Talk:March 2006 Podcast with Ed Parsons

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Tragedy of the Anti-Commons

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EdP: Or, you know, for political necessity, they're going to cut back, because they have to pay for, you know, the war in Iraq. My personal opinion is, if you're earning your own revenue through licensing your own data, you're more in control of your own destiny. If you make a bad product, people don't like it, they won't license it, you won't get the revenue, and you'll need to change your way. So, I think it brings a bit more focus on the customer, or at least ideally it does.

While the above argument is plausible, it would be more accurate to say "the existing customer" rather than merely "the customer." And not merely existing, but also quite likely large and institutional (such as Google, automobile associations, etc.). When a particular body of information requires licensing, the only people who will use it legally are those who have a reasonable expectation of being able to profit sufficiently by using the information to pay the licensing fees. This immediately excludes a large class of potential users who have ideas about what to do with the information, but haven't yet lined up their own customers, revenue streams, funding, etc., to pay for it. A novel idea is in a fragile state, because often the potential beneficiaries aren't convinced of its value, and won't be until they see it fully developed. Thus the licensing of geographic data may create a Tragedy of the Anti-Commons and stifle innovation.

One serious problem with geographic data from a licensing standpoint is that many applications need a lot of it. Just to get in the game, the little guy has to pony up the same fees as the Googles of the world. An application that might bring value to just a small number of specialized users still requires the same information base as a more marketable, mainstream application. The eventual per-user licensing fee in such cases can be many times higher than in a mainstream application. Google probably ends up paying just a tiny amount per "eyeball" it attracts to its advertising by displaying free maps. A typical individual innovator does not have millions of visitors among which to subdivide the costs.

It may be that the little guy gets screwed either way: by licensing fees before he generates any revenue of his own, or by the political masters who cut funding to finance their military adventures or social welfare porkbarrels. Therefore a site such as OpenStreetMap is a natural response enabling little guys to collectively generate their own data and stop relying on distant, perhaps unsympathetic political masters or bureaucrats or voters to determine their fate. Teratornis 22:34, 2 Jul 2006 (UTC)