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February 14, 2020
by chris
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Journey of an Iceberg

Two and half a year ago i showed pictures on a large iceberg calving in the Antarctic producing a more than hundred kilometer long iceberg east of the Antarctic peninsula. The iceberg has since then slowly moved away from its original location northward with the general direction of the Weddell sea ice drift and is now about to leave the area of more or less permanent drift ice and enters the open ocean. A few days ago during clear weather the following views were recorded by satellites showing this rather impressive situation.

First the larger area view based on data from Sentinel-3A shows the massive size of the iceberg dwarfing the smaller islands around the Antarctic peninsula.

Iceberg A-68 in February 2020

The second image image is a more detailed one recorded by Sentinel-2B providing a good look at the details of the iceberg itself.

Iceberg A-68 closeup

Although it is not visible on the bulk of the iceberg surface – which is covered by a thick layer of snow – as it drifts further north the iceberg is now during summer massively melting both from the bottom and the top. You can see this on a smaller sea ice area attached to the iceberg at the southeastern end shown in the following crop.

Iceberg A-68 detail

Despite this rapid melting that will increase as the iceberg floats further to the north it can take many years until the iceberg is fully dissolved. As the ice thins it will probably at some point break up into smaller pieces which can drift pretty far north – i have shown a pretty large iceberg piece north of South Georgia in 2017 at a latitude of 54 degrees south. The iceberg featured here will likely head in a similar direction.

January 18, 2020
by chris
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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.

The form chosen, the SWOT analysis, is done for a multitude of purposes in business management and i don’t think very much of most of these, especially when applied outside the business domain. Still as a collection of ideas initially it is perfectly fine. Care needs to be taken when analyzing and interpreting these ideas of course because it is all too easy to read into things your personal preferences and wishes.

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.

Of course i am in this process also affected by my personal view on things, i will however also try to explain why i see things the way i do and many of the relationships i am going to point out in the following are things i have already analyzed and explained in the past more elaborately.

Subjectivity of negative and positive

What SWOT does is looking at a project or business and its chances and risks in four categories spanning two dimensions, namely inside (strengths and weaknesses) and outside (opportunities and threats) factors and factors of positive (strengths and opportunities) and negative (weaknesses and threats) influence. The simple mistake that is often made is mixing the internal and external factors. The more difficult problem is distinguishing between positive and negative factors, between strengths and weaknesses or between opportunities and threats. This largely depends on your point of view and goals. Let me give two examples from the OpenStreetMap context.

  • If 15 years ago when OpenStreetMap was just starting some manager would have done a SWOT on the project they would have most likely identified the lack of people with formal qualification and training in cartography and geodata processing as one of the big weaknesses of OpenStreetMap. Yet later as the project grew it turned out to be one of the strengths of the project because it prevented OpenStreetMap to adopt many of the outdated and non-sustainable principles the professional cartography world at that time was firmly tied to and it allowed OpenStreetMap to rapidly recruit a large volunteer mapper workforce with in depth local knowledge.
  • As i have pointed out repeatedly i consider the principle of verifiability in OpenStreetMap to be one of the most important rules and values of the project that enables and ensures a functioning egalitarian cooperation within the project across cultural barriers without cultural dominance. At the same time i consider the fact that the OSM database contains and maintains a significant amount of non-verifiable data a weakness. Many corporate and other organized data consumers however who have in their maps a need for non-verifiable data like sovereignty claims for example would like to see OpenStreetMap include more non-verifiable data in its scope and consider the lack of such data a weakness.

Long story short – what you categorize on the positive and the negative side in a SWOT analysis is largely subjective and depends both on the depth of understanding of the project and its context by the person making the analysis as well as the goals for which the analysis is being made.

For the purpose of this blog post i will consider the goal of the OpenStreetMap project to be the collection of verifiable local geographic knowledge through egalitarian, self-determined cooperation of individuals into a global uniform open database.

Internal and external factors

While identifying what internal and external factors are is not ultimately that difficult, this categorization in case of OpenStreetMap fails to consider the complexity of the situation, in particular if you look at things from the perspective of the OpenStreetMap Foundation.

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.

Because of this structure looking at OpenStreetMap through SWOT will usually require to engross OpenStreetMap and the OSMF into one imagined virtual organization whose strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are to be analyzed. This however will give an incomplete and distorted image because this entity of OpenStreetMap and the OSMF does not actually exist. Therefore i here want to look at system of the social project of OpenStreetMap and the OSMF in a more comprehensive fashion.

For that i will first look at the strengths and weaknesses of OpenStreetMap and the OSMF. Here is what i identified as the strengths and weaknesses of these. Based on the goal formulated above and obviously through my personal perspective. This is not meant to be a replacement for the more extensive collection of ideas on the wiki i linked to but is meant to explicitly work out the differences between OpenStreetMap as a social project and the OSMF.

Strengths of OpenStreetMap

  • The project has proven to successfully connect people across culture and language barriers in pursuit of its goals and can be expected to be able to continue doing so even in a changing technological and economic environment. OpenStreetMap is unique in that regard, no other project currently tries to connect people across cultures in a completely egalitarian fashion for a common goal in similar way.
  • The project organization is both on a social and on a technological level highly federated and does not depend much on central management and infrastructure.
  • The project is built on a flexible and generic data model that can be adjusted to represent different types of geographic elements in different forms.
  • The data basis of the project is both spatially broad meanwhile and deep in detail in many high interest areas making it competitive or better with alternative data sources in most aspects.
  • The openness to editing by everyone allows OSM to quickly adjust to a changing geography and record a highly diverse collection of information.
  • There is an extensive body of software development and map design work around the project.
  • Tools for contributors are largely available in a fairly broad spectrum of languages allowing a lot of people relatively low language barriers for contribution.
  • There is an active local mapping community in many parts of the world.
  • The OSM community has developed and established a mostly functional culture of communication internationally between mappers and resolving conflicts based on the primacy of the local community and on-the-ground verifiability.
  • A license that so far has mostly prevented non-open forks and that requires (or at least encourages) attribution.

Weaknesses OpenStreetMap

  • The size of the active community identifying strongly with the goals of the project and engaging in community discourse is relatively small while there are a lot of people involved who use OSM as a platform for their own interests without identifying much with the project’s goals and values.
  • A lot of data is added without there being a sustained and organically grown local community with a responsibility for maintaining the data in their area.
  • Development in and around the project on the data use side (esp. maps) is often somewhat self absorbed and does not look a lot at developments in other parts of the geodata/cartography world and is therefore often not intellectual/technological avant-garde any more. There is a significant lack of connection/exchange with cartographic and geodata research and development outside the OSM context.
  • Tagging concepts and conventions in OSM have a high inertia that further increases with the project growing and often transport a significant element of cultural and geographic bias which hampers accurate mapping in parts of the world that differ significantly from the region of origin of the project (UK and Central Europe).
  • The OSM community currently lacks a broad spectrum of community map design projects that properly represent the geographic diversity covered by the project.
  • We are lacking the ability to effectively regulate organized non-individual activities within the project.
  • We have and maintain a significant amount of data in the OSM database that does not comply with the principle of verifiability, that cannot be maintained under the project’s paradigm and that is therefore a frequent source of dispute.
  • Our ability to recruit and motivate local contributors varies a lot in different parts of the world as well as between different social groups.
  • The culture of communication between different local communities in OSM across language barriers is in serious need of improvement.
  • Technically the OSM data model has some significant weaknesses that cause scaling problems with the growing volume of data.
  • The project has difficulties with introducing more significant technical changes and innovations due to the lack of competent volunteers and the at the same time increasing complexity of the technical ecosystem.

Strengths of the OSMF

  • The OSMF has recruited a significant number of competent volunteers who are able to provide important support to OpenStreetMap in various fields.
  • The OSMF is in a comfortable and stable financial situation and does not currently have to worry about paying its expenses.
  • The technical core infrastructure the OSMF provides for the project has been running fairly smoothly for quite some time despite the continuously increasing demands.
  • Basic administrative functions of the organization are running smoothly.

Weaknesses of the OSMF

  • The OSMF membership is fairly far from proportional representation of the active OSM community and this is not improving significantly.
  • There is a massive English language dominance in the OSMF and no culture of any non-English communication within the organization.
  • The OSMF currently financially depends on corporate contributions in the long term (although assets would provide a comfortable buffer to change that without urgency in making a quick transit at the moment).
  • The large amount of money the OSMF sits on provides a strong incentive for the OSMF to detach itself from the OSM community and make itself independent of the volunteer work from the community.
  • The OSMF board has in the past often shown a poor ability to make constructive decisions or to implement them.
  • Most of the WGs have a very low turnover in volunteers and the OSMF in general has a low ability to attract new volunteers.
  • The OSMF has both in boards and working groups a fairly firmly established work culture and tradition which is founded not in current OSM community culture but in the OSMF’s own history.
  • Because the OSMF is open to everyone to join and contribute in the working groups it is open to outside influences without the ability to select whose membership and contributions are actually beneficial for the project and its goals.
  • The OSMF has a rather incomplete set of internal policies and rules, especially w.r.t. volunteer recruitment, Conflict of Interest handling, transparency and process documentation. Those rules which exist (like FOSS policy and board rules of order) are often not consistently followed.

These lists are obviously not only somewhat subjective, they are also incomplete. Still i think they provide a good summary of some of the most important points. Keep in mind these were put together based on the goal stated upfront. Someone who would like to see the goal of OpenStreetMap to be to collect useful geodata as it is the view of many larger OSM data users would see things quite differently, would for example see the federated and decentral nature of the project as a major weakness.

Opportunities and threats

The strengths and weaknesses are significant in terms of determine the resilience of the project against threats and i will come back to this later on. But to get an idea of the risks the project might face that could threaten it the more interesting part are the opportunities and threats. And here i need to draw a picture to properly illustrate the relationship between the OpenStreetMap project, the OSMF and their context.

Opportunities and Threats for OpenStreetMap and the OSMF

The opportunities are in green, the threats are in red. To not have too much text in the diagram i kept it fairly short and i will try to explain some things in more detail here.

The biggest arrow in the diagram are the opportunities provided to OpenStreetMap by the people of the world – the potential for new individual volunteers from all over the world, their local knowledge and their competence and skills as well as their interest in the data. That is the core resource and the social basis of OpenStreetMap.

The biggest threat to the project – and i might have over-emphasized that a bit to prove a point here – i have identified to come from the OSMF. Many people will assume that this is because the OSMF manages the central OSM database and without that OpenStreetMap would cease to exist. That is only point three on my list of threats though. The main OSM database can be fairly easily duplicated elsewhere should the OSMF for some reason be compromised. The two things the OSMF at the moment however has exclusive control over that are essential for OpenStreetMap are the data for the OSM user accounts of the mappers and the legal rights to the OSM data granted to the OSMF through the contributor terms. That means should the OpenStreetMap project right now for some reason need to continue without the OSMF it would need to start from scratch in terms of user accounts and it would not be able to change the license in the future because the right for the data and the right to possibly change the license based on a vote among active contributors lie with the OSMF. The risk of this actually happening might be considered low but the potential damage of that would be extreme. Therefore my high assessment of this threat.

The largest threat for the OSMF and in return the most likely reason for the scenario of a loss of the OSMF for the OpenStreetMap project as discussed above is the influence from organizations and corporations on the OSMF. This is the risk for the OSMF that has been quite frequently discussed more recently with multiple attempts of corporations on various levels to achieve some level of control and regulatory capture of the OSMF.

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.

Conclusions

So what conclusions should we draw from this in terms of risks for the OpenStreetMap project and how the OSMF can help to mitigate these risks and increase the resilience of OpenStreetMap? From my perspective the following points are important:

  • Protecting the OpenStreetMap project from the risks that could arise should the OSMF for some reason – like regulatory capture from the side of corporate interests – not be able to fulfill its function to support the project and its values any more. This would mainly involve relinquishing exclusive control over certain key functions the OSMF currently has. There are multiple possible strategies to do that.
  • Protecting itself from malevolent or egoistic influences of corporations and organizations with an economic interest in influencing the project in a certain direction against the interests of OpenStreetMap.
  • Working hard on the OSMF’s weaknesses, in particular on extending its own membership for a more balanced and broader representation of the active individual mappers in the community who are invested in and in support of the core values of the project.
  • Implementing robust and effective regulation of organized activities in OpenStreetMap where they negatively affect the normal non-organized mapping, the social cohesion of the project and the organic growth of the local communities.

This is of course based on looking at things from the risk side primarily. The opportunities identified offer of course also potential to increase the resilience of the project. Increasing and extending the positive support of OpenStreetMap from the OSMF however always bears the risk of creating dependencies which result in new risks and projecting the cultural imbalance within the OSMF onto the project. So the most desirable strategy would be to implement measures that enable the OSM community to make better use of its own opportunities that exist independent of the OSMF, 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. OpenStreetMap needs to be open and welcoming to people with just about any personal and cultural background but it does not help to pretend subscribing to the basic core values and goals of the project is not a requirement because attracting people who reject these basic values only results in conflicts and also poses a significant risk for OpenStreetMap.

