Some examples of sustainability challenges: the case of OpenStreetMap

During the last weeks, through my twitter feed, I stumbled upon a few posts by an acquaintance of mine, who is heavily involved in the Italian community of OpenStreetMap (OSM): the collaborative, free, editable map of the world. These posts, commented below, show some of the challenges that OSM is facing; and they also inspired this post, which in no way intends to be exhaustive 1.

Of course, the challenges of sustainability for online collaborative commons have many faces. Furthermore, each commons is unique and different from any other, thus it’s quite difficult to pinpoint what are the fundamental aspects or issues that must be considered when trying to support their sustainability. However, by looking at ‘infrastructural breakdowns’ (as I would call them, by borrowing from STS vocabulary) as they are realized, handled and perceived in the commons, by the commons, I think is possible to start characterizing them. However, first of all, is quite important to be able to recognize them.

These, I argue, are some relevant sustainability challenges which OSM is facing.

  • OSMF Request for Proposals: Data Centre 2018 – hosting for the whole technical infrastructure is usually donated to OSM. Every once in a while, the whole system needs to find a new ‘home’. Recently, OSM Foundation issued a call for donation of hosting space to keep the infrastructure running during the next three years.
  • OSM and Gender – Invitation to Online Discussion – basically, any collaborative project suffer, to a certain degree, of some form of exclusion (e.g. marginalization or discrimination) or even abuse of power (e.g. bullying and harassment) that areĀ  based on gender or ethnicity. OSM is no different and, improving gender balance in the participants pool, it is something that many there are trying to understand and tackle.
  • Why OpenStreetMap is in Serious Trouble – as many other contemporary web-based and complex services, also OSM needs to constantly evolve and scale to remain relevant. That is to say to remain useful, used, and supported by many. However, according to one core long time contributor, there are several socio-technical aspects in OSM that are crucial in this regard and need being faced for the project to survive 2.

At the frontstage, many people worldwide praise, use and rely on OSM as an alternative free and open online service for geographical data and information. However, in the backstage, many volunteer mappers, system hackers and designers continuously, face challenges that might undermine the long term viability of the system as a whole. This, of course, does not come as a surprise to them, but it deserves more attention also at the frontstage.

  1. These are just three, relatively random, posts I stumbled upon. Basically, this is just some ‘food for thoughts’, which I’m writing to myself.
  2. Of course these are personal opinions from one contributor and might not be shared by others.

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