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Survey on organized editing in OpenStreetMap

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The data working group of the OSMF has started a survey on the subject of organized editing in OpenStreetMap.

The survey is only the first step in the process of a possible regulation of organized editing activities and it will only provide a view of the opinions within the OSM community and not directly lead to decisions. But the idea of developing a policy on such activities is a pretty important step.

In general OpenStreetMap has very few formal rules on how contributors can contribute to the database. There is a set of overall editing principles described as how we map and good practice – but these are more a general constitution of the project than specific practical laws to be followed and they are more principles how data entered is supposed to look like and less about how to enter the data. The only firm procedural rule that existed from the beginning was to requirement to not copy from other maps and to only use permissible sources for mapping.

This pretty anarchic framework works amazingly well with mapping being a largely self organized activity. Data users of course frequently complain about the lack of consistency in the data but stricter procedural rules on the mapping process would not necessarily have much effect on that. The amazing thing is not only that it works, it also works in a way that is in principle more globally egalitarian and culturally unbiased than any framework of rules imposed from outside can be. Mappers from a European city in principle have exactly the same freedom to map anything they can verifiably observe on the ground using any tags they see fit as people from a small village in a remote corner of the world. And if they meet somewhere in terms of mapping (i.e. they map in the same area on the same features) they do so on equal level. Of course there are still technological and linguistic barriers but at least there are no procedural rules that create additional discrimination.

This self organized framework however only works as long as mappers continue to work together based on the principles of self-organization. If mappers organize themselves outside the project and then map together in OpenStreetMap as an organized group an individual mapper can no more interact with such a group of mappers in the same way as with an individual and self organization breaks down. This is the reason why regulation of organized editing activities is something that is considered necessary by many mappers and why such a regulation is now being investigated by the DWG.

I would encourage everyone who has participated in OpenStreetMap or is using OpenStreetMap data to participate in this survey.

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