January 8, 2020
by chris
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Satellite image aquisitions – yearly report 2019

Like last year i want to here provide a look at the image acquisition numbers and spatial distribution of recordings of the two main optical higher resolution satellite systems producing open data these days: Landsat and Sentinel-2.

Here is the updated plot of the total daily recorded image volume in square kilometers.

This indicates essentially the same recording pattern as last year and establishes a certain routine for the Sentinel-2 satellites over the course of two years for the first time. There is a slight increase in the recording volume of Sentinel-2B due to the extension of smaller islands coverage in the recording plans and the relaxation of the sun elevation limits in northern Europe. The latter you can also well see in the detailed recording patterns per orbital period:

Autumn coverage by Sentinel-2B

What has unfortunately also been kept the same as last year is that both Landsat and Sentinel-2 are recording significantly below capacity during the southern hemisphere summer by recording the Antarctic only partially or at reduced frequency. In fact for Landsat this has been even further reduced during the 2018-2019 Antarctic summer compared to the year before. In addition, the USGS did not record any off-nadir images of northern Greenland during last summer – for the first time since 2015.

Landsat 8 2019

Landsat 8 2018

ESA for Sentinel-2 did mostly stick to the same procedure as last year – except for the smaller changes mentioned already. Which means continuing to operate Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B in a distinctly different way and catering to special interests in an ostentatious fashion. There were some non-regular recordings for several small island and reef areas in the Pacific (Kiribati, French Polynesia) by Sentinel-2A this year for the first time though. And what has significantly been reduced is the number of planned recordings missing from the image collection.

Sentinel-2 2019

Overall my recommendation to both USGS and ESA:

  • make use of the capacity you have in the northern hemisphere winter to collect more than just sporadic data of the Antarctic.

For the USGS in addition:

  • finally get rid of the last gap in your land area coverage (Iony Island).
  • record off-nadir images of northern Greenland and the central Antarctic on a regular basis (and preferably make use of the flexibility you have here with the chosen path for cloud cover minimization).

And for ESA:

  • stop the non-professional and short sighted catering of special interests and record images based on clear, uniform and transparent criteria.
  • connected to that: rethink your strategy of recording extensive ocean areas around some islands while not recording other larger islands (South Orkney Islands) at all.
  • record with Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-2B the same way or explain clearly why you don’t.

And here all of the maps showing image coverage together:

year day night day pixel coverage
2014 LS8, LS7 LS8 LS8
2015 LS8, LS7 LS8 LS8
2016 LS8, LS7 LS8 LS8, S2A
2017 LS8, LS7 LS8 LS8, S2A, S2B, S2 (both)
2018 LS8, LS7 LS8 LS8, S2A, S2B, S2 (both)
2019 LS8, LS7 LS8 LS8, S2A, S2B, S2 (both)

December 17, 2019
by chris
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OSMF board elections and resolution votes – an afterwards analysis

The OSMF AGM is over and the results of the board elections and resolution votes are in. With the broad spectrum of candidates that was available for election this year the election results give us interesting insight into the political orientation of the OSMF membership.

In advance i want to apologize to the blog readers not so much interested in elaborate discussions of OSMF details. There will be other posts on different topics again in the future. But i have the impression the current developments in the OSMF could be quite significant for the future of the OpenStreetMap project so i give them a bit more attention this year.

The resolutions

The results of the votes on resolutions – which i discussed in detail before the elections – are relatively simple. All of them have passed, except for the resolution on strict term limits. That means the OSMF will from now on have Russian style term limits for board members, meaning that board members can be resurrected indefinitely to continue being on the board as long as they pause from time to time to reset their term limits. This is unfortunate and opens the door for all kinds of informal deals and agreements for influential interest groups to maintain a presence on the board.

The reason for this – and i have mentioned this before the election – is that British corporate law puts up fairly massive hurdles to changes to the Articles of Association of the OSMF. So while strict term limits had a huge majority of >2/3 among the normal members who were allowed to vote on these that was not sufficient to pass the 75 percent hurdle required by law. But having term limits at all is a big step forward of course.

I would not necessarily consider a high hurdle for AoA changes a bad thing – there are similar hurdles in German Vereinsrecht for Satzungsänderungen. The problem in case of the OSMF is that the AoA as the basic constitution of the organization exclusively contains procedural rules but does not codify the need for the OSMF to serve the interests and values of the OpenStreetMap project. This means that it is much easier to re-purpose the OSMF to serve special interests of certain people or organizations than it is to reform the procedural rules to prevent them from doing that. This imbalance is a huge problem and the AoA changes that have been approved this year and the modifications these implement in the procedures are likely insufficient to counter the attempts of commercial actors to influence the OSMF to serve their business interests. Luckily at least some of the newly elected board members are well aware of this problem so there is hope we might see some initiatives in the coming year attempting to better address this issue.

The board elections

This brings me to the board elections. Overall the results – with one exception – match my recommendation before the election so i should kind of consider this a good development. But it is not that simple and i will explain this in more detail later.

This year’s elections where a very good demonstrator for how STV works. Based on the first choices of voters alone we would have a very different board – consisting of Guillaume, Mikel, Michal and Steve. That is hypothetical of course since voters most likely would have voted differently in many cases in such a scenario. With the STV voting system the surplus votes for Guillaume (in other words: Those votes he did not need to win his seat) were distributed to the second choices of those voters who voted for Guillaume. This brought Allan into the game because he was a very popular second choice among voters of Guillaume, about half of them had Allan as their second choice. In subsequent rounds the candidates without chances were eliminated one by one and the votes for them distributed according to the second choices as well. This first got Allan and Mikel elected after a few rounds and finally Rory – who won their seat by a margin of less than one vote to Michal in the 12th round.

Now the first thing i want to do is to look at the popularity of the candidates beyond the specific mechanisms of STV. STV gives any voter just one vote and your second, third and further choices only come to count if your first choice is eliminated or is elected with surplus votes. But the ballots also give you an idea of the overall popularity of candidates. Someone putting Guillaume as second choice makes a statement of preference for him even if – because they have chosen Rory as first choice for example – the second choice does not come to bearing in the election.

I did this by weighting all the ballot choices with a weighting factor based on their position on the ballot. The first choice has a weight of 1.0, the second choice 0.5, the third choice 0.25 and so on. This weighting function is somewhat arbitrary, you can make the same analysis with a different weighting but the point i am trying to make here does not very much depend on that. The overall absolute popularities you get with that are as follows:

absolute popularities based on position weighted votes

Like in the actual vote Guillaume, Allan and Mikel were the first three winners of the election the fourth place goes to Jinal in this scenario. In a way you could say that Jinal was more popular among voters than Rory when viewed in isolation (and also more popular than Michal who lost to Rory by a very small margin) much of the support by voters she got came from voters who voted for Mikel and Michal as first or second choice and since these got more first choice votes than her this ultimately did not help her to win the election. So in a way you could say an STV vote like this what counts is how many voters prefer you over the direct opponents in the election.

What makes this year’s election fairly interesting is the broad spectrum of candidates regarding their political views and agendas. This allows us to get a pretty good picture of the structure of the OSMF membership at the time of the election. For that i produced an illustration showing the relationships of the first and second choices of the members relative to each other. Since in STV voting you only have a single vote the first choice on your ballot is the most important, the second choice less so and further choices even less. That means reducing the data by just looking at the first and second choices is a reasonable start into the analysis. Based on these i produced a chord chart showing for all voters who voted for candidate A as first choice how many voted for candidate B and the other way round – in size proportional to and sorted by the number of votes.

voters first and second choices in relation – click for a large interactive version

The subjective choice i made is re-arranging the order of the candidates around the circle to preferably put candidates that have been popular pairs in first and second choice among voters close to each other. Doing this on a one dimensional circle is a very rough approximation so different orders would be possible but als you will see in broad strokes this is already defined by how people voted.

To make you familiar with reading this illustration have a look at the largest connection in the diagram, the one between Guillaume and Allan. As already mentioned above about half of the voters of Guillaume had Allan as their second choice and this results in this broad ribbon on Guillaume’s side. Among Allan’s voters six had Guillaume selected as second choice – which is also the largest group among Allan’s voters so the ribbon starts at the left side of Allan’s section of the circle since the order of the ribbons is by size clockwise. And a broad ribbon indicates a large number of voters has chosen a certain pair of candidates as their first and second choices. There is a lot of interesting things that can be observed in this illustration if you take the time to look around it.

Political factions in the OSMF membership

One of the things this diagram can be used for is identifying the political factions in the OSMF membership based on how they have voted. When i analyzed the candidates’ answers and manifestos before the elections that was of course influenced by my personal perspective on things. Now we have the results and can try to look at this through the eyes of the actual voters.

Guillaume was not only by far the most popular first choice candidate among voters, he was also the most popular second choice among voters of many of the other candidates. Most of these candidates have been outspoken proponents of the philosophy of craft mapping and the values of egalitarian cooperation and local verifiability of data in OpenStreetMap. I outlined this faction of craft mapping supporters in a very conservative fashion including only those voters who voted as first and second choice for two of the following candidates:

  • Guillaume Rischard
  • Allan Mustard
  • Rory McCann
  • Gregory Marler
  • Dietmar Seifert
  • Nuno Caldeira

This is not meant to indicate that members who have voted for other candidates are not behind the ideas and values of craft mapping – as said, this is a very conservative estimate. Because it is on the other hand with the choices we had in these elections unlikely that anyone who voted for two of these candidates as first and second choice is not a supporter of these values. I marked this segment of voters identified as part of the craft mapping supporters faction in red color on a second circle around the main diagram. All together this amounts to about 220 voters or about 41 percent of the valid votes in this election.

There is another large faction of voters you can identify in the diagram due to broad connections, that is the group of

  • Mikel Maron
  • Michal Migurski
  • Jinal Foflia

Most of the voters of each of these three have voted for one of the other two as second choice. This is a pretty remarkable and unique feature in the voting data because if you read the agendas and answers of these three to the questions there are not that strong commonalities between what they write, especially not between Jinal and the other two. The thing they have clearly in common though is that all three of them work for big corporate OSM data users. Therefore it is quite logical to conclude that for those who vote for two of these on first and second choice, this aspect plays an important role. This corporate and professional interest faction is probably less than the craft mapper support faction bound by common values but more by shared interests. It is likely that this faction includes for example employees of corporate OSM data users, paid mappers or people otherwise with a professional career or economic interests in organized activities around OSM and interested in an OSMF in support of these goals.

What is interesting is that Steve, who is also a corporate employee, is quite clearly not considered an equally desirable candidate within this faction. Steve’s style of campaign was different from the other three and his employer (TomTom) is not part of the inner circle of large corporate OSM data users and OSMF corporate members the other three are working for.

I marked the voters identified to be members of this faction in blue color on the outer circle. In total – again with a very conservative definition – this amounts to 85 voters. Compared to the 220 voters identified as members of the other large faction that is a ratio of approximately 1:3 – which leads to the near-tie between Rory and Michal on the last seat available.

One obvious question is of course how many of these have the third candidate of the trio as third choice. The answer is 37. Among the voters of these three Clifford has also been a popular third choice with a total of 22 votes.

Looking at the votes of these 85 voters in more detail you can see an interesting pattern of a number of votes being very similar with small permutations:

8 11 5 10 7 2 3 4 1 9 12 6
8 11 5 7 10 3 2 4 1 9 12 6
8 11 7 5 10 2 3 4 1 9 12 6
11 8 5 7 10 3 2 4 1 12 9 6
11 8 5 7 10 3 2 4 1 9 12 6
11 8 5 7 10 3 2 4 1 9 12 6
11 8 5 7 10 3 2 4 1 9 6 12
11 8 5 10 7 3 4 2 1 12 9 6
11 8 5 10 7 3 4 2 9 6 12 1
11 8 7 5 10 2 3 4 1 12 9 6
11 8 7 5 10 2 3 4 9 1 12 6
11 8 7 5 10 3 2 4 1 12 9 6

These are all minor permutations of the same base sequence

11 8 5 7 10 3 2 4 1 9 12 6

which translates into the following names:

  1. Michal
  2. Jinal
  3. Mikel
  4. Clifford
  5. Gregory
  6. Steve
  7. Allan
  8. Eugene
  9. Guillaume
  10. Nuno
  11. Dietmar
  12. Rory

Now while it is not impossible it is pretty unlikely that 12 OSMF members have decided to vote for this sequence with small permutations without any coordination. I made a fairly prominent public recommendation for a certain vote before the election and looking for this in the voting data gets this:

1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10
1 2 6 7 12 4 9 10 8
1 2 6 7 12 9 10 4
1 2 6 7 12 9 4 10 8
1 2 6 7 12 10 9
1 2 6 12 7 9 10 4
1 6 2 7 9 10 12 4
1 6 2 7 9 12 4 10
1 6 2 12 7 4 9 10

As you can see there are twelve votes exactly matching my recommendation and 8 further small variations. And that with 8 entries on the ballots to match instead of 12. It is therefore very likely that the 12 votes above (and possibly further votes with somewhat larger permutations of course – that is difficult to tell) have been coordinated in some way, possibly with the deliberate introduction of permutations to disguise that. Given the main beneficiaries of these are employees of Facebook and Grab it is likely that this is based on a voting recommendation, possibly as part of a candidate analysis like the one i posted in public, on internal communication channels.

