Be the Crowd

I have generally been very happy with GIS in the Rockies (more on that in another post) as it’s good to get a look at different uses, concerns and perspectives. This afternoon, I sat through the “Collaboration Panel” discussion. The panel was made of of a few people representing state, regional and local governments and well as utilities and academia. Almost uniformly, there was a fear (yes, I mean fear) of crowdsourcing that was best summed up by the following statement:

“Crowdsourcing presents a vulnerability to us.”

Thank goodness Glenn Letham was sitting there and tweeted it or I might not have believed I heard it. Over the course of the discussion, talk kept returning to the image of “just anyone” editing spatial data, opening up potential liability for jurisdictions. Another gem:

“When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.”

I will grant that the entire discussion did not focus on crowdsourcing but it was a topic that was circled back to several times. I was left with a sense that, when these people think of crowdsourcing, they literally picture crowds of the “great unwashed” making random edits to critical data sets from there iPhones. Fear, uncertainty and doubt was projected at such a level that it exposed, well, fear, uncertainty and doubt on the part of the panelists.

A great premium was placed on data being collected and managed by “authoritative” data providers, who collect data using a set of validated business rules and procedures. Yet a great premium was also placed on getting to the point where such data sets can be freely shared. This exposed to me another issue: a complete lack of understanding of the concept of crowdsourcing.

I realize that, for governments, there can be legal and statutory issues with publicly sharing data sets (the Privacy Act with regard to parcel data, for example) that must be worked through. For this discussion, I will set those aside. The following statement was made late in the session:

OpenStreetMap will never be an authoritative data source.”

To that, I offer this (which I could not offer in the session since the floor was not opened):

If you feel you are the “authoritative” provider for street data for your region and that you capture that data using vetted procedures and business rules that assure data quality and accuracy *and* you profess to want to be able to share that data with the public, why don’t you donate that data to OpenStreetMap so that it would then be providing “authoritative” data (or at least data derived from an “authoritative” source). People who choose to use OSM for their applications would then be using high-quality data.

Why not, rather than tear down the concept, engage and participate, provide the model for how to do so and demonstrate leadership? In other words…

Be the crowd!