Cloudmade layoffs and the OSM Foundation

rweait's picture

CloudMade laid-off four of their five community ambassadors on 23 July 2009 as confirmed by CloudMade chairman, Juha Christensen on Twitter.

"CloudMade reducing 4 of 55 jobs, opening up 5 new in PR and national group relations [Links are 404 at last check]http://is.gd/1JrZq & http://is.gd/1Js0S"

The CloudMade Team page was updated some time later and we notice that Thea is the lone community ambassador remaining. I have many friends among the current and former CloudMade team. Friendships both new and renewed at State of the Map just a few days ago. Those still at CloudMade and the four laid-off are all tremendously talented, wonderful people and you should add them to your team if you get the chance.

Juha's seeming casual dismissal of the four departing ambassadors, "... opening up 5 new [jobs] in PR ... " seems uncharacteristic and is probably due the the desire to respond promptly once the news broke on Twitter. But casually discarding four members of the OSM community or not, the CloudMade layoffs are "just business". CM have their goals and their aspirations and they have to answer to the CloudMade clients and investors.

Marc Prioleau, new CloudMade CEO, responded to follow up comments on Twitter suggesting that the fired ambassadors weren't at fault and that CM was just changing their approach.

"CloudMade Ambassadors are all troopers. But we needed to change our approach. Goal = Map Complete. Much more to come"

Marc suggests again that CloudMade must answer to their masters. No fault of the OSM community, the OpenStreetMap Foundation or the four individuals that CloudMade whacked. "It's just business".

The CloudMade layoff serves as an excellent reminder that OpenStreetMap isn't "just business". OpenStreetMap is a community and a project, not a company and a product. Treating the OpenStreetMap project and community as a product or a company is doomed to failure.

Support for OpenStreetMap comes from groups and individuals who participate in the project and even from companies who value the OpenStreetMap project like Nestoria, ITO World, Fortius One, Yahoo! and Google. CloudMade has been a generous contributor to OpenStreetMap to date as well. CloudMade is relying on OpenStreetMap data. "It's just business" and it makes sense for them to contribute to the tools they use[1]. But their business model, goals and interests, like those of any other commercial contributors, could change overnight. Ask any of the four former ambassadors about changing business approaches. They'll do well in the long run, but I imagine that the plans that they had for this week have changed. It would certainly have been worse for them if the four were all members of the same family. Or all elected members to the same board of directors, like the OpenStreetMap Foundation. There are many things that we, as a project, can't defend against or predict, but this is one problem that we can avoid.

We can avoid relying too-much on any single contributor or any single donor. Just as we must avoid the "hit by a bus" situation we must avoid falling victim to "just business".

The OpenStreetMap Foundation articles of association should be amended to minimize the risk to the Foundation and the project from "just business". I recommend the following change.

- That no more than one person[2] be permitted to serve on the OpenStreetMap Foundation board of directors from any single company[3] at one time.

Nobody wants to see CloudMade lay off more members of their team, whether they are OSM contributors or OSM Foundation board members or not. But it could adversely effect the ability of the Foundation to function should Nick and Steve have to look for new gigs at the same time due to a change in business approach at CloudMade. This concern is not specific to CloudMade and would be as much of a problem were more than one OSMF board member involved at Google, or Nestoria or Potlatch, Inc or any other single business interest.

While my suggestion reduces risk of "just business" damaging the Foundation and OSM, it also encourages additional voices to be heard at the Foundation board level. Commercial interests have a lot to offer the OpenStreetMap Foundation board and enforcing business diversity in the members of the board is an advantage to the community even if the hypothetical second mass firing at some company never occurs.

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This article was originally published on Monday, 27 July 2009 at 01:08

[1] The founders of CloudMade are passionate about OpenStreetMap, well beyond "just business". Nobody should doubt the commitment of Steve or Nick after more than a moment of consideration.

[2] person from a company e.g.. employee, partner, owner, board of directors, substantial shareholder, etc.

[3] company or related companies e.g. holding company, shell, subsidiary, parent company, investor, etc.
Is it the end of OSM or CM?

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