Note this kind of voting coordination is not illegal nor has the OSMF so far made clear statements condemning such actions. Still it is interesting to see this actually happening in the wild and not just in theory.

Now apart from the two main factions i have identified you could also try to delineate other smaller factions within the membership. But the number of voters and the amount of data is not really large enough for other reliable conclusions about such so i will skip that.

Overall popularity of candidates

Now i can imagine that some readers might criticize the identification of distinct factions in the OSMF membership as divisive. But as i tried to point out these are not a figment of my imagination, these are clearly visible in the voting data.

What i however want to look at a bit more is how polarizing and how popular different candidates are across the political spectrum. For this i looked beyond just the first and second choice votes but looked at the average position of candidates on the ballots separated by the first choice candidate.

Here is the illustration for that. It shows, separately for each candidates, the popularities of this candidate among the first choice voters of the different other candidates. This popularity is measured by the average position of the candidate on the ballot. So a higher value means lower popularity because the name is father from the top of the ballot. If a name is not on the ballot it is assumed to be on the 12th position for this purpose.

relative popularity of candidates among voters of other candidates – click for a large interactive version

Note these are the average positions so we are talking about relative numbers. The total number of votes a candidate gets does not have an influence on that. This allows us to look at the popularities and polarization between candidates independent of the strength of their position within the OSMF membership in terms of the number of votes.

We can see here again that Allan was very popular among the voters of Guillaume – like we have already seen before. Similar popularities are achieved by Jinal among the voters of Michal (which includes the above mentioned likely coordinate votes) and of Michal among the voters of Mikel. On the other hand:

  • Mikel and Michal are very unpopular among the voters of Guillaume, Rory, Nuno and Dietmar
  • Steve and Jinal are very unpopular among the voters of Guillaume
  • Dietmar is very unpopular among the voters of Michal and Jinal
  • Guillaume, Rory, Nuno and Dietmar are very unpopular among the voters of Mikel and Michal

We can average the popularities of the different candidates among all voter groups and get the following ranking:

average relative popularities of candidates

This shows that Allan is the candidate with the most support across the whole political spectrum independent of the strength of the political factions. Gregory is also pretty good in that regard. On the lower end of the spectrum we have Dietmar and Nuno who were the candidates with the least elaborate answers and manifestos and and who were therefore probably not positioned that well for support even from voters who would politically align to their positions.

What we can also determine from that data is the standard deviation of the rankings among the different voter groups which is a measure how polarizing a candidate’s view is and how strongly the opinions among the membership differ depending on their first choice on the ballot. Large bars here mean more polarizing. As you can see Gregory has the lead here, he was the candidate who created the least extreme reactions of like and dislike among the different segments of the voting membership. On the other end of the spectrum we have Mikel and Michal who are strongly supported by parts of the membership while being strongly disliked by others.

how polarizing candidates are measured through standard deviation of the relative popularities

Conclusions

As you can see there are a lot of interesting details that can be found in the results of this year’s election. In the introduction i mentioned that while the results align to 3/4 to my recommendation before the election i none the less have mixed feelings about the development.

First of all the only candidate this year who came close to achieving majority support within the first four positions on the ballot – in other words: Which a majority of the voters had in their top four on the ballot – is Guillaume. Only Guillaume and Allan achieved this within the first five positions. This can be illustrated by the last diagram i want to show – which depicts the accumulated support for the different candidates over the position on the ballot. The horizontal gray line indicates the 50 percent majority among the participants in the election.

accumulated approval for candidates based on ballot position – click for a large interactive version

The left end of the graphs here is the number of first choice votes while the right end indicates how many voters had the candidate on their ballot at all. In between are the numbers for a cutoff on the ballot at different positions. On the other end of the spectrum Mikel only achieved majority support from the voters if you include the tenth position on the ballot. This is quite natural for an election with four seats available. But it turns the election into something more like a parliamentary election and less like the election of a government.

In the future with the changed election system with fixed term lengths for the board members we are going to have either three or four board seats up for election every year. Next year this is going to be the seats of Paul, Tobias and Joost, in 2021 the seats of the four board members elected this year are going to be up for election again. This means we will have a similar situation as this year with the chances for a candidate being elected even without majority support being pretty high – as long as a candidate has solid minority support they can be elected even if strongly disliked by a majority of voters. This is good for minority representation in a parliament like body (although there you would usually want more than seven seats for being able to represent small minorities within a diverse community) but for a functioning executive body like a board this is problematic. With the current strengths of the two factions i identified in the OSMF membership there will likely be one or two board members aligned to the goals of the corporate interest faction and two or three members from the craft mapper support faction. If there are in the future candidates who can achieve broad support from those members who are not firmly aligned to one of the two large factions they could elect at least one board member per election who does neither appeal to the corporate nor the craft mapper faction of course. On the other hand consensus candidates in the current constellation will have a hard time because for the two large factions they will usually be less appealing that a candidate strongly in support of the faction’s interests and values.

But of course that is all based on the assumption that the current composition of the OSMF membership stays the same and that the political views and interests of the members stay the same. Neither of these is likely, especially since in the future active mappers will be able to join the OSMF as members without paying a membership fee and this way the membership numbers could significantly increase.

This year we had with Eugene a candidate who cannot be clearly connected to either of the large factions and who ran on a platform of regional identity politics to a large extent. He did not have significant success this year because there were apparently not many voters who put these interests above either professional interests as members of the corporate faction or craft mapping values – which were more convincingly represented by other candidates. With a widening and more diverse membership this kind of candidacy could become more common in the future – but such candidates will likely have a tough time anyway since both of the large factions are largely agnostic to identity politics of any kind and it will be hard for any candidate not to position themselves regarding those factions and their interests and values. What is more likely is that we will see candidates who are running as part of these factions to try appealing to specific identities to gather additional support. This already happened this year with Jinal who managed to gather more approval outside the core of the corporate interest faction than Michal and Mikel. It did not help her much though since she was ultimately not able to provide enough people with clear and convincing ideas to put her on top of their ballots.

On the other hand the values of the craft mapping supporters, in particular with the focus on egalitarian cooperation, tend to speak inherently strongly to community members world wide. The key here is to bridge the language barriers and break the dominance of the English language in the OSMF which tends to systematically favor the corporate interests because the world of corporate OSM data users is inherently and massively English language dominated.

The most important thing for the immediate future is to get the free OSMF membership for active mappers on the way – this has been decided on in this year’s votes with an impressive 93 percent majority but it needs to be practically implemented. Once this is done a lot depends on if this will actually appeal proportionally to all active mappers or if certain groups of people (like native English speakers or paid mappers for example) will sign up in larger numbers than others. This is something that we will be able to follow probably and should follow and analyze quite closely.

The other more long term goal would be to reform the government structure of the OSMF. The double role of the OSMF board as both legislative and executive body creates serious problems – not only because of the voting system but also for other reasons. Separating these two functions would be very good but rather difficult. The board simply delegating one of these won’t work – it has already been tried with the management team in one direction and it is unlikely to work any better the other way round. If the board just voluntarily delegates things to others but is at any time able to take these rights back that is not going to work. It seems however that unfortunately the British corporate law does not provide a way to change this more fundamentally. So addressing this issue would be a larger endeavor requiring to change the fundamental legal basis of the OSMF as an organization.

There would be different possibilities to implement policy decisions in a fundamentally reformed OSMF – either through direct democracy, through some parliament like body or through a federal system of representatives of local communities.

Apart from these more abstract considerations my hope is that the new board – which like in 2015 consists of three completely new members, one re-elected old timer and three members from the previous board – will be able to work productively on the important questions and topics the OSMF is confronted with and that unfortunately have been stuck for the last few years in many cases. I in particular hope that we will finally remove the last vestiges of the culture of secrecy and in-transparency that has prevailed till today despite the significant improvements in that regard initiated in 2015 in the OSMF – something i have criticized extensively during the past years. The chances are good given the current majorities on the board if members are bold enough to move forward and initiate changes.

I have explained and illustrated above that in terms of election dynamics the OSMF board is now with three or four seats being up for election every year much more like a parliamentary body than it was before with usually two seats available every year. The board members need to embrace this change by acting more like a parliament. That means open discussion about disagreements of the members on decisions and arguments about what is the right approach on things. In the past the board has often tried to present itself as speaking with one voice and has shied away from admitting internal dissent publicly – most likely out of fear that this makes them look weak as an executive body. But this of course never really worked because knowledgeable people in the OSM community were always aware of where the lines of dissent in the board are and the pretense these do not exist made the board look ridiculous rather than strong and unified.

Embracing the more parliamentary nature of the board with a more open and less conflict averse work culture could have a significant effect on the next elections because support by voters will largely also be based on if they see their elected representatives work for and make decisions in their interest and according to the values they have promised to represent before the elections. In the past this has unfortunately often been thoroughly disappointing. Always keep in mind that in this year’s election more than 40 percent of the members have not voted in the elections. There is a lot of potential in that for improvement.

It is no secret that i am politically on the side of the craft mapping support faction and the values of egalitarian cooperation and local verifiability of data in OpenStreetMap. This is not because this faction somehow caters for my personal interests and privileges as some people occasionally imply but because – as i have explained in detail on several occasions – these values are essential for a functioning OpenStreetMap project able to achieve its goal of being the best map of the world. Hence i am happy that we have a board now with a clear majority of outspoken supporters of these values (with three out of four newly elected board members – Guillaume, Allan and Rory as well as Tobias who remains on the board and Paul also has been an active supporter of these values in the past).

But i also want to express a bit of a warning that if the board in this composition cannot productively work and make and enforce beneficial guiding decisions for the OSM community during the next year and demonstrate that these values can help bring the project forward and make the OSMF more open and more inclusive for other languages than English and mappers from all over the world this majority on the board might be very short lived. How corporations and their representatives are going to react, if they continue to try exercising influence through the working groups and try finding more inroads into the OSMF membership in some ways or if they can learn to accept that OSM will not adopt data usefulness for short term corporate profits as its highest goal and that in the long term it is in everyone’s best interest that the OSMF is in control of people without immediate business interests in the project remains to be seen. Also here the best incentive for a constructive attitude is transparency in all deliberations and arguments.

Finally i also want to strongly voice an encouragement to all OSMF members and everyone in the OSM community to give their support to the new board by volunteering to help them – either in one of the working groups or outside by contributing to a broad and open discussion on OSMF matters during the next months, offering feedback in board meetings, on document drafts etc.

December 5, 2019
by chris
8 Comments

2019 OSMF board candidates – analysis and recommendations

This year’s OSMF board elections are going to decide on four of seven seats of the OSMF board. The last time this happened was in 2015 when Henk Hoff, Oliver Kühn and Dermot McNally – all of which had been on the board for many years, resigned or their terms ended and they did not re-run. Back then the introduction of three completely new members changed the dynamics of the board significantly and led to a number of important reforms, in particular a significantly better level of transparency of the board’s work, specifically through the introduction of regular public board meetings, the creation of a FOSS policy for the OSMF (which unfortunately continues to be partly ignored – especially by some working groups), the creation of the current corporate membership system (the long term benefit of which is disputed but which was without doubt a high impact change) and the creation and filling of the paid position of an administrative assistant, which significantly changed the dynamics and work style within the OSMF – again with remaining question marks on the long term effects.

In many aspects the situation of the OSMF today is similar to as it was in 2015 with the board being dominated largely by people who have been on the board for a long time (none of those three newly elected to the board in 2015 are today on the board any more while there are four members on the board right now who have been a board member more than these four years, some of them significantly longer). Current board work is – at least from my perspective – dominated by structural conservativism, a culture of intransparency and a glacial pace at making decisions even on obviously significant and urgent matters. There also seems to be an increasing detachment of the OSMF board from the practical day-to-day work in the OSM community.

So this years election have the potential

  • to initiate a new age of dynamic work in the interest and in support of the project, its core values (https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/How_We_Map) and the hobby mapper community – following up on the trend initiated in 2015 which unfortunately did not prevail over the coming years.
  • to moor the OSMF more tightly into the conservative deadlock of different competing interests.
  • to open the OSMF fully to the organized and corporate interests which have been trying to find inroads into OSMF policy decisions for the last years on various levels.

