Systeme D


Why you should credit OpenStreetMap.

OpenStreetMap attribution has bubbled to the surface lately – the matter of if, and how, you credit OSM in a map that uses its data. OSM itself is clear about how it wants to be credited, but it doesn’t always happen.

Often this is simply because map users don’t know how to, or their chosen library doesn’t make it obvious. Sometimes it’s deliberate. Whichever, it’s guaranteed to exercise the community, such that there are now at least two community-run Twitter accounts dedicated to the topic: one friendly (“Thanks for using OpenStreetMap! Please add a credit”), another not so much (“Cracking down on license abusers”). And behind the scenes, there have been many furrowed-brow conversations on how we fix this.

Amid all this drama, Serge Wroclawski’s excellent article on “Why the world needs OpenStreetMap” has unwittingly provided the best demonstration of why you should attribute OpenStreetMap.

Serge’s article was picked up by Gizmodo and the Guardian, and in turn by Reddit. At which point it became painfully obvious that Redditors – and, by extension, the population at large – simply don’t get that OSM is more than

“The world doesn't need yet another mapping provider. What's OSM got? Some raw mapping data, which quite frankly is useless without a top notch front end to put it to use.” “It really needs a travel route feature, or if there is one it needs to be more obvious. Most of my Google Maps use is looking at times and distances between cities using various routes.” “Google Maps is incredibly easy to use and is useful. I'd love to use OSM if it was as nice of an experience.” “So basically if I want directions from point A to point B, I should continue using Google Maps, and there's no reason for me to be interested in either using or helping OSM.” “I just noticed Google Map Maker is finally available in my area. I don't see changing stuff in OSM to be any useful to me.”

And so on for 905 comments.

People genuinely don’t see that editing OpenStreetMap has any value beyond Since is intentionally not a consumer-facing site in the way that Google Maps is, they’re not going to use it; so they won’t edit OSM.

There are two ways out of this. Make a consumer-facing site, with an aerial layer, multi-modal routing, mass-market cartography, a paid-for API, and a staff of 100… thereby squashing the businesses and motivation of everyone who provides cartography, routing, and paid-for APIs on OSM.

Or attribute.

Reddit demonstrates that people will only contribute to OSM if they see a reason. For the majority who aren’t cartographers (like me) or Free Software evangelists (like Serge), that reason will be: it’s used in the sites, apps and devices that make their life better.

But the feedback loop is only complete if these sites, apps and devices make it immediately obvious that they’re using OpenStreetMap data. That’s why clear, prominent attribution is so important to OSM. Right now, Reddit shows we’re failing at this.

Attribute. Do it creatively. Do it generously. Explain why. A link to is the mandated minimum, but you can do much more. Sell OSM. Tell your users why contributing to OSM benefits them. Because if it benefits your users, it benefits your business. If OSM withers because people see a better reason to contribute to Google Map Maker, so does your OSM-based site, app or business.

Here’s what I’ve done at The click-through from the attribution goes to a page which does the legal bit (describing the licences) but then goes on to explain why and how. I’m sure smarter minds than me can do better still. Go to it.

Posted on Thursday 16 January 2014. Link.

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