Archive | openstreetmap

License Ascent

Copyright when first envisaged granted a limited-term monopoly on a work which then later fell in to the public domain, or PD. This would give the author some amount of time to make money and pay the mortgage, balanced with allowing people later on to take the work and build upon it. So you write a book, you can sell it but nobody else can, and then some number of years later everybody can do as they please with your book.

This is no longer the case. Copyright is effectively infinite. This means that while we can take old works and build upon them (Pinocchio) we cannot do the same with even pretty old works (Mickey Mouse). Edge cases exist of course, for example you can in many places use old works for parody.

Some people wish to make their work available under less restrictive terms than owning it forever. For them, there are a set of licenses which they can use to release their works.

  • They can claim attribution. Broadly, this means you can use my work but you have to say where it came from.
  • They can claim share-alike. Broadly, this means you can use my work, but any derivative works need to also be sharable. So you can’t take my book and then rewrite portions and claim it for yourself.
  • They can claim commercial rights. Essentially this means you can use my work for anything but profit.
  • You can use some combination of the above.

Thus instead of claiming copyright forever for your new book, photograph or software, you could instead for example say “use it however you wish but all changes must be shared-alike and you can’t use it commercially”. This allows individuals and companies to put works out there and allow them to spread more easily than if they retained all the copyrights.

Two basic methods of making money have emerged while using these open licenses:

  1. The intellectual piece is free, but any physical product costs money. For example, 3D Robotics software for drones is freely downloadable and you can change it. But if you want a physical, flying drone then that costs money. Very similar is this: the basic software is free but some critical piece required for some use case requires payment.
  2. The work is available publicly under a difficult open license, but privately under some commercial agreement. This is known as dual licensing. The downside is that to encourage commercial usage, the open license tends to be as painful as possible. This way, a student at home is unaffected but a company might find a license difficult. Perhaps it requires a legal review, or places burdens on the company like open sourcing everything they do. To avoid this pain, they pay for the commercial license.

The trouble here is we still don’t have things leaking in to the public domain over time. It’s seen that once a work is licensed under some license that it’s stuck there until the end of man.Capture

What if we changed that?

I propose we engage in some kind of license ascent over time. Perhaps descent would be better. Under this scheme, some work starts out under a restrictive and painful license and over time makes it’s way in to the public domain. For example:

  1. I write a book. For the first year, it is available under a attribution, share-alike non-commercial license.
  2. After the first year, it is available attribution, non-commercial.
  3. After the second year, it is available under attribution.
  4. After the third year, it is available public-domain.

We are reintroducing the concept of the work leaking in to the public domain gradually. So when I first create some piece of work I own it outright and then over time it becomes less and less burdened.

For static works like a book, the timelines may be longer. Say, two or five years per step. For works which changed all the time, like datasets about the world, perhaps each step lasts a year. Why would we want to do this? Two reasons: Because otherwise it’s really hard to make money from open source, and otherwise open projects don’t benefit the public domain.

There are classes of works which require “giving back” like OpenStreetMap in order to attract people to contribute. That is, why would you contribute to OSM if you couldn’t access the data? OSM has now existed for 11 years and the state of mapping in the public domain is still essentially the same as it was 11 years ago. But what if OSM data dropped in to a more liberal license, or the public domain, over time? Perhaps we could have a PD version of OSM but it was 5 years old. It wouldn’t compete with OSM itself, but it would enrich what people could build on without restrictions.

Put another way, do we want OSM to be perfect in another 10 years and the public domain still be essentially unusable? Wouldn’t it be nice to improve both OSM and (for free!) the public domain maps available?

Now imagine you have some new project which requires crowdsourcing to succeed. Dual licensing has the downside that picking the open license has many difficulties. You want to pick something that encourages people to contribute yet allows you to retain space to sell things, and this isn’t easy. If instead you practiced license ascent then everybody gets the data at some point in the future. Perhaps if you are a PD person you wait 3 years, and a share-alike person you have to wait two years. But either way, it’s better than never getting the data under a license that you would consider useful.