All three of these possibilities are within reach based on the twelve candidates we have in this year’s elections. Having four seats open for election will also make this year’s election more like a parliamental election where some of the seats could be filled with people who do not even remotely have the support of the majority of OSMF members.

I already published two comments related to this year’s elections, one of them with instructions to candidates on how to write their election statements and how to answer the questions and another one analyzing the current composition of the OSMF membership and to what extent it represents the OSMF community. Here i will now get to the main thing – the election statements of the candidates and their answers to the questions and what conclusions i derive from this regarding their qualification.

The questions

Tell us a little about your OSM activities

This question asks the candidates to tell us about their background within the OpenStreetMap project. Apart from the factual information the answers to this question contain this also gives us a glimpse into the mindset and the self image of the candidates.

The question contained several specific individual questions and only Rory, Allan, Guillaume, Dietmar and Clifford answered these individually and these are also the candidates who have overall provided the most on-topic answers to this. The others wrote a more or less generic self presentation of themselves, in some cases very extensively (Jinal) covering aspects of marginal significance for OSMF work.

Quotes:

Clifford: I even attended a Corporate OSM Geo-Karaoke event. Fortunately for everyone there I didn’t attempt to sing.

Tell us a little about why you want to be a board member

This question asks quite specifically about the agenda and the priorities of the candidates for their time on the board. Most of the candidates do present some ideas here – but they vary quite significantly in how specific and concrete they are. Vague promises of increasing diversity, improving communication and transparency and other things dominate the answers of quite a few of them and i would suggest all voters to not get lured by this. Also everyone should be careful about ideas and promises of candidates in fields where they show a poor track record in in their past.

Voters should also be very careful about candidates who talk less about their own aims of what they plan to actually do themselves when on the board but about wanting to get others to do certain things. Some seem to think that a position on the board would allow them to do so – through either money or other means.

Guillaume presents the most convincing ideas here because he actually can demonstrate having worked towards several of these in the past. Allan‘s answer to this question is a good example how – even if you have no or very little specific goals – you can still provide a convincing answer to this question in a much better way than presenting some vague ideas about governance, leadership, communication etc. or promising the moon without being in any way believable in doing so.

Quotes:

Guillaume: The 2018 GlobalLogic incident wasn’t an isolated case. As I write in my manifesto, they tried again this year.
Steve: Reinstate a private portion of board meetings so that board members can speak freely.

Being a board member

These questions are interesting not so much because of what they ask but because of the political narrative they imply and how the candidates deal with that (e.g. if they accept the narrative of the board being a place where decisions are made in the form of negotiating compromises between different competing interests). I already criticized the third of these three questions and the others come with similar problems.

Those candidates who try to document their qualifications for those tasks deemed significant by the questions often point primarily to experiences outside the project w.r.t. those tasks. This is highly problematic because OpenStreetMap due to its egalitarian international and cross cultural scope is very different from other projects where candidates might have gained experience in their own cultural context and transferring these experiences without critical reflection could lead to attempts at colonializing OSM with the culture and values the candidate is more familiar with.

The most reflective and critical answers to this set of questions come from Rory and Guillaume but also Allan provides a pretty convincing answer including both in-project and out-of-project experiences.

Quotes:

Allan: This is the heart of diplomacy, and my 37+ years in three U.S. foreign affairs agencies provided me with a wealth of exactly this experience.
Mikel: I particularly feel lucky to have known and learned from great leaders at Mapbox.

Board diversity

Diversity is and has been – since OpenStreetMap made serious attempts at covering the whole earth – a big topic for the project. The interesting thing about this, however, is that different cultures have different perspectives on diversity and especially the Anglo-American narrative, which is often dominating in the OSMF, frequently takes a very selective and sometimes somewhat superficial view on the topic. The questions in this section focus on one diversity aspect only – gender diversity – and specifically do not extend on other diversity topics. It requests from the candidates an analysis for the underlying reasons of the fairly obvious lack of gender diversity within the OSMF board.

Unfortunately there are some very problematic patterns in several of the answers of the candidates regarding these questions:

  • Deflecting from the specific topic of gender diversity onto other diversity issues more suitable for the candidate’s agenda or even to general political interests of the candidate (like perceived discrimination of corporate mappers).
  • Treating OSM like any other tech project with an Anglo-American cultural dominance (which it is not).
  • Complaining about the state of affairs but mentioning nothing specifically they would want to do to address the problem but instead pointing to the assumed deficits of others who are perceived to be the culprits while they (the usually male candidates) do not consider themselves to be part of the problem.

The answer of Michal is particularly remarkable because it not only features all of the above mentioned points, it also essentially states that hobby mappers are bad for OSM because they prevent engineering a pseudo-diverse mapper community and that the fundamental idea of OSM of focusing on local knowledge is somehow discriminating in itself.

Nuno and Guillaume are the only candidates who identify the lack of representation of the mapper community among the OSMF members as a source for the lack of diversity. But also Rory, Allan and Dietmar provide important contributions to the topic.

Quotes:

Guillaume: The women I asked all gave the same reason for not wanting to run. It wasn’t sexism or a gender issue – and I am sure that it would have come up. “I’d rather have a board of men than alibi women”, one wrote. What they all mentioned was something the Board can’t do much about: a lack of time.
Allan: Recruit more female mappers and then urge some of them to run for the board.
Steve: Diversity needs to be diverse
Eugene: My view is that this reflects the gender diversity issue found in the wider technology communities such as numerous open-source projects and even open-knowledge communities like the Wikimedia movement.
Mikel: To address this means accepting the reality of the issue, identifying what barriers exist, and then support initiatives to make change.
Rory: We live in a society. The society has biases, which we have unconsciously picked up those biases and we repeat them.
Clifford: Highly effective organizations have learned to embrace empowerment, inclusiveness, and respect for for all. It is a goal that OSMF should adopt.
Jinal: Have event and general code of conducts that also addresses this community. This are first few steps towards an inclusive community.
Nuno: Board diversity should first come from the members
Gregory: We all need to make an effort to encourage individuals we know by telling them we think they would be great for certain roles.
Michal: Hobby mapping is a form of participation available mostly to men with spare time who feel safe mapping public spaces, in geographic locations accessible to bicycle or pedestrian mappers. It is not a model universally useful for expansion into new areas, and our significant failures in diversity are a result of failures in welcoming different models of participation.
Dietmar: I will try to invest my energy, that the board members will act respectful together and that politically motivated acitivities will not get a place on board.

Your time

This is a short question about the amount of time candidates will be available to invest. All candidates promise to continue their current participation in WGs (if there is any) if they become a member of the board so no surprises here. I only want to extract a quote from Guillaume‘s reply here which well characterizes the matter:

Being a board member is quite a commitment. I have been critical of current board members who can’t find enough time to participate. Read the answers carefully, and be wary of candidates with no obvious current commitment to the project – if they have no skin in the game, why are they running, how will they know what’s going on and who do they represent?

Quotes:

Gregory: In July I stepped down from the board of the OSM UK local chapter, mainly because there were newer people wanting to stand for the board and I was happy to encourage them.

Transparency: Conflicts of interest

This is in my eyes the most significant complex of questions but in the past CoI questions to the board candidates have often resulted in very disappointing answers and board members often seem to have an amazing lack of awareness and sensitivity to the problem.

Because of the significance of the matter i will in this case give a candidate-by-candidate assessment of their answers:

  • Guillaume: Most reflective of all candidates
  • Allan: Too short for a good assessment but demonstrates a very low probability for practical CoI situations
  • Steve: Demonstrates to be completely unqualified
  • Eugene: Lack of awareness of the problem
  • Mikel: No demonstrated awareness of the problem, continues to reject the existence of CoIs affecting him
  • Rory: Some reflection about possible CoI cases but ultimately rejection of the possibility
  • Clifford: Too short to make a proper assessment
  • Jinal: No demonstrated awareness of the basic problem
  • Nuno: All right answer, shows sensitivity to non-obvious conflicts of interest
  • Gregory: Limited awareness but very careful and considerate
  • Michal: Demonstrates to be completely unqualified
  • Dietmar: Limited awareness

Quotes:

Jinal: I’m the Senior Outreach and Community Manager at Grab, whose work is to build and support communities but does not limit to just OpenStreetMap. Considering a huge part of my role is closely working and supporting local communities and communicating different project across, there are lesser chances of conflict between the two as both, their goals are, to grow, support and collaborate with the local communities.
Michal: My candidacy for the OSMF board has been vetted by communications and legal representatives at Facebook.

We are looking for a new Treasurer

This can be handled very briefly – it asks if the candidates would volunteer for the treasurer position.

Steve, Guillaume and Clifford would do that, the others would not. Guillaume and Clifford would seem to have the necessary qualification and reliability (we are talking about being in charge of managing several hundred thousand Euros here) – Steve as treasurer would be more like putting a fox in charge of the hen house.

Are you willing to attend a Board face to face meeting?

This is again a great question – not because of the formal answer (it is two short yes/no questions) but because it invites a critical reflection on the style of cooperation and the view candidates have of the role of the board within the OSM community.

Unfortunately most of the candidates take the easy route here and answer yes, great idea, of course i will participate. What i would have liked to see from candidates is

  • a critical reflection on the elitist nature of the whole concept of face to face meetings of the board. The problem is OSM is a project of global cooperation so everyone within it – be that mappers, developers or anyone else – has to struggle with the need to communicate and cooperate with others remotely without the benefit of direct face-to-face communication. That is the fundamental nature of a project like OpenStreetMap. Now if the OSMF board not only reserves the privilege for themselves to not be bound by this but also uses community money to finance that privilege they consider themselves clearly to be an elite within the community deserving this kind of privilege and i would expect board candidates to at least have some thought about what warrants this status.
  • a critical reflection on the discriminating aspects of making the participation in a face-to-face meeting at least an informal requirement – for example w.r.t. people with disabilities of phobias or living in countries with practical travel constraints preventing them from participating in such endeavors.
  • a commitment to providing the community with some documentation of measurable benefits and results of these meetings. I have been requesting that for the past two years at least and the current board does not consider the need to justify the expenses of having face-to-face board meetings at the cost of several thousand Euros each time to the members.
  • some level of reflection on the sustainability of having this kind of meeting and the resulting climate gas emission footprint. In a nutshell: How do the candidates think OSM can have a long term future if the coordination of the project requires seven people to jet around the world to meet at least once a year for that?

Of the candidates only Rory, Dietmar and Eugene touch any of these topics, Rory and Eugene mention the discriminating aspects to some extent, Dietmar the sustainability issues. No one discusses the other matters i pointed out – which is disappointing.

Quotes:

Dietmar: I try to absolutely minimize flights, for private and for business purposes.

The Board and Working Groups

These questions are primarily about the candidates’ ideas about the inner structure of the OSMF.

Many of the candidates try to answer this without actually providing a clear assessment of their view of the current situation with some non-substantial bloomy phrases like talking about leadership, a better system to listen to working groups or similar. Michal even has the audacity to mainly rant about a perceived failure of the working groups in doing their jobs instead of answering the questions about what he would do concretely on the board.

The candidates can be largely categorized on this into supporters of moving to a more centralized OSMF with the board having tighter control over the working groups (Steve, Mikel, Michal) and supporters of independent working groups or as Allan nicely puts it: delegation of both responsibility and authority (Gregory, Rory, Allan, Guillaume). The others don’t have a clear position on that.

Guillaume has clearly the most background knowledge and points out some of the most significant issues. In general those candidates who are on one or more working groups have better knowledge of the subject but even among these the level of understanding of the current issues and difficulties is disappointing.

Quotes:

The most remarkable quote from the answers on this comes from Allan: That in fact is the single most important role of the Board, to focus on sustainability of the organization as a whole and in particular on the role of volunteers. My role as a board member would include recruiting not only new mappers but identifying prospective working group members and recruiting them to help out with those working groups, too.
Nuno: Delaying decisions about bad citizens of OSMF that are corporate members, just because they are corporate members is wrong.

The Board and the community: communication

This question, asking about what OSM related communication channels the different candidates follow, is unfortunately not very useful for assessing the candidates. Just because candidates list a lot of channels here that does not necessarily mean they actually follow the discussions there. Unfortunately, none of the candidates writes about any attempts to follow and get insights into communications outside their cultural comfort zones. What we would like to see in a board member is obviously the ability to keep track of matters in the community in a relatively non-biased way. I would also have liked to see some critical reflection on gated community communication channels. None of this can be found in the answers though.

Quotes:

Rory: How to do I keep track? Probably by spending a lot of time on the internet!

The Board and the community: What would you do?

This point covers a whole complex of questions and the candidates are asked to pick one of them and answer it – which makes comparison difficult. I am going to go through the individual questions and quickly point out what candidates have answered on these.

