Risks for and resilience of the #OpenStreetMap project
There is currently a public brainstorming session going on in the OpenStreetMap Wiki in the format of a SWOT analysis, initiated by Allan Mustard, newly elected member of the board of the OpenStreetMap foundation. This has resulted in an interesting and still growing collection of view, ideas, wishes and to some extent also complaints about the project from a lot of different perspectives and i encourage anyone to read this and possibly contribute your own ideas.
What i will try to use this approach for here is looking at the OpenStreetMap project in terms of the risks it faces and its resilience regarding possible harm the project might face in the future. The OSMF has in the past largely neglected to have a systematic look at this and it is really time this changes. I am not sure this is actually what the OSMF board intends to do with these ideas or if they want to in a way use it for some classical business optimization ideas – that remains to be seen.
Outsiders often have a bit of difficulty with that because they often in analogy to other projects perceive OpenStreetMap to be an organization in itself. But it is not. OpenStreetMap is loosely connected social project of people working together for the common goal of cooperatively mapping the world from local knowledge in the form of an open database. The OpenStreetMap Foundation is an organization created for the purpose of supporting this social project with infrastructure and other support. But the OSMF has no mandate to either lead or control the OpenStreetMap project.
Compared to the OpenStreetMap project itself the OSMF is the more promising target for attempts of corporations of exercising influence because the OpenStreetMap project due to its decentralized nature provides a fairly small and elusive surface of attack for such endeavors. For corporations it is hard to deal in any way with a project without a centralized structure – which is both a disadvantage for constructive and positive interaction but at the same time a huge advantage regarding malevolent activities.
...especially in terms of attracting new volunteers for the project. Key when doing that however needs to be actively communicating the values and basic principles of the project – something that has in the past unfortunately often been neglected in the desire to be welcoming to a diverse number of people.