And, it does this whilst allowing the project or company to make money off the freshest data. It also creates an incentive to make the data fresher, all the time, because otherwise the old data will be good enough for people.

Now you could argue that any project should be open from the start, but open projects tend to have significant downsides. Open projects are terrible at user interaction and experience. They’re terrible at design. They tend to be incoherent. But they are great at innovation and collecting data. At the other end, private companies which collect data tend to be great at design and so on, but terrible at innovation and collecting data because they don’t have volunteers. I posit that license ascent is a way to achieve both and that it’s better than just picking a license or selling widgets on the side.



A Modern Mapping Party

Last month I ran a mapping party in Castle Rock, Colorado at the new Philip S. Miller Park:

Philip S Miller Park

Philip S Miller Park

The park was challenging for a few reasons:

  • Nothing on the map before we did the party
  • No up-to-date aerial imagery
  • Lots of footpaths in winter mud conditions

Luckily we had a bunch of enthusiastic people at the event. The footpaths were easily captured using GPS units but the new buildings, football field and other macroscopic features were harder to do.


Drones to the rescue!

Luckily I own a Phantom Vision 2+ drone which looks like this:


So I sent it up to 500 feet or so and took some pictures with the HD camera which looked like this:


The image shows part of the car park, internal access roads and the new sports building (red) and swimming pool (beige). Having some pictures is great, but what we needed to do was patch the images together to be able to map on top of them. You take these warped images from some height, location, yaw, pitch and roll and stitch them in to something flat and usable .

Enter MapWarper. This web-based tool will help you spit out that map:


You’re looking at multiple images stitched together, click it for a bigger interactive version. MapWarper is a little clunky in the work flow as it stands today. Each image is stitched to OSM as a ground truth and then you use multiple of those in to a layer. The problem here is when you have no ground reference to stitch to, which is the issue we had. It would be super useful to be able to stitch images to each other, and to the ground rather than having multiple images in free space. Still, the thing basically works but is best used (and apparently intended for) single high altitude images, or old maps. Not multiple images like I did.

One solution would be to send the drone higher and cross fingers it doesn’t decide to fly away or something, and take a single image that way. The downside is lower resolution of the imagery. Upside it (hopefully) less distortion from the fairly wide angle lens the Phantom Vision 2+ has.

You can go from MapWarper to editing using iD on the OSM website pretty trivially, and anyone can now use the imagery to help improve the map. So one person can go through all the imagery pain, but then everyone else can use the imagery as if it was just any other layer. Big savings there.

So what’s important here? I think it’s a new tool in the belt for use at mapping parties (and a new set of toys to play with). You’re no longer (and haven’t been for a while) restricted to existing imagery and GPS units. For a fairly modest cost you can collect your own live imagery and make maps better, all by yourself.

The Book of OpenStreetMap Kickstarter


I’ve launched a kickstarter for The Book of OSM. From the kickstarter:

I’ve been noodling a long time about how to structure and write a book about OSM. I never wanted to write a book about how to use the project, there are many now available of those in any case. I’m more interested in the stories and the people. How the project got going, the twists and turns, the ‘ah-ha’ moments and so on.

The blocker for me was figuring out how to give a voice to the community. I may have started the project but without thousands of other people it wouldn’t be where it is today. A friend showed me a book of interviews with designers and that solved the problem. So to give that voice, why not interview a number of key people?

What will be in the book

The book will be split roughly as 25% history (which may be in interview form) and 75% interviews with key people through the projects history, with those numbers subject to some change.