  • multilingual maps – the answers here are mostly disappointing either throwing buzzwords around without background knowledge, throwing money at the problem or indiscriminately intending to support anyone promising to provide that or not even considering the difference between a map layer on osm.org vs a map hosted by the OSMF. In any case, the right answer would of course be that this is none of the board’s business to meddle with – we have clear guidelines for map layers on osm.org.
  • ground-truth based rulings of the Data Working Group – most candidates who commented on this were in defense of the DWG’s decision and critical of the board’s interference. Mikel of course tries to spin his own story of this matter in defense of the decision which he helped to make and then retroactively tried to justify – including the idea that he invented the principle of on-the-ground verifiability. Guillaume explains the situation better than i can in his answer.
  • gender pronouns – almost everyone expresses their support for this without critical thoughts and this is once again fairly disappointing. At least a hint of reflection on the fact that in a multilingual and multicultural community like OSM thinking about use of English language pronouns is a bit besides the point when it comes to OSMF politics. Allan is the only candidate who shows to understand this.
  • attribution by corporations – answers to this question are a pretty good indicator how aware candidates are of the problem of corporate influence on the OSMF and how it can affect actions and policy making of the OSMF board. Of the candidates who address this question Mikel, Gregory and Eugene essentially reject substantially addressing the topic by pushing this to the (corporate dominated) LWG for designing a policy. Michal of course presents the Facebook company line – which is so annoyingly disrespectful that it is hard to even read it. Of the others, only Nuno and Dietmar have a clear stance – with Nuno suggesting bold actions against corporate members doing insufficient attribution and Dietmar focusing more on public pressure. The rest mostly suggest asking nicely but not do anything of substance when corporations ignore that (which is kind of pointless IMO).
  • employees of companies that use OSM data on board and WGs – this is actually a key question w.r.t. how serious a candidate is about regulating and limiting corporate influence on the OSMF. Of the company employees only Rory shows a critical and problem-aware perspective. He – like Guillaume, Clifford, Eugene and to some extent Dietmar – see the need for some clear conflict of interest policy for that. The problem is of course if the design of such a policy is negotiated within a board that already has a number of members with a corporate or organizational background, who would be severely affected by clear CoI regulation.
  • GDPR implementation – this is a good proxy for how much interest the candidates have in the more annoying and less popular aspects of OSMF work. It is also an indicator on how diligent candidates are w.r.t. privacy and dealing with personal data in general. This question is answered by Gregory, Mikel, Rory, Allan, Guillaume, Dietmar, Clifford and Eugene. Only Rory mentions privacy and data protection to be important matters on their own, the others regard this mainly as a compliance problem.
  • iD development controversy – this has been a hot topic recently and i also commented on that. It is of questionable relevance for the board elections though. Still, the individual answers of the candidates paint an interesting picture on what perception they have of current developments in the OSM community and how neutral and culture independent they can be in their assessment.

Quotes:

Guillaume: It’s important that data users can’t regulate themselves and write their own attribution guidelines through their participation in LWG.

OpenStreetMap 2030 Vision

This vision into the future question mainly tells us something about the candidates’ world view around OSM in general and the sophistication and differentiation in their perception.

Here my reading of the different answers:

  • Guillaume touches a lot of important points – most notably the future need for more data maintenance on the mapping side and for more data processing on the data use side.
  • Allan points out the significance of the move from desktop to mobile computing devices.
  • Steve presents how he would like OSM to develop based on his current economic interests.
  • Eugene expresses a strong hope that AI/ML data collection techniques will be more broadly used for data collection in OSM in the future.
  • Mikel presents a very short answer reflecting the desire for OSM stay as it is now in the future.
  • Rory hopes that OSM keeps doing the things that make it cool now and otherwise does not think there is much use in speculation on this time frame.
  • Clifford expresses his hope for more mappers from all parts of the world.
  • Jinal sees OSM developing into a model open source project (with all the disadvantages like Anglo-American cultural dominance and technocratic rule i presume).
  • Nuno sees a need for advance validation and evaluation of edits in the future.
  • Gregory focuses on how public perception of OSM will hopefully widen in the future.
  • Michal presents a short paragraph of a positive writeup of OSM in a corporate PR style without any substantial vision for the future.
  • Dietmar expresses his hope that corporations will not try to add data to OSM at large scale any more without local knowledge and often low reliability.

Quotes:

Eugene: I hope that OSM will function as *the* world’s free and open geodata commons.

The candidates

I am now going to present my analysis on the candidates of this year’s OSMF board election. This is obviously a subjective assessment but it is based on many years of observation of the OSMF, seeing the coming and going of many candidates and board members. I am going to say good and bad things about various candidates but please keep in mind that these refer to the candidates’ qualification for the position of a board member. Just because i consider someone non-qualified as an OSMF board member does not mean i have an overall bad opinion for them as a person.

Guillaume Rischard

Guillaume is overall for me the most convincing of the candidates independent of the alignment of his political positions to mine. He has proven in his community work in the past – on the DWG and MWG – that he has an in depth knowledge of the OSM community and the OSMF and the ability and willingness to work hard in the interest of the community. He has also proven in his community activities that he practices an open work and communication style and i have experienced him to be willing and able to listen to other people and even (which unfortunately is often rare in the OSM community) actively reaching out for feedback and input on his work.

He has clear and solidly based positions on many of the questions asked and often provides the most thoughtful and reflective answers showing a good understanding of the matter. It can be expected that he would – when on the board – be a very productive member quickly being able to analyze matters and to form qualified opinions on topics. He is also one of only three candidates who would be willing to work as treasurer for the OSMF.

Guillaume’s main topic for this year’s election is OSMF’s resilience against attempts from the outside to influence and control it, most notably from large corporate data users. He supports this goal with solid arguments based on his past experience on the MWG.

Overall i think Guillaume this year stands out as the most qualified candidate among all the twelve options we have.

Allan Mustard

Allan has, as it is visible from his answers, only limited knowledge of the OSMF and its inner workings. That he still provides impressively thoughtful, clear and concise answers to many of the question is testimony to his exceptional qualification. Part of this is due to his work experience as a diplomat but a large part i would think is also to a much broader exposure to other cultures.

He makes in his manifesto a clear and strong statement in support of local knowledge and local craft mapping as the basis of the project. He has demonstrated with his mapping activity that this is not just a hollow statement but based on practical experience and first hand recognition of the values of this.

Of all the American candidates of this year’s election Allan clearly is my first choice. I think he would make an excellent addition to the board and with his answers he has amply demonstrated that even without deeper background on many of the more specific OSMF topics he is able to provide useful input and considerations to the discussion.

Steve Coast

The candidacy of Steve can in my opinion best be described as a bad joke. This is not the first time he has launched an OSMF board candidacy after first retiring from the board in 2012. In 2015, when also four seats were open for election he ran a similar ad hoc candidacy and failed fairly narrowly.

He has shown next to no activity in the OSM community during the past years and shows significant gaps in his knowledge and understanding of current OSMF topics. For example one of his stated goals is to introduce term limits for the board but he does not mention that term limits are being decided on in this year’s AGM in a separate vote. He seems very full of himself and not hesitant to inflate his involvement (like “I tend to follow a little bit of all the communication channels.” or “I’ve been attending board meetings on Mumble for some time.”) .

One of his main agenda items seems to be to roll back the transparency improvements of the past years by making the board meetings (which at the moment are fortunately open to the members on a regular basis) exclusive to the board, so that board members can speak more freely.

And finally Steve fails to mention his current employment status (he seems to be working for TomTom right now) – although this is specifically asked for in the questions, where he vaguely states “I’ve worked in mapping for my entire career, and it’s enhanced by, not limited or conflicted by OSM.”

Overall, i can only strongly recommend against voting for Steve – his presence on the board would be very bad for the OSMF and the OSM community.

Eugene Alvin Villar

Eugene is an active community member from the Philippines. His platform for the board election is strongly based on identity politics for the Asian local communities. One of the things he wants to pursue is for the OSMF to provide support (including financial support) to local communities in Asia and elsewhere on the world – an idea i have repeatedly spoken against because it would make local communities economically dependent of the central OSMF and this way would increase the cultural dominance of the OSMF over local communities rather than improve the global diversity and establish local organized communities as a counterweight to the OSMF.

What distinguishes Eugene from most of the other active community members running in this election is a fairly uncritical attitude towards corporate influences in OSM. He is also in strong support of organized mapping efforts and AI based data production. He lacks a more in depth awareness of the problem of Conflicts of Interests based on his statements.

Eugene is also active in Wikipedia and seems to be in support of disputed additions of non-verifiable external IDs to OSM. While this is not of much relevance for the board (the board has no say on matters like that traditionally) it indicates a fairly flexible relationship to the core values of the project. He also recommends OSM to take Wikipedia and open source development projects as examples for various things without critical reflection on the unique aspects of OSM.

Overall Eugene would not be my first choice as candidate and has significant weaknesses in various fields. But he is a motivated and active community member and demonstrates a willingness to work for the project and a solid background knowledge.

Mikel Maron

Mikel is the only incumbent running in this year’s elections. He essentially has no other choice than to run on a platform of conservativism because every promise to change something of substance would bear the question why he has not done that so far. He has been in total on the board for nine years now and in contrast to the other long term members whose terms end this year and who have decided not to run again despite some people urging them to do (Frederik and Kate), Mikel wants to stay on the board.

Since he is on the board right now looking at his work from the past years is at least as important as looking at his answers to the questions. And Mikel has during the past years been responsible (sometimes with others) for some of the most problematic decisions and actions of the board. His massive attempts at lobbying against regulating organized editing activities are legendary (see my diary entry for that). So is the famous Crimea decision against existing policy and outside the board rules of order. Not to mention the GlobalLogic incident (which Steve just wrote about again).

Mikel presents a lot of vague and non-specific wishlist-like ideas in his answers. One of the few specific things he mentioned is that he wants to impose a regulatory framework (which he calls rules of order) on the working groups. That he in his own WG work on the SotM WG and in his board work is frequently in violation of existing policy (data protection law, FOSS policy, board rules of order) does not appear to speak against that for him.

A large part of Mikel’s political activities happen on closed channels outside of public scrutiny. Steve in the above linked diary confirms this and so do various people who i have talked with who have interacted with Mikel on closed channels, as well as records of such communication i have seen.

He has – outside his OSMF work – hardly been active in open channels of the OSM community for the past years.

Overall, i can only recommend strongly against voting for Mikel. If you want to see a candidate with a relatively conservative agenda on the board there are other choices among this year’s candidates like for example Clifford. If you are worried about continuity and loss of institutional knowledge on the board Guillaume would be a good choice because he is well acquainted with OSMF internals.

Rory McCann

For avoiding confusion – i referred to Rory with the pronoun ‘they’ because they prefer that.

Rory runs their candidacy with two clear goals: The limitation of corporate influence on the OSMF and OSM and the pursuit of diversity in the project. They do so in a relatively down-to-earth way and in my experience tend to respect and substantially listen to those with even fundamentally different views.

They are very active in the OSM community and have a solid and practical understanding of things. This is also visible in the answers to the questions. On the board they would likely be a valuable addition this way. Rory works for Geofabrik so they have a professional connection to OSM but they have in the past not shown their views expressed on community channels to be significantly guided by their job. They are pretty upfront about where their professional interest might influence their opinion – which is much more reflective than from the other candidates with professional OSM connections although i would have liked to see more of a principled position being articulated on the CoI topic.

By combining the goals of a strong support for an OpenStreetMap defined and controlled by craft mappers and the pursuit of diversity Rory might also be able to, in some way, bridge the map between hobby mappers who are worried about defending their cultural identity within the project and activists working for diversifying the global OSM community.

Overall Rory is one of the candidates i find most suitable in this year’s elections.

Clifford Snow

Clifford is one of the most active and most well known American hobby mappers in the global OSM community. He runs in this year’s elections with a relatively moderate agenda. He intends to embrance the corporate interest in the project but also wants to demand compliance to certain standards from corporate actors in return.

One unique point in his agenda is that he wants to limit the OSMF board to a more strategic role. How this is supposed to be implemented exactly is not clear but willingness of board members to give up competencies of the board is positive and the whole idea is intriguing.

Clifford also says he would volunteer for the treasurer’s position on the board and would in my opinion be well qualified for that.

Overall Clifford would be my recommendation for voters with a more conservative attitude who are looking for a candidate with a solid and broad background in the project.

Jinal Foflia

Jinal is a Grab employee and has written by far the largest volume of text in her answers and manifesto among the candidates. Of all the employees of large corporations with OSM connections she has the most down-to-earth attitude. But her ideas sketched in her answers and manifesto are generally fairly vague.

Her main topics are diversity and community communication. But she does not say a lot what specific projects or goals she would like to pursue when on the board.

Like her colleagues from other companies Jinal does not show any meaningful awareness of the problem of conflicts of interest. In my opinion this disqualifies her as employee of a large corporation with OSM connection from a position on the board. Problem awareness of this would IMO be a fundamental requirement for that.

