User:Xxzme/Why OSM and not another collaborative mapping service?

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Geographical data (geo data) is not free in many parts of the world. Generally these places have given the task of mapping to various government agencies who in return get to make money by selling the data back to you and me. If you live in one of these countries, then your taxes pay for the mapping and then you have to pay again to get a copy of it. In the USA crude data (such as TIGER) is in the public domain, however refined data and finished maps are generally commercially copyrighted.

Data from commercial maps sometimes contain lies, or easter eggs, to catch anyone copying it. These easter eggs take the form of fake or missing streets, or features like churches and schools that don't in fact exist. If you make a map using their data, they can say "ah-ha! Gotcha!" from looking if you also copied these fake pieces of map. The map may also just be incorrect because for example you bought it a year ago and a path has been dug up in your local park since, or someone just made a mistake.

If you accept all of this then you still can't do anything with the data but photocopy it. In lots of places that's illegal too if you go beyond your fair use rights. You can't correct a street name, or add the pub/bar over the road, or use the data in a computer program without paying a lot of money. More money than you probably have. What about sending it to a friend, enclosing it in an invitation or posting it on a notice board? A lot of these are less legal than you might think.

Advances in technology like cheap GPS units mean you can now create your own maps, in collaboration with others and have none of the restrictions outlined above. The ability to do so allows you to regain a little bit of the community you live in - if you can't map it, you can't describe it.

There multiple collaborative mapping services. Each of them is a direct rival to OpenStreetMap in terms of competing for contributors and map editing contributions. OpenStreetMap is better than any other competitor for one simple and very fundamental reason:

Your mapping service is a closed system.

Only authors (sometimes it is for-profit company) of mapping service gets to choose what can be done with the data you enter.

You input geodata, the positions of roads etc, you see it on their maps and in a range of services and tools produced with the data, but...

You can't get your geodata back out again. It is common that Some company owns the underlying data and not you and they protect their commercial interests by keeping this locked away (even though it was contributed by you).

If you spend time contributing to their maps, you are helping a commercial company to build their market dominance. There no guarantee that your quality of life will be instantly increased (no guarantee in better routing results or improved search results). Big companies slow down modifications of data due their "moderation processes". In contrast to this, OpenStreetMap assumes good faith in your edits.

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OpenStreetMap offers free data.

Anyone is allowed to use your data - for useful, fun and exciting purposes.

You input geodata, you see it on and use it in a range of services and tools, and...

The data is available to download with an open license giving everyone the freedom to reuse, redistribute and build applications with it. The licence allows commercial use but OpenStreetMap itself is a not-for-profit "good cause" free data organization.

If you spend time contributing to OpenStreetMap you are helping a good cause, and building a geographic database of the world which can be almost instantly accessed by anyone living on this planet because OpenStreetMap free and open for all – forever. All software will get newest and correct data from OpenStreetMap.

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The difference is night and day, and yet many people fail to notice issues around the openness of their data. There is tendency instead to focus on the rendered view of the map, and other "downstream services". While we do have comparable downstream services OpenStreetMap is free in a much more fundamental level, and this is surely worth considering for anyone dedicating a lot of time towards contributing.


We would encourage users to contribute their data and knowledge to OpenStreetMap, project with free geographic data for the world. OpenStreetMap is more detailed, growing more quickly and, most importantly, liberally licensed specifically to allow new and creative uses. By making contributions to OpenStreetMap everyone benefits whereas contributions to another project have only limited benefits at best.