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Report on the use of Free and Open Source Software in the OpenStreetMap Foundation

Authors Danijel Schorlemmer Enock Seth Nyamador Felix Delattre Tobias Knerr

License CC-BY-SA-4.0

Report on the use of Free and Open Source
Software in the OpenStreetMap Foundation
Authors: Felix Delattre, Danijel Schorlemmer, Enock Seth Nyamador and Tobias Knerr
Date: January 2021

The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Policy Special Committee of the
OpenStreetMap Foundation has been asked by the Board of Directors to assess the degree
to which Free and/or Open Source Software or Services are being used within the
OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF), the board itself, the different working groups, and
committees. This analysis focuses on collaborative services to be used over the Internet.
The FOSS Policy Special Committee was explicitly excluding the software used by the
community at large, local chapters, or systems running on personal computers.

The committee has defined two indicators that cover the most important aspects of
freedom and openness of software. These are:
1. Programs or Services released under a Free and/or Open Source Software license: Are
the programs or services used released under licenses that have been officially approved by
either the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source Initiative. Only these licenses are
following the standards to be considered free and/or open.

2. Control over data stored at hosted services: The key aspect of hosted services is the
ability of the OSMF and the community to fully control the data hosted and to prevent this
data from being used for other purposes by a third party. Some of such services are based
on open-source software and can be self-hosted by the OSMF, then offering full control and
ownership of the data. Non-open services usually do not offer this ability and the full
control of the data is at least questionable if not completely impossible.

The committee investigated the programs and services used by the different groups: Board
of Directors, Communications Working Group, Data Working Group, Engineering Working
Group, Licensing Working Group, Local Chapter and Communities Working Group,
Operations Working Group, and State of the Map Organizing Committee. A total of 51
different programs or services were identified. The overall percentage of programs and
services matching the two indicators are:

57% of the collaboration software in the OSMF is Free and/or Open Source Software.
31% of the collaboration software is being hosted by or under control of the OSMF.
Looking into each of the different groups separately leads to the following results:

Group                                                     Indicator 1:       Indicator 2:
                                                          FOSS               Hosting
Board of Directors                                        77% (10 of 13)     46% (6 of 13)
Communications Working Group                              33% (6 of 18)      17% (3 of 18)
Data Working Group                                        100% (4 of 4)      75% (3 of 4)
Engineering Working Group                                 67% (6 of 9)       33% (3 of 9)
Licensing Working Group                                   50% (2 of 4)       25% (1 of 4)
Local Chapter and Communities Working Group               67% (8 of 12)      25% (3 of 12)
Membership Working Group                                  57% (4 of 7)       43% (3 of 7)
Operations Working Group                                  38% (3 of 8)       50% (4 of 8)
State of the Map Organizing Committee                     59% (13 of 22)     23% (5 of 22)

The FOSS Policy Special Committee would like to provide practical, feasible, and impactful
recommendations. The committee has identified several programs to be used and services
that the OSMF should be hosting or subcontracting their hosting with a trusted partner. All
selected programs and services can be considered as standards in the open-source world
and beyond.
To make things easy, the committee suggests evaluating the services offered by trustworthy
providers such as, which is already a partner for the OSMF hosting the
BigBlueButton video chat. The committee considers the mentioned providers below as good
possible partners that together have most of the following services in their portfolios:

1. email addresses
Emails have always been the core and often times the fallback for communication in and
around OpenStreetMap and the OSMF. All email addresses are currently
hosted by the Google Suite, either as simple email address or group. Hosting an email server
by the OSMF or a trusted partner seems to be the most urgent and important step for
moving towards FOSS and retaining control over the communication data. The committee
sees this as the most relevant item and would like to encourage the OSMF to pursue this as
soon as possible.