Nuno Caldeira

Nuno already ran for the board last year and does so this year again with focus on the topic of the lack of proper attribution by corporate data users.

He does not provide much on other topics but where he does his ideas are relatively practical and solid, based on practical mapping experience as a craft mapper.

Overall i would recommend adding him to your ballot in the elections, i believe he would be a positive contribution on the board although there are others among this year’s candidates who i consider more qualified.

Gregory Marler

Gregory is a long time active community members from England. He has a relatively vague agenda but ultimately on many points a fairly moderate position. His main topic of interest seems to be improving communication and he has a relatively good track record on that. This could make him a valuable addition though the lack of clear positions on many current matters makes me hesitant to put him higher on my ballot.

Michal Migurski

Michal is a Facebook employee and probably in many ways the most extreme candidate on the ballot this year. In contrast to the other corporate employees running in this election who at least claim to run as private OSM community members who just happen to be employed by a corporation with OSM connections he more or less states that he is running as a Facebook employee. His answer to the conflict of interest question contains nothing of substance, in other words he – like Steve Coast – completely rejects the idea of conflicts of interest.

This alone IMO disqualifies him from a position on the board but beyond that his agenda is distinctly anti-craft-mapper. He repeatedly points to a blog post he has made a few years ago where he declared craft mappers essentially as irrelevant and the future of OSM to be AI bots and organized mapping.

Apart from this blog post he has essentially shown no significant activity of any kind in the OSM community for the last years.

Michal’s agenda for the board essentially sketches the idea of turning OSM into a Facebook mapmaker platform controlled by corporations and replace the current independent and self confident craft mapper community with a mallable and replaceable workforce of actively recruited volunteers and paid mappers.

Overall i would strongly recommend not voting for Michal. His presence on the OSMF board would be most damaging for the OSMF and the project.

Dietmar Seifert

Dietmar was the last candidate to nominate himself and his answers and manifesto look a bit sketchy and incomplete. He is the only German candidate and has been an active member of the German OSM community for many years. He is particularly known in the German community for his QA services like for checking the completeness of addresses and streets in OSM based on lists obtained from public authorities.

The main goals of Dietmar’s candidacy are regulation of corporate involvement, focus on local knowledge in mapping, transparency, clearer policies on software on the OpenStreetMap website and more meaningful involvement of local chapters in OSMF decision making processes. As a unique point he proposes the creation of a tagging working group – which is a bit at odds with the current mission of the OSMF which specifically does not allow the OSMF to interfere with tagging and mapping.

Dietmar is typically very cautious and considerate in his communications and would in my opinion be a valuable addition to the board although with his lack of involvement in the international OSM community he is likely not very well known outside Germany and neighboring countries.

Voting recommendation

So where does this leave us in terms of who to vote for? My summaries and qualification assessments written above are of course based on my subjective views and preferences. Still i think they include a lot of useful neutral observations of value also for those with different preferences than me and could serve as a starting point for your own decision making process.

As i have written in the introduction above this year’s elections are significant because they could result in both a significant shift to the better and to the worse. Therefore, this year i will also provide an overall voting recommendation.

OSMF board elections are done with STV so your ballot contains a list of up to twelve names. I would recommend to vote for (in that order):

  • Guillaume
  • Allan
  • Rory
  • Clifford
  • Dietmar
  • Eugene
  • Nuno
  • Gregory

I would not include:

  • Jinal
  • Mikel
  • Steve
  • Michal

Every member should of course decide based on their own personal preferences who to vote for. Even if your values and ideas of what are important qualifications in a board member for the benefit of OpenStreetMap are similar to mine, you might vary the order from my recommendation to reflect your individual preferences. Read my arguments and reasoning above and if you have the time also read the full answers and manifestos and form your own qualified opinion to make a good election choice.

Also keep in mind that as part of the elections this year members are also asked to vote on a resolution regarding the membership fee waiver and normal members in addition on various AoA changes. I encourage you to read my comments and recommendations on those.

November 28, 2019
by chris
0 comments

Some thoughts on the roles and responsibilities of developers and project maintainers in the OpenStreetMap community

OpenStreetMap is often described as a do-ocracy. When it comes to mapping and tagging decisions – the core activities within the project – this description is fairly accurate and for the most part this is working quite well. The approach that those who do the work decide on how it is done is, when paired with the core principle that local knowledge rules, a pretty good insurance against a small number of people with their subjective preferences and cultural background dominating the project and decisions made.

The most serious attack against this principle came with the rise of organized mapping activities. When writing the first English language draft for a regulation of organized mapping in OpenStreetMap i explained this as follows:

OpenStreetMap is an international project where thousands of volunteers together produce open geodata during their free time. As a community OpenStreetMap works through checks and balances that rely on every mapper deciding on what to map and how to map individually and being responsible for her or his activities. Because each mapper can only add or edit a relatively small volume of data every day errors can be recognized and corrected by the community through communication and open processes before larger damage is done to the database. For automated edits and imports this does not work the same way so we have documentation requirements and review processes designed to prevent bigger problems with such activities and to avoid disruptive and time consuming repairs of the data.

Organized mapping activities by groups of people who act under instructions of an organization often come with similar problems. Errors and deficits in the instructions given or in the way they are communicated to the mappers of the group can result in large scale damage to the data and can be disruptive to normal mapping activity. And although we in principle welcome such organized activity we have put up this policy to regulate organized mapping activities in the interest of the individual mappers and a functioning mapping community.

How much the actual regulation of organized activity will prevent the problematic influences of organized activities still remains to be seen.

Apart from organized mapping activities there are other influences and constraints that can endanger the egalitarian and freely cooperative nature of mapping in OpenStreetMap. One of these is the political domain, in particular through regulating activities and policy decisions of the OSMF. The best example here is the Crimea decision of the OSMF board. So far – in particular because the OSMF board depends on volunteers from the community to implement and enforce their decisions – the ability of it to substantially make and enforce political decisions against the values and interests of the local mapper communities world wide is rather limited. And to be fair so far most of the board members at least have the intention to make decisions in the interest of the hobby mappers. This could however change in the future if the balance of power shifts and the OSMF moves to rely more on paid staff for central tasks and this way becomes more independent of the OSM community.

The biggest and also the oldest influence on the mapper community however are the tools used by the community in their mapping work. More recently there has been extensive critique of the developers of iD, the most widely used data editor of OpenStreetMap. What is criticized specifically is that editor developers abuse their power to cater to specific interests by designing the editor’s user interface, tagging presets and validation rules in a way that leads mappers to map things in certain ways.

I wanted to add a few thoughts to this discussion from the perspective of one of the maintainers of the other project that is highly influential on mappers apart from the editors, the map style for the standard map on openstreetmap.org. The influence of the standard style on mappers is not as direct as that of editors and it is therefore not as simple to use for specific purposes but it is pretty significant. And in contrast to editors where the main potential for developers steering the mappers is regarding how to map something mappers have decided to map on their own, the standard map style can incentivize mappers also quite significantly in what they map.

My approach to this matter has been – from the beginning of my contributions to OSM-Carto – to regard the role and task of the project as mapper support without active steering. This in essence means only to render things in the map which are mapped consistently by mappers in a certain way to support them in doing so and give clarity to mappers in what is the correct and established way to map certain things. This on the other hand means not to start rendering something because you – or someone else – thinks it would be a good idea to map things this way, because that kind of thought is inherently influenced by subjective interests and by specific cultural preferences and biases.

I should note these principles are not shared by all of the OSM-Carto maintainers. I am probably the most vocal adherent to this idea of self limitation but quite a few of the other maintainers share the same basic sentiment. Because of that most of the non-constructive rendering decisions in OSM-Carto are the result of either accidental or negligent changes. These resulted either from not giving enough thought on their effects or stemming from the time span from mid 2017 to end 2018 when we had relaxed the consensus principle and changes could be merged without consensus among maintainers.

It should however be clear that if the team of OSM-Carto maintainers was smaller or had relatively uniform common interests (as it is the case with the iD project) the incentive to use the influence we have in support of these interests would be tremendous. In case of the iD developers, who are both employed by corporate OSM data users, the practical influence of such interests is clearly quite significant and it is openly admitted by the developers that their main concern is the usefulness of the OpenStreetMap data for certain applications. At the same time transferring decisions or oversight over decisions into the hands of a number of random mappers would not necessarily work much better. When making decisions in OSM-Carto under the premise of mapper support only the most frequent critique came from mappers who wanted their favorite tagging idea to be supported against competing tags. Hobby mappers are not immune to catering to special interests.

The best and the only solution in my opinion is to have true and fair competition for providing the best tools to mappers. Having a real choice and being able to try and evaluate different options practically will allow mappers to vote with their feet and collectively support the best solutions. It prevents the dominance of a single project due to the lack of other options and thereby reduces the possibility to push for specific interests. I am convinced that both editors and map styles which make decisions based on the principle of restrained mapper support without active steering will in the long term get most appreciation from the world wide mapper community.

Long story short:

  • The option of using your power to cater to specific interests will always be very significant incentive for developers of mapping tools – either due to your own preferences or due to external interests influencing them.
  • Expecting a company employee to make decisions as a project maintainer against the interests of their employer is unrealistic. At the same time the interests of the OSM community and the project are in parts fundamentally different from those of specific current data users.
  • The best way to mitigate the problem is and will always be to have real choice and fair competition between different tools (editors, map styles) for the same task.

October 28, 2019
by chris
0 comments

Satellite image news

The ESA recently made an interesting announcement about extending Sentinel-2B image recordings to lower sun positions in the northern hemisphere winter.

A bit of background on that: For the past years Sentinel-2 image recordings have traditionally been made only with relatively high sun positions compared to Landsat 8. The difference in the routine latitude based recording limit was not huge but it was noticable. This has led in particular to a significant under-use of the Sentinel-2 recording capacity in the northern hemisphere winter, especially since at the same time the Antarctic is only recorded at a lower frequency.

previous Sentinel-2 coverage in late December

Landsat 8 coverage in late December

The change in recording plans announced now is somewhat half-hearted – it only applies to Sentinel-2B and it so far seems to be limited to Europe and Greenland. Here is a low sun position image recorded with this new pattern.

Low sun position Sentinel-2 recording in eastern Greenland

More generally speaking the recording patterns of Sentinel-2 are fairly static based on a fixed and politically decided recording plan while Landsat recordings are based on a priority list and typically they try to record as many images as possible given the operational capacity available. Or in other words: Sentinel-2 could probably be recoding significantly more imagery, in particular on the southern hemisphere and of low latitude islands during the northern hemisphere winter, if the option to record these when capacity is available was worked into the acquisition plan. But that would of course require the political decision to do so.

The real question is of course why the sun position based recording limit for Sentinel-3 OLCI data is even tighter than for Sentinel-2 – here the northern recording limit on the same date as the above Sentinel-2 sample – which is several hundred kilometers to the south.

Sentinel-3 OLCI recording limit in eastern Greenland on October 25

Although Sentinel-3 records an earlier time slot than Sentinel-2 (10:00 vs. 10:30) and due to the wider field of view includes lower sun positions on the western side the sensible recording strategy would be to record everything that meets whatever sun position requirement is considered reasonable even if that practically means also recording positions with a lower sun position while in reality it seems no OLCI data is recorded where at the western end of the recording strip the sun position would be less than five degree above the horizon and this way you loose quite a lot of potentially useful data further to the east. In this case at the eastern end the recording starts at a sun position of about 11 degrees above the horizon.

Autum colors near Irkutsk, Russia in September 2019 recorded by Sentinel-2

GCOM-C SGLI images

Not exactly news but i wanted to mention that images from the Japanese GCOM-C satellite’s SGLI sensor are available now (and have been for quite some time apparently) on the JAXA data portal. GCOM-C is a satellite system somewhat similar to Sentinel-3 in scope but offers some interesting additional features like polarized light sensors and an ultraviolet spectral band. The data is available under a liberal open data policy.

Here is a sample image of southeastern Europe:

GCOM-C SGLI recording example

October 25, 2019
by chris
0 comments

State of the Map 2019 – visitor statistics

When writing my report on the State of the Map conference in Heidelberg this year i complained not having any data on the visitors yet. We now have some numbers and i would like to add the missing illustration and commentary on those.

SotM 2019 visitors – where they came from

Might be a bit difficult to read – i grouped the numbers by continent – Europe in yellow/orange, America in blue, Asia/Pacific in green and Africa/Middle East in red. I was a bit surpried by the large number of visitors from Germany – but if you keep in mind that this includes all the local helpers it might not be so surprising after all.

I prepared a second illustration with estimates for the carbon dioxide emissions generated from travel to and from the conference alone. This is a very conservative rough estimate. So don’t give too much on the exact numbers, neither individually nor in sum. I am pretty sure the actual emissions are not lower but they could definitely be much higher.

