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OpenStreetMap Grand Challenge

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21 November 2006 by Ian Davis

Steve Coast from the OpenStreetMap project:

People have stopped asking me if OSM will ever work. They’ve stopped telling me that it will only work in this or that circumstance. What I’m being asked now is when will OSM map the UK. I’ve been semi-flippantly retorting with ‘mid-2008′. Its not that far away (30 months or so?) so it’s a little daunting but it’s also achievable by looking at what’s happened in the last 2 years. Whether or not it’s realistic or not, I propose it as a challenge. A grand challenge for OSMers in the UK and a general focus for the conference – how are we going to map the planet in a reasonable timeframe?

Great stuff – nothing like being bold. I’ve been telling people it’s a 20 year project, about twice the time it took to build a free operating system that people would actually want to use and about five times the period to build a free encyclopedia of the world’s knowledge. It looks like it’s now going to be a lot quicker than I thought to get the base mapping done. Of course, the work will never be done but getting close to 100% coverage of public rights of way is a major milestone and one that, I think, will trigger a significant shift in policy from the incumbent data providers. For years the incumbents have been safe in the knowledge that their business models were protected by the sheer replication cost. In their world, if it’s a thousand Man-years of effort to collect, analyse and curate the data then they might have 200 people working for 5 years. In the open-source/open-data world the same results can be achieved by 10,000 people donating 5% of their time for a couple of years (and it doesn’t have to be the same 10,000 people continuously over that period). The economics completely change and pricing levels shift dramatically toward the intrinsic value of the data – which makes it very difficult to justify those existing business models.

So, I’m looking forward to the OSM conference, the uptake of the challenge by the community and the continued disruption of incumbent geodata institutions. We live in interesting times indeed.

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