Free Open Street Map

Most of this maps section is all about Openstreetmap, which as explained is a fascinating and very successful project. Unfortunately, during 2011, Openstreetmap is currently undergoing a rather controversial licence change. Effectively it's becoming a fork of the data and the community, because they can't take all of the data (or all of the users) with them. For some areas the loss of data won't be too great, but for some it could have a huge impact. In particular, some imported data is not compatible with the new licence, so it is going to have to be deleted. And due to the way the ownership of objects is shared by perhaps large numbers of contributors, if some of them decline to change the licence, even large portions of data contributed by willing licence-acceptors could end up being deleted too.

It's turning into a bit of a mess, with disillusioned contributors and deleted data.

Fortunately of course, the existing data is still available and will still be available after openstreetmap has deleted it from their new database. One new project spawned to take on the baton of this wealth of data is called FOSM, for Free OpenStreetMap, and this continues with the old licence and the full complement of the current data. It's still in early days and there's a lot to be decided about how the database, the api servers and the tile servers will be run, but there are a number of dedicated contributors working on making the project a reality.

Current status

At the time of writing (September 2011), the current status of the project isn't too healthy, as work is still ongoing in replicating OSM's systems. And Openstreetmap's data is still released under CC-by-SA, so nothing has changed yet during the current transition phase. They're still working out how to delete the data, it seems, and that's fair because it's a huge job. Especially with (agreeing) contributors still contributing data, which also has to be considered for deletion too.

So what has FOSM got? Well currently there's only a miserable, non-functioning server at which doesn't look like it's coming back online any time soon. There's no tile server, and apparently no plans to make one. There's also no wiki, no forum, no website, and until the main server comes back online, also no database, no changesets and no api. Which doesn't really leave a lot apart from some willing contributors. Except they can't contribute without the server.

So what's the point if there's nothing there? Well FOSM has the whole database, so it's possible to make displays of hiking routes such as the Swiss hikes overlay - even after OSM deletes the data, it's still possible to show FOSM data on top of OSM tiles, for example.

More recent status

More recently in October 2011, the server is back online, but then the database is back offline again for maintenance and replication. That is hopefully only temporary and at least this time the server is able to say what's happening, which is a big improvement. But it remains to be seen whether fosm manages to capture the allegiance of enough contributors to keep going. One can't help but feel that some momentum has been lost. On the other hand, OpenStreetMap still haven't managed to delete all the data that they've decided to, so when that happens there will possibly be a resurgence in interest in projects like fosm. The hope is that by then, the reliability and stability of fosm will have developed sufficiently to make it a serious contender.

I'm guessing now but perhaps FOSM will split into several groups, each with their own database to manage. I would certainly be interested in accessing a FOSM server for Switzerland, if there was one. And so the database would remain a reasonable size and the work to maintain it also realistic for a group. Such splintering of the community is of course terrible, but the splintering has happened already due to the decisions of the OSM Foundation.

Downloading // Combining // Creating // Editing // FOSM