SotM 2019 estimated CO2 emissions due to travel (in metric tons)

Why am i showing this? First of all to show that a conference like SotM is a resource intensive endeavor. Second: To show that to reduce the environmental footprint of an event like this it is very beneficial to hold it close to where the majority of event visitors come from. Europeans this year have accounted for more than 2/3 of the conference visitors – yet they have probably contributed less than ten percent of the total CO2 emissions due to travel of the whole conference. On a per person level this conference – with an estimated < 600kg CO2 per visitor for travel - probably fares pretty well. And third: To illustrate that for the OSM community to be sustainable in the long term we will have to put a lot more effort into improving our ability to communicate and cooperate globally without the need to necessarily meet in person. We need to put a lot more energy into ensuring that we come to a point where physical presence at an OSM conference becomes truly optional and where you can productively contribute to such events - both actively and passively - at the distance.

October 9, 2019
by chris
10 Comments

State of the Map 2019 Heidelberg impressions and thoughts

It has been more than two weeks since SotM in Heidelberg and some are probably already wondering about my commentary. Part of the delay is due to me being busy with other things, part is due to some information i would like to have had not being available so far (i will get to that later).

The venue

Overall it was a pleasant experience for me. We had mostly luck with the weather so the choice of time of year was not too bad. I mentioned already last year that Heidelberg is conveniently close for me with only a two hours train ride to get there. Heidelberg – of all possible locations you could have chosen in Germany – is more near the upper end in terms of accomodation costs. But since a public transport ticket was included in the conference ticket for the duration of the conference for the whole regional transport area you were not limited to stay in Heidelberg actually so there was a pretty broad range of cheap options to stay – although probably not that easy to find for visitors from abroad. The information on budget accomodations on the SotM website could have been better – but that is a problem we essentially already had in previous years. Side note: I find it kind of annoying that the website has removed much of the pre-conference information after the conference – this is IMO not good style – maintaining previous information for future reference is important. Update: This has meanwhile been fixed – see comment below.

The venue itself was pretty well suited for the conference i think. All the main rooms for the talks were very close together – the rooms for the BoF sessions were a bit further away but quickly reachable as well. The most serious issue was IMO the acoustics in the large lecure hall (Großer Hörsaal) where – as you can see in the videos – the speakers frequently had trouble understanding questions from the audience. This is obviously hard to get right in such a large room and lecture halls like this are of course not really designed for dialogue between the speaker and the audience.

Conference size

Though we have no numbers and statistics so far for the conference visitors it was quite clearly the largest SotM conference so far. When the original planned number of tickets was sold the conference organizers increased the capacity beyond the original planning to allow more people interested to visit. And all of this together showed at various places during the event. Most obviously at the social event on Saturday where the catering turned out to be under-dimensioned – both in terms of amount of food and distribution capacity. Thanks to the good weather and the possibility to go outside the venue for the social event itself was fine – though a bit short in sitting opportunities outside the main room intended for eating, which turned out to be a bit stuffy and very loud – the whole venue was a former industrial building which in terms of acoustics was obviously not designed for a large number of people.

The poster session on Sunday evening was also a bit sub-optimal because the poster display and catering were separate on different levels so there was not really a natural looking at and talking about the posters while eating and drinking. This was also owed to the limited space mostly – even as it was the area where to drink and eat was crowded and there would have been no way to also appropriately display the posters directly there.

At the conference itself i did not see any problems with overcrowding or overfull lecture halls – at lunchtime at least during the first day the lines were long but there was plenty of space so it was not an issue.

In total my conclusion is that this kind of conference size exceeds the limits of what can be reliably managed the way SotM conferences have traditionally been operated. Specifically

  • organization at this scale IMO either requires a well-established team with multiple years of experience with a presence on-site during most of the planning phase or help from a professional event organizer with experience with this kind of event.
  • any location for a conference of this size with sufficient capacity – no matter if the main conference venue or for a social event – is going to be hard to find and organize so for a conference of this size the confirmed availability of all needed locations would usually need to be a pre-requisite for selecting a location for the conference – something that for SotM has so far not usually been a criterion (applications usually mentioned possibilities but rarely came with a full set of places with confirmed availability).

All of this is not meant to say the organizers did not do a good job – the opposite is the case IMO: Given the number of visitors it really went quite well.

The talks

I have not yet watched all the videos of the talks i did not see at the conference so here only a few select comments on the talks i recommended before the conference and others i went to.

  • Introduction to OSM: How it’s made and how it’s used (video) – although i have not seen this live at the conference based on the video this really worked out fine. This is definitely a format that could be built on in the future, potentially also for more specialized topics.
  • Communication and Knowledge Transfer in OSM (video) – as i hoped for this gave you a fairly broad look at the different communication methods used by the OSM community and their advantages and disadvantages. Really recommended for anyone who wants to take a look over the limits of their horizon of what channels and platform they are famiiliar with.
  • Mapathon, mapathon, mapathon! (video) – This offered an important critical view on common practices in remote humanitarian mapping efforts and their historic development. In my pre-conference post i likewise mentioned the followup talk (video) which focused more on organizational aspects of local communities in countries outside Europe and North America – which i can also recommend.
  • I specifically also want to mentioned a later event organized also by Nicolas and Severin – the Bilingual Breakout Session – Community building and empowerment in South: French-speaking countries in Africa+Haiti (video). I think this could nicely serve as a blueprint for future cross language communication formats at OSM related conferences. Language barriers are one of the main limitations for cross cultural communication within the OSM community and this format shows how this can be overcome with limited effort and lead to much improved communication between people speaking different languages.
  • Is the OSM data model creaking? (video) – this was a pretty solid analysis of the various practical problems when working with the current data in OSM for roads and paths for navigation purposes. Unfortunately in the end the considerations on how to address these problems were primarily data user centered and not mapper centered – in other words they wondered what might be the most convenient way to represent things in data form for the data user rather than for the mapper.
  • New processes to agree on tagging suggestions and their interaction with the editing software available on openstreetmap.org – considering the controvertial nature of the subject the discussion was actually pretty civil and meaningful. Roland already posted a summary of the results of the discussions and i really hope people will follow up on the ideas that have been discussed there.
  • OSM Vector Tiles in custom coordinate systems (video) – this was a very disappointing talk. The only thing they actually showed was maps in equirectangular projection – which, coming from Mercator, is kind of inverse evolution. No substantial discussion of any of the actual problems and challenges when creating digital maps in projections other than Mercator.
  • Board + Working Groups meeting (video) – this was rather interesting regarding the dynamics within the OSMF though ultimately not really that productive, which is how it was probably kind of expected by everyone. The format worked out quite well, there was a lot of commentary and discussion happening. There was quite a bit of what i would call essentially the OSMF circling around itself without much connection with the OSM community outside the OSMF but there were also plenty of interesting and valuable comments by various people i would encourage everyone interested in the OSMF to look up in the video (and if you were there – maybe re-contemplate them again).

Audience

I would have really liked to look at the number of visitors at the conference from different parts of the world here as i did last year but so far unfortunately no such information has been made publicly available.

My impression was that the audience composition was similar to last year in Milano with two main differences:

  1. there was obviously a significantly larger fraction of visitors from Germany.
  2. it seemed also that due to the HOT summit having taken place directly before SotM in Heidelberg there was a larger fraction of visitors with a HOT background.

One thing i noticed though is that although Germany has a very large local hobby mapper community – possibly the largest one world wide – there were relatively few pure hobby mappers at the conference. There is a huge overlap between the German visitors of this year’s SotM and the regular visitors of the FOSSGIS conference with an OSM background. Keep in mind though that FOSSGIS is not purely an OSM conference and FOSSGIS visitors with an OSM background are only a small subset of the German OSM community – despite FOSSGIS having free admission for active community members. There was some IMO quite understandable critique from the German mapper community that even the early bird community ticket price is kind of steep for a hobbyist. Given the conference was sold out quite early this understandably felt a bit like this financial barrier served at least partly to give professional visitors priority over local hobby mappers.

And i think everyone should be able to relate to a hobby mapper who has invested possibly thousands of hours into mapping their local area over the past decade and who therefore does not feel right about the need to pay EUR 75 for being able to visit a conference where others who largely have invested much less get their travel expenses paid in full.

Scholarships

Which brings me to the SotM scholarship program. I wrote about this before the conference but back then had only very limited data on just 10 scholars. Now we have a bit more information – both on the scholars and the selection process.

Some might wonder why i make so much fuzz about the scholarship program. The reason is that this is about quite a lot of money – in 2018 this was more than 20k GBP and given the larger number of scholars this is probably even more this year. While this is perfectly affordable for the OSMF that does not mean it is all right to spend all this money without proper accountability and consideration – money that could obviously also be spend for other things where it might do more good for the OpenStreetMap project.

Where OSMF SotM scholars 2017-2019 came from

Here is the updated map of where the scholars come from – this year as well as in the previous years. My analysis of this has not changed much – there are additional scholars from North America, Europe and (partly French speaking) West Africa. But the complete gap in Northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia is still there.

What we now have is – for the first time – numbers on the regional distribution of applications. These i tried to illustrate in the following maps. The first is for the total number of applications and the second is after filtering out formally incomplete applications.

Total number of applications per country

After filtering based on formal criteria of completeness of applications

I get two main observations from these:

  • the bias towards English speaking countries and former British and US colonies is even larger in the applications. More generally speaking much of the bias observed in where scholars came from in the last three years seem to be already pre-defined in the applications. This however does not mean the scholarship program can’t do anything about it. If the call for applications selectively speaks to people from some countries but not from others there is a reason for that.
  • there seem to have been essentially mass applications from a number of countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana and Kenya with each more the 35 applications) and from none of these countries there was ultimately a scholar selected.

What we also have is more detailed documentation of the selection process – most of which however seemed to have not worked out as planned. A number of observations on the selection:

  • We have a list of people involved with scoring – however the documentation also said the plans for scoring “did not work out as initially planned”. We have no information on the scoring itself (like for example the anonymized scoring data in comparison to the final selection) See addition below.
  • There is a list of suggested criteria for scoring – however these are fairly vague and in parts also somewhat questionable. In particular the “unique story or experience to share” is highly prone to depend on cultural commonalities between the applicant and the reviewer.
  • The list of people involved in scoring lists 13 people – 8 of which have been scholars in 2018/2017. While i mentioned in last year’s comments that involving previous scholars in application evaluation could be helpful i also mentioned that disqualifying them permanently for applying for scholarships in the future would be absolutely essential for this to work. Otherwise you’d have a high probability of a ‘revolving door’ system evolving with people switching roles from scholar to reviewer and back every year. When you look at where the former scholars who scored applications came from (Kenya, Lesotho, Philippines, Germany, Russia, Uganda, Niger, Nepal) there is no clear pattern – while scholars were accepted from the Lesotho, Philippines and Nepal there were none accepted from Kenya and Uganda despite a large number of applications. So i don’t see indications for any actual impropriety in the process here but none the less in this form the system runs a very high risk of favouritism.
  • There seems to be no formal conflict of interest management of any kind. Given that quite a few of both the people involved in scoring as well as the accepted scholars have a job with some OSM connection or a formal position in an organization with OSM connections (like being HOT voting members) this is a reason for concern.
  • As i analyzed before the ultimate selection of scholars seems to be based on ensemble optimization rather than independent rating of the individual application and selection of “the top 20”. And as i read the documentation this final selection was done without any oversight by a single person who essentially decided where more than 20k GBP will go. If i was an OSMF financial auditor (and i am really glad i am not) this would be something i could not accept.

Note the obvious derivation between the social structure of the OSM community and the selection of scholars has a high likeliness of becoming a self reproducing system – even without former scholars being involved in the selection. Given the de facto preference for people with a job somehow connected to OSM or a formal position in some organization local hobby mappers from all over the world without such connections will realize that their chances for actually getting a scholarship are very small and will depend on them presenting themselves as being alike and compatible to the professional OSM environment. Introverts or people from cultures with predominantly different communication styles will have almost no chances because they do not match the established ideal for a SotM-Scholar.

Overall i think independent of the future of SotM the OSMF board needs to pull the plug on the scholarship program in its current form. Even if for the moment i give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt and assume that they all tried their best to accomplish a just and unbiased selection this is just a disaster waiting to happen – either through deliberate favoritism and corruption or just through plain incompetence. For neither scenario there seem to be mechanisms in place that would prevent this.

Any kind of scholarship or financial support program (and i specifically also have in mind ideas like microgrants here – which unfortunately might be destined to be managed in a similar fashion) would in my opinion need to be managed by and with broad support from the hobby mapper community. The fact that hardly anyone from the community seems to be currently interested in helping with that should tell the OSMF board and the SotM-WG that there is something seriously wrong with how it is run at the moment. Even if (or more precisely especially if) you feel scholarships are important to have you should work towards giving it a fresh start with a proper mandate and a solid ethical and procedural framework. This would give potential volunteers the confidence that they can be comfortable in contributing to something beneficial for the project. The more detailed documentation we have this year about how the selection process actually took place is much appreciated but to me this mostly better illustrates the lack of and the serious need for a proper framework of binding rules and control mechanisms.