  • Your name, as a type of producer (see rewards)
  • The story of the project, from the early days to today
  • Discussion of why some technical decisions were made (usually for a non-technical reason)
  • What things that worked, what things that didn’t
  • Interviews with 15-25 key project members, including a favorite map for each of them and where possible, a picture of them

What won’t be in the book

Anything that will easily obsolete or get out of date won’t be in the book. That means:

  • How to map things and use the software today
  • How to use the website today
  • Deep technical, licensing or tagging discussions (as much fun as those things are)

Sadly it also isn’t physically possible to list every single project contributor.

What might be in the book

A number of companies have been involved in OSM over the years, and their contributions have been both interesting and extremely interesting. I need feedback to figure out how to tell those stories in an unbiased and open way, which just might not be possible.

OSM PLUS: Two weeks to go!


Get your ticket
OSM PLUS is in two weeks at the Marriott Union Square in San Francisco. You can get your tickets here and if you use the discount code OSMPLUS25 you’ll get 25% off!

Provisional program

The provisional program is now live here. Similar to last year, OSM PLUS is an exciting mix of talks and panels from a variety of businesses using OSM every day.

Why people like you are attending

Come and hear from FactualMapZenESRICartoDB and many more on the shared opportunities and challenges of using OSM data in the real world: Data quality, community engagement and how open licensing works.

Questions? Comments?

Please do reach out.

Why OpenStreetMap is now navigation-ready for people like you

OpenStreetMap vs. Google Maps

OpenStreetMap vs. Google Maps


If I’m right, today will be marked as a turning point for the mapping industry. Something huge has happened: We broke the sound barrier. Telenav’s consumer facing navigation app Scout is shipping with OSM data!

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is nearly ten years old and until now has been a great display map. Looking at it, it looks great! You can put pins on top of it. You can print it out. It even looks better than most maps, due to the insane detail the community put in to it every day. People have founded companies to monetize OSM based on a great looking, open and free map of the world.

OSM is made by people like you. We use our phones, GPS devices and laptops to add streets, footpaths, parks and anything else you can imagine in to the map. It’s been wonderful to watch it grow.

But adding turn restrictions and every stop sign in a city is not as fun. In fact, it’s kind of boring compared to the other things. Getting every address in Kansas and putting them in OSM isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries either.

This is why up until today there hasn’t been a great navigation experience using OSM. The data wasn’t there. To make a great route from A to B you need to know where B is and all the navigation details in between, and OSM just doesn’t have that data.

To make sure you arrive on time, your routing software has to know about all the one-way streets, the turn restrictions, the speed limits and much more about all the roads between you and your destination. OSM doesn’t have any of this today.

Enter Telenav, where I work. We’ve spent approximately a zillion man-years to fix these issues and today we’re announcing navigation using OSM within Scout, our consumer navigation app. We’re starting in the US and on iOS with the rest to follow.

Scout has a lot of users and so we need to make sure the quality bar is very high. If we shipped OSM as-is in it, we would quickly have not as many users.

We’ve built that quality by first analyzing GPS data. We take anonymous traces of where people drive and looked for patterns. If everyone drives one way down a street, maybe it’s a one-way street. If they all drive at 35mph on average, maybe it’s a 35mph road and so on. We license address data and point of interest info to find your destinations.

We’ve spent time automatically and manually correcting things in OSM to bring it up to what a consumer would expect to see.

And of course, we’re giving all that we can back. Via our own editing, maproulette and competitions we’re pumping all the good stuff that we can back in to OSM. This takes time due to OSMs consensus on not importing the masses of fixes we generate.

We’ve spent time drive testing. We’ve sent real people out across the United States with Scout using OSM to find out how it works. We’re very happy with the results.

Will it be perfect? If only! No, no map is perfect. The world is changing all the time and you can invest billions of dollars and still have map issues. But whenever anyone finds an issue, they can fix it. That’s the difference. We have feedback mechanisms built right in to Scout and we’ll take care of issues our customers report too.

I’m sure we’ll find issues in the map. We want to! That’s the whole point! Every issue we find and fix is making the map better for everyone. Since it’s open and free, every fix means it’s fixed forever, out there being loved instead of stuck in a dead dataset.

