Anti Business

I recently found myself confronted with the sentiment that, as far as OSM or the OSMF are concerend, I had an “anti business” attitude. That’s a funny allegation about someone who was among the first people on this planet to run a business based on making OSM data available commercially, or training commercial entities how to work with OSM.

I’m not anti business. I confess that my output on mailing lists and other forms of OSM project communication may be large, but anyone with a pair of eyes will find that, for example in the license discussion, I have often argued for the business side. For as long as I can think, I vehemently fought the idea that “nobody should make money from our work”, an idea that was and still is occasionally voiced by community members, notwithstanding the fact even the old CC-BY-SA license allowed commercial use.

The one thing that I do regularly say, and where this “anti business” idea might come from, is this: OSM is not a business (and neither is the the OSMF). We are a movement, or a mass membership organisation. In my eyes, the main difference between us and Google Map Maker is not that they have a proprietary license and ours is open. The main difference lies one level deeper: They are ultimately driven by the stock market and we’re not.

Making this distinction is not anti-business; it is just about saying things as they are. Organisations driven by the stock market have other kinds of goals, are optimizing for different time frames, have other forms of management, a different type of competition, a different constituency, a completely different set of rules and values. There’s also more at stake – if Google goes bankrupt, lots of people lose their jobs, but if OSM breaks down then a different group of people will just carry on where we left off.

I’m all in favour for working with businesses who can help us make OpenStreetMap better known or more widely used, or give us access to data or help us write code. Any such cooperation will only profit from getting the basic facts right: You are a business, we are not; your goal is to make money, our goal is to make a map – and now let’s see how we can do something together that helps us both! It doesn’t help anyone if OSM tries to act like a business. Dealing with OSM will always be totally different from dealing with a commercial map data provider. Our best way to be business friendly is to explain to businesses how we work – to make them understand, and ultimately embrace, the ways in which OSM is special.

There's 5 Comments So Far

  • Roland
    November 5th, 2012 at 09:48

    Frederik, thanks a lot. This text should get a more prominent place. Can we boil it down to a slogan like “Don’t map for the renderer!”?

    I think of something like “OSM helps businesses and other organisations, but is not a business itself.”

  • Max
    November 6th, 2012 at 09:37

    In my experience of a few years with OSM, anti-business feelings (not particularly from you or any specific person) tend to much rather take the form of “if there’s any aspect of OSM on which commercial entities keep going splat like a fly on a windshield, we absolutely _must_ not care about it or fix it in any way (even if it might otherwise make sense), for we must prove the work we do is for it’s own sake only and _nobody_ else’s”. I’m not going to provide quotes, but I’ve seen this voiced often enough…

  • Simone S
    November 6th, 2012 at 14:57

    I have to agree with Max. Though not widely spread (at least in Italy) there are some advocates of a sort of “don’t care for the consumer” mentality. While this may be rightful to a point, given the separation between data and consumers, it is sometimes very counterproductive to the cause of OSM as a project.

  • Erik Johansson
    November 7th, 2012 at 12:09

    I’ve always got the feeling that you oppose that OSM should offer services that could in someway be offered by other commercial entities. But that really is anti business if you choose to concentrate on the really small users of the maps, who can’t afford consultants.

    (This is in no way an accusation, because it’s so abstract)

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