Foundation/AGM21/Election to Board/Answers and manifestos/Q13 Use of proprietary communication channels in OSM

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Use of proprietary communication channels in OSM

In recent years, mappers have been using proprietary, closed-source communications platforms for collaboration and community debate. These platforms, which include Slack, Discord, and Facebook, have attracted thousands of users in OSM-related channels, despite a poor record of privacy controls and a lack of open access to archives. Do you feel that these non-libre communications platforms are harmful or beneficial to the project, and what role if any do you feel the OSMF has in promoting or establishing open alternatives?

Related links, added at the time of answers' publication: OpenStreetMap Foundation's FOSS policy, OSM Foundation's FOSS Policy Special Committee

Guillaume Rischard

Do I feel that these platforms are harmful or beneficial to the project? Yes :).

The proprietary platforms tend to have better UI and UX, which helps with user retention. The OSMF should try to offer good, convenient alternatives to them that follow our FOSS Policy. Again, I think the Discourse project is going in the right direction.

The biggest obstacle to doing this is volunteer time. If you’d like to help, please join OWG.

There’s always been a big variety of platforms around OSM. I don’t have a particular problem with, for example, a working group chatting over Signal or a local community organising over Telegram.

Michal Migurski

The extended OSM community appears to have almost 700 communication platforms and channels ( About 15% of those are hosted on Slack, Discord, or Facebook. The sheer volume of these channels is a sign of strong community health and vibrancy, and show that the global OSM community is overflowing traditional channels to communicate in the places they prefer. OSMF should enforce an open/libre policy for the core platforms and communication channels that it hosts directly. The OSMF should not expend energy attempting to direct community interactions on other platforms. It’s unreasonable to expect that a millions-strong international community limit its activities to Foundation-driven selections.

Amanda McCann

I was instrumental in getting the BigBlueButton video chat software for the OSMF, which is available for all OSMers. We didn't do Zoom calls during the pandemic. I also set up & paid for the mastodon/fediverse service on . In 2021 I successfully organised for the OSMF to fund this.

I do use proprietary networks often, like Twitter (though anything with “OpenStreetMap” gets copied to Masotodon/Fediverse, and I'm very active on the OpenStreetMap World Discord server (I've stepped down as a mod there until after the AGM). I'm logged into some other systems like Telegram & Slack.

It's important to realise why people use those networks. Let's be honest, in many ways the FLOSS chat systems, or forums, are lacking lots of features compared to the proprietary controlled options. Even I cannot log onto the OSM forum software because my OSM username has funny characters for the software. It's obvious why many people choose the better performing system. In addition, people go to where the other people are. If you want to promote & advance OSM, you should go to where most people are and talk to them.

Likewise, one should recognise why people don't like those systems. We all know some VC backed chat system start up will go back on it's word, that it'll sell itself (& your data) to someone, that they'll change how things used to work in order to squeeze you for money or control, that there won't be things you can do, that you'll have to see adverts even if you don't want to. None of these investment backed tech companies are trustworthy. And as a european, they obviously break what is essential a constitutional right for us, the right to control what happens to data about you.

Some people won't use certain OSM mailing lists until there's a Code of Conduct, and some people won't use certain OSM chat systems because they are proprietary. Both decisions are valid.

I think the OSMF has an obligation to (i) perform all it's own business via open communication channels, and (ii) make it easy easy as possible for OSMers to use FLOSS/open communication channels, e.g. to pay for hosting them, or to do the druge work needed to ensure OSMers can choose the open alternative (like actually researching & test driving options)

Mikel Maron

There's both benefits in that more people are discussing OSM in spaces they are comfortable in and in practice not every conversation needs to be connected; but also harm in that key community conversations are fractured and hard to find. I'm sceptical about technological solutions to this problem, nor do I think that simply promoting an alternative will bring people into a common space.

There's a couple things I think will help. First we will soon have etiquette guidance and moderation on our core community channels. I hope this will encourage more participation in key discussions of global importance. Secondly, I think there is a role for local chapters and communities to facilitate interchange of discussion across different channels.

Roland Olbricht

We do want open source tools only, but there must be a migration path to ensure that people effective can switch communication channels. It might help to collects examples of the fragility of non-open platforms. That way, we have better chances to compel people to leave their respective comfort zone.

Bryan Housel

If people are...
1. Talking to each other and,
2. Respecting everyone, and
3. Open to new members, then
Great! I consider that a healthy community. It should be listed in the osm-community-index project so that people will know about it:

As we see from the community index, OpenStreetMap users have formed hundreds of communities, ranging from very local to worldwide. When I created this index, it was important to me to support all of the different types of communication channels that people are using to form their communities, and I add almost anything that people ask for. The list is extensive!

Some of these technologies we use to form communities are more open source than others and I am ok with that. Communities will form naturally around whatever tools their members are already using, and I think that the board should meet people “where they are”, not force them to change their preferred methods of communication.

The OSMF can play a role in encouraging the use of Free and Open Source Software where it makes sense to do so. I’d really like to call out the great work done by the FOSS Policy Special Committee released in January 2021, to inventory all of the software used by the OSMF and their working groups.

OSM Foundation's board election 2021: official questions

All board candidates' manifestos

OSM Foundation's board election 2021 - OSM Foundation's Annual General Meeting 2021: information and agenda