Feel sorry for how proprietary maps are currently built. When there’s a new road built, they all have to scramble to add it. Repeating each others work, trying to own everything and not sharing their corrections. It’s hardly efficient. Then it takes months and years to ship corrections compared to OSM where these things are instantly available.

What does all this mean?

It means OSM is ready for prime time!

Navigation is the very peak of Mount Map. By leveraging a decade of OSM and sprinkling on top some expertise and GPS data we’ve surmounted all the major issues in making open mapping available to all.

We’ll look back and wonder why we ever used closed maps.

OSM will roll out to iOS Scout users over the coming days. Watch for the OpenStreetMap attribution in the lower-right of the map.

OSM Attribution

OSM Attribution in Scout

A decade, you say?

It’s hard to believe but yes. I started OSM, designed the API, wrote all the early code, did hundreds of speaking events and a bunch of other things… but a lot of that was a while ago now. We need to thank a lot of people who were key along the way or have quietly toiled to make the project work. So in no particular order and surely, inevitably, missing people:

OSM wouldn’t be here without thanks to Matt “genius” Amos, Tom Carden (no home page without Tom), Ben Gimpert (with Tom, one of only 4 people at the first anniversary event), Alexandra Lotinga, Andy Robinson, Andy “the biker” Allen, Tom Hughes (for keeping five 9s uptime for 6 years or so), Richard “boatman” Fairhurst (first (and maybe last) decent web editor), Mike Collinson, Ian Brown, Mikel “the beard” Maron, Artem Pavlenko (the first colour maps), Henk Hoff, Tim Bruce, Jon Crowcroft, Nick Black, Imi (JOSM!), Etienne, Simon Poole, Frederick “serious” Ramm, Jochen “linuxhotel” Topf, MapMyShaun McDonald, Harry Wood, Gur Kimchi (MSFT aerial imagery), everyone at AND, Richard Weait, Grant Slater, Russ Nelson, Migurski & Rodenbeck (and all at Stamen), flickr/brickhouse, Jay Bregman (eCourier – first GPS traces), everyone at MapBox, Rich Gibson, Schuyler Erle, Jo Walsh, Randy Meech, Philipp Kandal & Oliver Kuhn & all at Skobbler, Serge for being Serge, Ed Freyfogle, Kate Chapman, everyone at the first mapping party on the Isle of Wight, anyone who dared enter legal-talk, Petter Reinholdtsen, Nick Hill (first servers), Joerg Ostertag (GpsDrive started it all), Nick Whitelegg, Dan Karran, Jon Burgess, Dermot McNally, Hiroshi Miura, Simone Cortesi, Dave Stubbs, Brett Henderson for osmosis, Paul Norman for being an important steward of the database, Kai Kruger for invaluable work on the OSM tool chain, Robert Barr, Andrew Turner, Iván Sánchez Ortega, Ant Pegg,Ed Parsons (and all the motivation from OS), Tristram Cary, whoever invented the Garmin Gecko, the Jeremey Bentham pub, UCL for all the bandwidth and electricity, Alasdair Turner (RIP), Mike Batty, Alan Penn, everyone I offended, everyone I missed, Hurricane and then Matt Amos again because awesome.

Wow, someone should write a book about all that history.

Another set of folks need thanking from Telenav to make Scout with OSM happen. It would only be complete by listing hundreds of employees so again forgive my brevity:

Loren Hillberg, Ryan Peterson, Martijn Van Exel, John Novak, Guoyuan Xiao, Eric Godwin, Robert Stack, Vlad Lemberg, Kristen Kam, Chris Zontine, Jon Locke, Tony Ma, Song Gao, Matthieu Nahoum, Huiheng Kuang, Chris Yu, Ben Luo, Rob Daniels, Dariusz Paczuski, Xiaotao Liu, Jonathan Zhao, Yong Yang, Ran Lei and everyone I missed.

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