that don’t have it set, and as the statement from the licence working group says: there is no guarantee that a user actually only contributed and continues to only contribute data from sources that are compatible with a PD distribution.

To conclude: while a significant minority of our contributors would prefer a less restrictive licence, and this will not be ignored in future discussions, we are currently obliged to operate within the spirit and letter of our current licence.

2013 Articles of Association Update

At the upcoming Foundation annual general meeting we will be voting on a new set of articles. The articles are essentially the constitution of the organisation and should lay down the law for how we operate.

Why are we revising the articles this year?

It is not uncommon that over time rules imposed by an organisation’s articles start to be at odds with reality, in the case of the OSMF there have even been issues from the beginning. Given that OSM and with it the foundation have become far more visible and important, we can no longer afford to simply ignore the differences that exist between what is prescribed and what is our day to day practice.

The process that has lead to these new proposed articles has been 2-3 years in the making, and not all of the change requests that accumulated over this period have found their way in to this new text. For this reason we expect more changes at the 2014 general meeting. Further, some of the goals we had for the current changes have not been 100% met due to legal restraints. None the less I would strongly recommend that the general meeting accept the new articles, they are far better than what we currently have.

While I cannot relieve you from the task of actually reading the new legal language, I do want to point out the major changes to the current set of documents.

The new text makes a structural change in that it merges our previous two constitutional documents, the Memorandum of Association and the Articles of Association. We have not made any substantial changes to the objects of the foundation even though in discussion it has been suggested that we make them more specific to the OpenStreetMap project. On top of the merger the whole document has been reformatted and numbered to be in line with the requirements of the new 2006 companies act.

The main issue with the current articles is that they assume that all our members are members according to the UK companies act, this requires us to collect full names and postal addresses from all members and make them available to third parties on request. While there are ways to get around publishing the address, we still consider it problematic from a data privacy point of view that we cannot offer an alternative. The new proposal adds a “associate member” class that sidesteps the above issue.

Our original goal was to afford “associate members” exactly the same rights as normal members. This turned out to not be possible with respect to resolutions and special resolutions at the general meetings which remain reserved for the companies act members. In practical terms this means that the “associate members” will not be able to vote on changes of the articles and dissolution of the organisation, and a handful of other topics. The “associate members” will however be able to elect the board and vote on motions at the AGM. You remain free to choose between regular and associate membership. After adoption of the new articles we will be contacting all existing members for instructions with respect to their membership class.

The proposed text allows us to use electronic means for our correspondence with the members and does away with the need to be physically present at the general meeting location. It still assumes that we are using a conventional proxy assignment for our e-mail voting, we are exploring alternatives to this for the next revision.

During the public discussion early this year I touched on the issue of including an asset lock in the articles, there wasn’t very much feedback on the topic and for that reason we are postponing adding such text to the next revision.

The board was evenly split on the matter of voting corporate membership. As this tends to be a hotly debated topic in our membership too, we have decided that we split the vote on the articles in to a vote on the new text and a vote on a set of amendments that add voting rights for corporate “associate members”.

As the last important point, the current articles did not detail how a member could lose membership either by not paying the membership fees or by being expelled by the board. The new articles try to lay down a reasonable set of rules for this,  in line with our current practice.

Again, while not perfect and with some remaining warts, the new articles are a big step forward. The board and myself strongly recommend accepting them at our upcoming meeting in Birmingham.

Simon Poole