Addition: There was more data and information added after i started writing this post. Everyone is encouraged to have a look at this.

The future of SotM

Coming to the last part and a renewed critical view of the idea of the SotM conference in total. I have expressed my concerns about this before, in particular about the illusion of SotM being a conference for the whole OSM community. Next year’s conference is now planned to take place in Capetown, South Africa. This makes it relatively easy for me since there is very little chance i would want to go there – at least not on my own expenses. Roughly estimated for the cost of visiting SotM in Capetown i could probably visit most of the local OSM conferences in Europe during that year which would allow me to meet more people and it seems overall more attractive than a single visit in South Africa.

When i originally suggested to stop having a dedicated international SotM conference and instead having the OSMF every year give special support to a regional OSM conference most reactions i got were negative. This year talking to people at SotM about the future of the conference i heard a lot more people essentially agreeing with that idea. Overall i would say there are two potential futures for SotM:

  • giving up the idea of an international SotM and instead giving rotating support to local/regional conferences fully managed and organized by the local mapper communities. The goal could for example be for the OSMF to provide financial support (through either OSMF funds or by organizing sponsorships) that allows the conference to offer free entry to local community members and thereby ensuring broad accessibility for local mappers. In addition the OSMF could organize video recording and live transmission of the events at the conference and this way facilitate broader reach and participation without the need for expensive and resource intensive travel.
  • giving up the pretense of SotM actually being a community conference and concentrating it on what it mainly is right now: A meeting of professionals with OSM connection and the international OSM jet set in addition inviting some locals of the OSM community from the place they meet at.

In the discussing for next year’s place for SotM (the decision was made last minute during the conference this year) the selection was between two applications – Rapperswil and Capetown – which even without the travel costs of getting there are both on the expensive side. The documented criteria for selection essentially already make it abundantly clear that this is not a community conference but primarily targeted at the interests of business visitors and wealthy cosmopolitan hobbyists. Affordability of a visit is nowhere to be found on the list. So in a way we are already pretty far into the second option. But broader realization within the community that this is the case – and next year’s decision for Capetown further underlines that – could also create more support for the first variant.

And just in case anyone wonders – this comment probably would have been more or less the same if the decision had been made for Rapperswil. My personal travel costs for a visit to Rapperswil would obviously be less than for Capetown but that is only because of the costs of the flight. The local costs would probably be even higher in Rapperswil. For most people from outside Europe the difference would probably be fairly low.

October 9, 2019
by chris
0 comments

How to not do Geo-Visualization

There has been a fairly impressive fail in geo-visualization in discussion on digital channels in Germany during the last days i wanted to comment on here.

It is the new banner image of the Twitter account of the conservative party in Germany – the CDU:

Politically it is just a fairly awkward attempt at siphoning support for Fridays for Future and climate change concerns for their own conservative agenda. But the more interesting part is the background image which in several aspects is in blatant conflict with the physical reality.

If you look at the image – use the link to see a larger version – you can find a number of typical beginners’ mistakes when doing whole Earth or large area geo-visualization:

  • The atmosphere is completely unrealistic in thickness and density profile. The actual earth atmosphere is relatively thick (meaning optically thick) in its lower part and thins out rapidly in the upper parts. The thick lower part at the full size image would be no more than 3-4 pixels in size at the edge of the earth disk – it would not be the fluffy kind of halo around it as shown in the above image.
  • The mountains are so excessively exaggerated in height that the whole thing becomes a caricature of the actual earth shape. This means the whole illustration completely lacks a sense of scale for Earth and the viewer gets the impression of Earth being a kind of toy model of maybe a few dozen kilometers in size.
  • The lighting is absolutely ridiculous – sun direction is kind of an early summer morning situation – though probably from a bit further north than physically possible. But this is combined with a nighttime visualization of the earth surface on the right (eastern) side – where the sun seems to come from.

So overall what does it communicate? That the CDU is making politics for an imagined toy planet that renounces the laws of physics.

September 12, 2019
by chris
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Clearer mountain views

I have been working during the past few months on a number of technical improvements for better quality in 3d views. These i want to introduce here together with a number of images from the Kashmir/Karakoram/Pamir region which is well suitable to demonstrate these enhancements.

Removing shading

All satellite images as taken feature the specific illumination due to the position of the sun at the time the image is taken. If you visualize the satellite image directly the shading due to the directed lighting is essential for reading the image. The flexibility in choosing a specific illumination in most cases is limited to selecting between different times of the year although in certain situations you have more freedom as i have written on several occasions here in the past.

Most people who produce 3d visualizations based on satellite images use this inherent illumination as recorded as the basis of their visualizations. This leads to a complete lack of flexibility with regards to illumination and also to subtle inconsistencies because the shading visible does usually not accurately match the 3d geometry shown and even subtle differences here lead to a lack of realism being perceived by the viewer and distracts from the actual content of the visualization.

Therefore my 3d views feature a precisely calculated simulation of the illumination individually selected for the view that is independent of the illumination when the image data used was recorded. Many of my views for example show an evening lighting although the satellite images used are recorded in the morning. For this to work well i of course have to remove the shading effect from the image data. I have been doing that for more than ten years now. The process for this has been refined significantly over the years and the most recent improvements in particular led to better accuracy and more robust dealing with difficult situations. Here an example.

 

Original L1C image

Atmosphere and shading compensated

As you can see the shading compensated version looks annoyingly flat and structure-less – but this is exactly what it is meant to look since the actual impression of the earth surface topography is to come from the specific simulated shading calculated on top of this in the 3d rendering. And while you can’t see the relief structure any more looking at the image the actual differences in surface coloring are better visible after the shading is removed.

Clearer geometry

The other improvement i have introduced here is a new processing of the geometry data to reduce noise while preserving acuity. I made use of the ALOS AW3D30 relief data – which offers fairly good coverage in the region in question. This data – like all other similar data sets – features a significant level of uncorrelated noise which is well visible when you use it in rendering directly. Reducing this noise while preserving the actual relief features leads to a clearer and better readable rendering. The technique used is related to the methods i use for producing generalized shaded relief rendering in 2d.

Original elevation data with noise


With noise reduced and generalized relief data

Examples

Here are various examples from the larger Kashmir/Karakoram/Pamir region rendered using the techniques described. All of these and more can be found in the catalog.

First for comparison the iconic K2 view i show on the main page on services.imagico.de in its old and new version.

K2 view from 2006


K2 view from 2019

And here a selection of further images of this region.






August 16, 2019
by chris
3 Comments

SotM 2019 Heidelberg program remarks

In a bit more than a month the State of the Map conference 2019 in Heidelberg will start and since the program is available now – including abstracts – here a bit of analysis of what we can look forward to.

I looked over the talks and workshops in there and made a rough categorization. This is not meant to be exact science of course – there are obviously borderline cases. Lightning talks are not included in this analysis.

  • There are about 25 program items from commercial organizations of some kind. Roughly half of these are big, international corporations. Most corporation have only one talk in the program.
  • There are about 24 program items from non-commercial organizations of some kind – from universities and public institutions to non-profits and organized community projects. About five of these are from the OSMF (who runs the conference). Apart from the OSMF no single organization seems to account for more than two talks.
  • There are about 22 program items i would classify as from individual community members or non-organized community projects.

As usual without being able to look at what spectrum of submissions these were chosen from it is hard to say much about this selection but it seems clear that care was taken to achieve a balance of different types of talks on many different levels. The most obvious bias is for English language – which i would be very much in favor of relaxing as a requirement. But that is just my opinion. Further thoughts on the general concept of SotM you can find in my post from last year.

Recommended talks

From a quick look over the program here a few recommendations on what to me seem to be very promising program points. This is not meant to dismiss any of the other talks as less valuable or interesting – it should be understood as a list of program points that stand out in my eyes, maybe as a suggestion what to visit if you can only see a handful of talks and have no more specific thematic interests.

  • Introduction to OSM: How it’s made and how it’s used – while probably not offering a lot of new insights for experienced visitors the concept of this program item promises to be fun and certainly worth visiting.
  • Communication and Knowledge Transfer in OSM – although i fear during a 20 minutes time slot this will hardly do more than quickly touch the subject this is a topic of high importance and central to the future success of the project. Hanna will probably provide both a solid summary of the status quo and a valuable perspective on where the deficits and problems are that need to be worked on.
  • Mapathon, mapathon, mapathon! – the title could certainly be improved, the main topic here is a critical look at established practices in collective community mapping endeavours (a.k.a. mapathons). Séverin and Nicolas have extensive experience in cross cultural cooperation on mapping in OpenStreetMap and the talk promises to bring this cross cultural dialogue into the conference with participants from different countries contributing their thoughts and experiences directly. This talk is the starting point to a number of program items following up on similar subjects – a second talk directly afterwards and a bilingual discussion session later.
  • Is the OSM data model creaking? – critical reflections on the fundamentals of the data model are rare both in OpenStreetMap and in the GIS world. This talk promises something along these lines – a subject of high importance in my eyes. Since the focus of the talk is on a fairly specific use case (cycling maps and routing) there is a chance that it will end up talking about relatively cheap workarounds specific to this use case but it might also take a more fundamental look which would be particularly interesting.
  • New processes to agree on tagging suggestions and their interaction with the editing software available on openstreetmap.org – this might serve as a more specific followup to the Communication and Knowledge Transfer talk mentioned above. Roland always provides a sober analytic perspective on things. He also takes the innovative approach here to specifically invite contributions from people who are not at the conference. This way the session seems designed more as a followup to a process of collecting ideas on the subjects via digital channels. Independent of the subject – which is of high interest in itself – this is an interesting and innovative approach for having a discussion, developing and exchanging ideas and connecting remote digital communication with an in-person workshop.
  • OSM Vector Tiles in custom coordinate systems – Coordinate system agnostic map rendering is a matter almost completely ignored by the cartographic mainstream in OpenStreetMap. Like with the OSM data model talk this might also turn out to be relatively superficial but there are so many interesting problems related to this topic most of which most map producers are unaware of that this could very likely be interesting for people producing or who want to produce maps in other projections than Mercator.

Scholarships

One other very interesting program item is Scholar Lightning Talks which provides the first publicly available piece of information on the otherwise extremely intransparent SotM scholarship program after the call for application. The list of talks does not necessarily include all OSMF scholars at the conference – there might be others who have a regular talk or give no talk at all. But it lists 10 scholars which is plausible to be the full set or at least nearly the full set of people that receives a scholarship.

So where do the scholars come from? We have:

  • Philippines (x2)
  • Nepal
  • Lesotho
  • India
  • Nicaragua
  • Netherlands
  • Gambia
  • Tanzania
  • Colombia

For comparison – last year we had:

  • Germany (x2)
  • Portugal
  • UK
  • Russia
  • Mexico
  • Colombia
  • Uganda
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Mozambique
  • Philippines
  • Nepal
  • Bangladesh
  • Indonesia
  • China

And 2017:

  • Bangladesh
  • Albania (x2)
  • Lithuania
  • Cyprus/USA
  • India
  • Argentina
  • Italy (x2)
  • Senegal
  • Niger
  • Nicaragua/Costa Rica
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sierra Leone
  • Colombia

Notice something? Well – first of all obviously SotM 2020 is most likely going to take place on the Philippines since the previous two SotMs took place in countries where the previous year there were two scholars from. For more patterns look at the following map showing the distribution of scholars from the years 2017, 2018 and 2019 (in blue the home of the scholars, magenta the conference locations).

Where OSMF SotM scholars 2017-2019 came from

As explained previously there is a clear geographic bias in where SotM scholars come from. This can well be illustrated in terms of statistical likelihood to become a scholar. Note this is an overall bias in the whole process – from being attracted and motivated to apply for a scholarship until actual selection. Due to the lack of any public information on where the applicants for scholarships come from (this has been kept secret by the OSMF despite inquiries) there is no way to determine if this bias primarily lies in the selection or already before.

  • If you are from Africa your chances to become a SotM scholar is much higher if you are from south of the Sahara (10 of 10 are from there) and significantly higher if you are from a former British colony (7 of 10).
  • If you are from the New World your chances are much higher if you are from the larger Central America region between Mexico and Colombia (6 of 7).
  • If you are from Asia your chances are much higher if you are from a former Britisch or US colony (10 of 12).
  • If you are from Northern Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia your chances are very small (none of a total of 41 scholars comes from one of these Regions).
  • Individual countries with a strong preference are: Colombia (3x), Philippines (3x), Albania (2x), Germany (2x), Italy (2x), Nicaragua (2x), Lesotho (2x), India (2x), Nepal (2x), Bangladesh (2x).