GoopenStreetMaple: Information wants to be free

A rant just arrived in my inbox, by Mikel Maron via the Geowanking mailing list. While I think Mikel has some valid points, I am still (naïvely?) optimistic that the bleak picture he paints will not materialise in really bad outcomes. Hopefully.

But who knows. In two events (about one and about three years ago) I asked two GeoGooglers (Ed Parsons being one of them) about the relationship, and its anticipated development, between Google and OpenStreetMap (OSM). Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the answers were very vague and suggested that OSM is “not perceived as a competition” by Google and also that cooperation is “not impossible”.

I think there is really two sides to these issues:
First of all, I advocate open data and Google Map Maker is NOT open.
On the other hand Google (Map Maker) has lots of traction in, for example, India and (according to Mikel) Africa. It would maybe be quite difficult for initiatives like OSM to develop the same momentum, without a big name like “Google”?
Maybe we are also missing the big picture? What can certainly be said is that people in the mentioned regions have a need to map their environments. They want to see their neighbourhoods, their villages, towns and cities on an online map. They maybe want to embed such a map in their websites, use driving directions or do simple spatial analyses. To me as a geographer this is exciting and I think everybody should have access to mapping technology and everything which supports such initiative should be welcomed. For the moment all evidence points to the fact that to those people the licensing question does not (yet!) seem important…

Side-track: Over at Geowanking Bob describes a vision he had when reading Google licenses:

[I] came to the (somewhat humorous) conclusion, that everyone just needs to use the Google License (or a Google like license) in turn, when setting their data out in the wild,  If I figured things correctly, using the Google like license would allow them to grab but not keep, or possibly not grab anything at all, in some cases, and for some reason, it seems like a circle of life sort of solution… The Google License seems to  be set up to be mutually exclusive, as in two separate entities using such a license couldn’t use either’s data, or at least not use it in a proprietary way.

What a ‘nice’ vision: a world-wide (geo)data duopoly…

Seriously, I hope Google can soon attain some new unique asset (the whole world in 3D?), so that they can open up their (by then, very old-looking 2D) geodata to the general public.


4 thoughts on “GoopenStreetMaple: Information wants to be free

  1. Kate Chapman

    Ralph, I do think that at the moment many people don’t care about the license. But what about the point where they do? After putting hours and hours into mapping their surroundings is it fair to have to do it again? The license is proving unacceptable over and over again in different parts of the world. Sure some ignore the license, but what happens when they get too big for that…

    1. Ralph Post author

      Yes, Kate, I agree that the current license is bad and I would never use Map Maker as long as that license stands. But the license is at least straightforward and it is not hidden in legal-ese who owns what (that’s a small ‘at least’). I think bashing Google for that license is one thing, but I think we also need to acknowledge that so far we as open data promoters have unfortunately failed to educate many people about Google’s geodata license and its meaning for their mapping efforts.

  2. Mark

    I’ve read the various blogs and comments around this and whilst I don’t like Google’s T&Cs they are a business after all and the bottom line is that they have to make money! We have to aknowledge that they have moved geography out to the masses and enabled ordinary people to focus on geography as a means to convey issues, information etc etc.
    OSM is a far superior map and data being freely available helps many people in a way that wouldn’t have happened had they not been in existance. However, in well developed economies people generally have the means to buy equipment and go out and capture data. Less developed parts of the world struggle to maintain daily life, let alone capture their environment for mapping purposes and what government in this situation would not jump at the chance to have their environment mapped for free?

    The balance has to be economic ie which is the greater benefit? I know what I’d choose if it was between waiting (possibly for years) for enthusiastic citizens to map the country against a multi-national mapping company offering the infrastructure and resourses for nout!

    To plan for a countries future needs you need data, and sooner rather than later. Don’t blame Google for stepping in and finding a business opportunity when there is no viable alternative!

  3. Pingback: Tweeting Journalists: Aftermath | visurus

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