Open Geo interview series - Steve Coast
2 Dec 2014
Today we speak with the founder of the OpenStreetMap project, Steve Coast, about his newest project: he’s using the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to finance the writing of “The Book of OSM”, which will tell the history of the OpenStreetMap project.
1. I’ll start with our standard question, though in your case it might be a bit redundant. Who are you and what’s your background in OpenStreetMap and geo?
I founded OSM, wrote the first three or four versions of the API, started the State of the Map conference, started the OSMF, mapping parties and various other things.
2. Why are you writing a book about OSM? and why now? Who is the target audience of the book, the OSM community or people who know very little about the project?
It’s been a decade since OSM was founded and thus a convenient time to catalogue the history. Plus the obvious and useful “how to use OSM” book has been written a few times, but the “how the project started” book hasn’t, and there’s a smaller number of people that can write that. The target audience is both OSM community members and those outside who’re interested in how an open project gets started and works.
3. What surprises will long time OSMer’s find in the book?
I think the interview format should give plenty of surprises to everybody, me included. We can’t predict what people will say!
4. This is your second project on Kickstarter. Why are you using that platform specifically? What was your experience the first time around? Why should someone back the project?
Kickstarter is convenient, provides a suite of platform communication tools and is well known. It was fantastic last time around and the switching benefit is a few percent of the fee to use the platform, which isn’t compelling enough to switch away from Kickstarter. You should back this book if you’re interested in OpenStreetMap, because it won’t disappoint in entertainment value.
5. When did you realise OpenStreetMap had succeeded (assuming of course that you agree it has)?
When I used to run mapping parties I’d ask people new to the project to pick an area that interested them. Their home, vacation destination or something like that. Usually they’d pick somewhere relatively well mapped and we’d find something to add like a footpath or building outline. One time, someone said they wanted to zoom in on Cuba. Cuba isn’t known for internet connectivity or free data community. So I explained that we’d probably find a blank space.
Of course, it was completely mapped including hospitals in Havana, footpaths and so on. At that point I stopped being surprised.
6. What is the most surprising and unexpected use case of OSM you’ve come across over the years?
Recently the 3D building work people have been doing is impressive. I didn’t think people would squeeze pretty functional 3D in to the OSM data schema. I think it’s really been a sequence of the unexpected. I didn’t expect people to map every tree in their area. Or every pub. It’s really a lesson in what an open platform can produce, the more you take your hands off the wheel, the more diversity you’ll get.
7. OSM recently celebrated it’s 10th birthday, where do you think the project will be in 10 years time?
The goal of OSM is to replace every other map in the world. We won’t get there without fixing addressing information which is the current black hole in OSM. Therefore, I’d hope in another decade we’ll have that covered and nobody will ever need to use a proprietary map ever again.
Good luck with the Kickstarter Steve! I was fortunate enough to be in London back in 2005 when the project was just kicking off, it is an amazing story of the power of collaboration. I’ve backed the project and encourage everyone else to do the same, I look forward to reading my copy. I highly recommend anyone interested in the history of OSM watch Steve’s talk, which is featured on the Kickstarter page. I can also recommend subscribing to Steve’s blog.
You can see all the Open Geo interviews here. If you are or know of someone we should interview, please get in touch, we’re always looking to promote people doing interesting things with open geo data.