Annual General Meetings/2020/Chairperson’s report

OSMF Chairperson's Annual Report for 2020

As of December 1, 2020, OpenStreetMap's statistics showed:

Number of nodes    6,523,822,560
Number of ways         721,270,948
Number of relations       8,426,271

As of August 2020 we were hitting 4.5 million map changes per day, and about 50,000 individual contributors per month. On November 29, OSM hit its 95 millionth changeset. This is impressive for a volunteer-based project.

Early in 2020 I started both a SWOT analysis of OSM and a series of calls to community members around the world, to whoever would take my calls and spend time answering my questions: What should the OSM Foundation Board of Directors focus on, and what do I need to know as a Board member to make OSM continue to be successful? The results of those two efforts are on the OSM wiki and in my OSM diary, respectively, and have been hotly debated within the community. I thank everyone who contributed and who used those opportunities to guide the Board's actions over the last year. You had real influence and made a positive impact.

The Board this year focused on stabilising the hardware and software platform, first by fully funding the Operations Working Group's request, then, in consultation with that Working Group and the system administrators, deciding to hire a full-time systems reliability engineer. The Board also hired the iD editor's full-time maintainer when his employment with a third party was ended. The Board saw this as an opportunity to shift control of the iD editor project from a third party to the OSM community. A corollary for these decisions was the need to raise funds to cover these and other expenses, and that effort was another major focus of the Board in 2020. The results of that effort are in the Treasurer's Report, which I urge all Foundation members to read. It represents enormous work by the whole Board, but especially Guillaume Rischard and Mikel Maron, with a lot of help from Paul Norman.

Among our most significant milestones was a marked diversification of the local chapters. Until this year, all local chapters of the Foundation were in Europe. During the course of 2020, we admitted chapters from South America (Argentina), North America (U.S.), Asia (Oceania), and Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo) in addition to new European chapters (Czechia and Kosovo), giving us local chapters on five continents instead of only one.

We also adopted the "active contributor" associate membership program, easing membership for mappers and other contributors in countries where paying ₤15 is an obstacle. It has had a significant impact on Foundation membership already. Cribbing directly from Board Secretary Joost Schouppe's diary post,

      ...[Foundation] membership rose from 1503 to 1939 in the period since the introduction of ACM. That’s over 400 new members or a growth of almost 30%. In this short time, the membership has grown more than in the almost two years before.

      A lot of the motivation behind ACM is increasing geographic diversity. There has in fact been a significant shift. Where Africa was virtually unrepresented back in 2018, it is now at 5,2% of the total membership. Asia shows a steady growth. South America did not profit much from the fee waiver program, but has seen a significant rise recently.

      Interestingly, Europe maintained a steady percentage in the first period, and a significant growth in the second. North America on the other hand, has shown a consistent decrease in the total. Note that North America’s decrease is entirely a US phenomenon. The share of non-US North American members stays almost exactly the same over the whole period.

      It is quite obvious that the membership is very much concentrated in a relatively small part of the world.

We have proposed an amendment to the Articles of Association that will allow such "active contributors" to be full, not associate, members of the Foundation, and hope the membership will agree.

In the course of 2020, the OSM Foundation Board of Directors has made progress on many issues facing OSM and the OSM community:

Further tasks are currently in progress; the most significant ones are:

  • Takeover protection;
  • Dealing with Brexit, since OSMF is incorporated in England;
  • Rebooting the EWG and encouraging more volunteers to join other working groups;
  • Hiring a full-time senior site reliability engineer;
  • Continued work with LWG on writing attribution guidelines intended to provide a feasible safe harbour that satisfies legal requirements, but also expresses best practices and community ethical and social values;
  • Continued work on open local chapter applications;
  • Institutionalising budgeting and fund-raising processes as well as oversight of our paid staff.

The common threads running through these Board actions have been

  1. consultation with the OSM community on issues of policy or expenditure of significant sums of money,
  2. focus on broadening the Foundation’s membership base and the active participation of members, and
  3. stabilising and enhancing our infrastructure.

In June 2020, the consulting firm Accenture published a report noting that, among other things, the value of OpenStreetMap's data is more than $1.67 billion. While this is an impressive accomplishment for a volunteer-led project, it is also a reason to stop and think. On the plus side, this value reflects the extent to which OSM data are used daily by about a billion users around the world, some of whom use OSM because they have no other viable alternative for navigation (I was one of those people while working in Turkmenistan between 2015 and 2019). The OSM community is empowering people to do good works. On the negative side, this valuation also makes OSM a potential target for a hostile takeover attempt, which, though unlikely to succeed, could nevertheless cause OSM severe damage.

In closing please allow me some expressions of gratitude. I thank my fellow Board members for their tireless work, all volunteers, and to express deep appreciation for their willingness to take on tasks that at times are not only thankless, but which evoke vehemently negative reactions from some members of the community. A community of a million will never come to unanimity on anything, so some criticism is to be expected, but I have frankly been shocked by the tone of some of the written comments and messages. I thank my fellow Board members for their forbearance and senses of humour. I thank Dorothea Kazazi, our administrative assistant, for her constant support of the Board, and ability to keep us organized and on track, never letting anything slip between the cracks. I thank the Working Group volunteers, the local communities, the Advisory Board members, and the many donors of financial support for the OSM project, large and small. I thank the software developers and maintainers, without whom OSM would be a database that most of us could not figure out how to use. I thank the data users, who help us advertise to the world the availability of "a map of the world that anyone can use." I thank the various community members who have spent hours on the phone with me, serving as informal counselors and sounding boards.

Most of all, I thank the mappers, all of you, even the one anonymous mapper in Turkmenistan who mapped only once, but added a single crucial node--a bus stop--that unraveled a mystery for me and allowed identification of an unknown municipality in my quest to geolocate all cities and towns in that country. Thank you for your many (4.5 million per day) contributions that make OSM the great cartographic database that it is.