2. Code collaboration platform
Currently, most OSM(F)-related software is being hosted on, and this has a high
lock-in potential, it is not FOSS and far away from OSMF having any control over it. It
seems that this is mostly due to a lack of alternatives. Therefore the committee
recommends that the OSMF hosts or subcontracts the hosting to have an own OSM-
related software collaboration platform (similar to Debian’s platform Salsa) using GitLab or
Gitea. This is a great opportunity to build a coding community around OSM and to not
depend on a commercial offer that likely monetizes on user behavior and, in violation of the
true openness of OSM, exclude contributors from certain countries. This platform should
become the place to go for OSM-related software.
3. Social media (microblogging)
Microblogging is dominated by Twitter. While the committee does not argue to abandon
Twitter, it likes to suggest supporting the distributed (Twitter-like) social network based on
Fediverse running on the Mastodon software. The OSMF can tap into an existing initiative on, currently serving 350 users and 1300 followers of the @openstreetmap
account. The operation of cross-posters will allow everybody to use the free and open
Fediverse first, while simultaneously sending and publishing their social-media messages to
commercial market leaders, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The active OSM-
mapper RoryM is administrating the instance and has expressed openness to
move it under a domain and the control of the OSMF.

The committee recommends endorsing this instance as the official social media platform for
OSM and establishing cross-posters to existing commercial platforms. Thus living the spirit
of open-first with subsequent inclusion of everybody else.

4. Collaborative editing and document sharing
The foreclosure and monetization of user data by Google are well known. The open
Nextcloud can replace most of the Google services the working groups depend on (e.g. Docs,
Drive, Calendar, Forms). The Nextcloud should become the “swiss-army knife” of the OSMF.
Combined with OnlyOffice, LibreOffice online, or Collabora, it can offer rich-text word-
processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. It contains a comfortable team calendar,
surveys, etc. and it is developed by a vibrant community. Relying on Nextcloud will move a
lot of the collaboration in the OSMF towards Free and/or Open Source Software while
maintaining the overall functionality and comfort people are used to.

5. Meeting scheduler
For scheduling meetings proprietary services most often used. These are hosted
everywhere. Consideration should be given to deploying the software Framadate hosted by
or under the control of OSMF.

6. Online surveys
Currently, there is no consistent tool for surveys in the OSMF groups. Limesurvey is already
successfully used by the Board and hosted through a paid plan. It is recommended to
extend this offer to all groups in OSMF for complex surveys and to rely on the Forms App
included in Nextcloud for more simple polls, to protect the data of survey participants.

In summary, the six recommendations suggest evaluating the provision of hosting for the
following five online software tools:

Purpose                       Potential software                     Potential provider(s) email       There are many good [ to choose,
server                        from                         
Code collaboration platform GitLab or Gitea                
Social media platform         Mastodon                               Self-hosted (Rorym)
Collaboration suite           Nextcloud                    
Meeting scheduler             Framadate                              Self-hosting needed
The six recommendations formulated to ensure that the OSMF follows its FOSS policy of
preferably using Free and/or Open Source software over any proprietary options. This
would guarantee inclusive global participation and protect all active people from having
their data used for purposes other than OpenStreetMap.

By following the recommendations the overall numbers of the inventory would change to:

79% of the collaboration software in OSMF were Free and/or Open Source Software.
68% of the collaboration software were being hosted by or under control of OSMF.

And this would lead to the following results for each of the groups:

Group                                                        Indicator 1:         Indicator 2:
                                                             FOSS                 Hosting
Board of Directors                                           92% (12 of 13)       77% (10 of 13)
Communications Working Group                                 56% (9 of 16)        50% (8 of 16)
Data Working Group                                           100% (4 of 4)        75% (3 of 4)
Engineering Working Group                                    88% (7 of 8)         88% (7 of 8)
Licensing Working Group                                      100% (4 of 4)        100% (4 of 4)
Local Chapter and Communities Working Group                  90% (9 of 10)        70% (7 of 10)
Membership Working Group                                     71% (5 of 7)         57% (4 of 7)
Operations Working Group                                     86% (6 of 7)         100% (7 of 7)
State of the Map Organizing Committee                        72% (13 of 18)       50% (9 of 18)

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