We had the opportunity to speak with Steve Coast, the Founder of OpenStreetMap (OSM) and Cloud Made as well as The Fake Steve Coast. Prior to creating OSM and Cloud Made, the real Steve Coast interned at Wolfram Research then pursued a degree in computer science and physics at the University of College, London. Known and respected highly for his work on geo webs, the real Steve Coast enlightened us in with his thoughts on crowdsourcing, datasharing, open source and the future of the Geo Web. Although there wasn’t any public information about The Fake Steve Coast, we couldn’t resist hearing his thoughts also.
FortiusOne: What perspective does OpenStreetMap take on GIS?
Steve Coast: It’s the Church, we’re the Bazaar. OSM is about community and getting people to map boring places on a Sunday afternoon and in many ways the technology just doesn’t matter – all it has to do is get out of the way. There’s a lot to GIS, there’s a lot of very valid uses, but we don’t have the same notions of top down ontologies and the other engineering paradigms about doing things the Right Way.
The Fake Steve Coast: We like to think of GIS as being like Mad Uncle Jim. He should shave a bit more often and no-one really understands what he’s on about, but he’s fairly harmless, and he’ll die soon anyway.
FortiusOne: How does crowdsourcing impact datasharing?
Steve Coast: Well, we’ll reduce the price of the base map data to zero much as
linux reduced the price of an operating system to zero. I think that will make people realise that their datasets aren’t all as valuable as they think – much as Sun open sourced their OS and languages. Thus with a bit of luck there will be more sharing, liberal licenses and innovation based on all that.
The Fake Steve Coast: We see datasharing as one of the three types of Free. There’s "free as in beer", that’s Google Maps and the top-down approach. There’s "free as in speech", that’s us and crowdsourcing. Datasharing is "free as in BitTorrent", which is some guy in Russia "rehosting" the $3bn spatial database you’ve spent your lifetime on. Sorry about that.
FortiusOne: How do you picture the future relationship between open source and commercial data?
Steve Coast: I think it will look like much of the OS market. Hybrid models such as
Mac OS X – based on many Free projects, closed like Microsoft and almost totally open like Linux. In some markets the race to the bottom will happen just like it is right now with cell phone operating systems.
The Fake Steve Coast: atlasteq:~ wget http://planet.openstreetmap.org/planet-latest.osm
atlasteq:~ sed -e ‘s/user="[^"]+"/user="atlasteq"/g’ planet-latest.osm> ourbigproprietarydb.gis
FortiusOne: What is the future of commercial data?
Steve Coast: More liberal licensing, accepting changes from customers (note customers, not community. It’s going to be way harder for them to build that), cheaper, more differentiation with different types and styles of maps.
The Fake Steve Coast: Pwned.
FortiusOne: Please describe the relationship between OSM and CloudMade.
Steve Coast: Much the same as RedHat and other Linux product and service provides’ relationship with various F/OSS projects. We help wherever we can and provide commercially the things that the community cannot. Reliability, scaling, data in different formats/projections, services with time constraints and so on.
The Fake Steve Coast: CloudMade is like the Navy Seals of collaborative mapping. We hire the supermen of OSM and pay them to work on the really hard stuff, e.g. installing Mapnik. They’ve been at it for 9 weeks now and we reckon we might have the test script running in about a month’s time.
FortiusOne: What is the next big thing for the GeoWeb?
Steve Coast: Well many seem to think 3D but my money is on pervasive location – it won’t be a geoweb, it will just be that your phone knows you like burritos after going to a bar. It knows where you are and routes you to a burrito. It’ll disappear in to the background much like email, browsing, cell phones and so on. Who knew that SMS would be such a cash cow for cell phones in Europe? The model will probably be something slightly askance like that, and then it will have been totally obvious all along.
The Fake Steve Coast: Germans. We’re ahead of the curve there. Although Germans don’t do curves, they do really, really precise polylines.
FortiusOne: What do you see as the successful business model for the GeoWeb?
Steve Coast: Advertising has potential as does services – but with the big three not really interested in making money nobody else can be. Expect a shake down if and when they are interested in paying the rent.
The Fake Steve Coast: Buy big monster truck. Mount camera and GPS on top. Drive around world in it. Sell result to Google for $$$$ before they realise people will do this for you, for free. Sell truck to Nokia for $$$$ before they realise people etc. etc. Retire to Caribbean.
FortiusOne: What is next for OpenStreetMap?
Steve Coast: Our conference is coming up (www.stateofthemap.org) next month and we just screamed past 43,000 users. So expect our first crowd source country to be completely mapped (likely Germany or the UK) and a big celebration when it happens.
The Fake Steve Coast: We have this great new deal with Nestoria, the real estate site who use our data. In return for giving them free data, they give us free house moves, so when you’ve mapped your neighbourhood they just relocate you somewhere unmapped.
Which is great, until we finish Europe and have to move to Zimbabwe. Maybe we should get aerial imagery instead.
FortiusOne: What do you think of Google’s new MapMaker?
Steve Coast: I really do believe it’s a poke at their own data suppliers and it’s them that should be more worried than us. OSMs fundamental reasons for existence remain more than intact. We didn’t down tools because of the Peoples Map and we won’t when the next proprietary dataset emerges.
The Fake Steve Coast: So this is 2008 and they finally have an editor that doesn’t work properly, aerial images that don’t line up with the vectors, edit wars in Cyprus and Pakistan, dodgy coastlines, confusion between mph and km/h. We’ve had all those advantages for years now.
But obviously we’re concerned. If MapMaker can combine the success of Orkut, the ethical policy of google.cn, the reliability of Google Groups, the rich feature set of Blogger, the respect for source copyright of YouTube, and the widespread impact of Knol, we’re laughing. Sorry, I mean ‘screwed’.
Seriously. We started OSM in 2004 because th
ough Ordnance Survey had a complete map of Britain, it wasn’t open. In 2012 Google might have a complete map of the world but it won’t be open either. The world still needs OSM.
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