MapServer Foundation thoughts and reactions

Stephen Woodbridge woodbri at SWOODBRIDGE.COM
Tue Nov 29 00:47:30 EST 2005


Thank you for putting exactly what I have been feeling into words. I've 
been reading all the posts today and getting more and more depressed by 
the situation and I can't agree with you more. The idea of a foundation 
is great for Mapserver and needed for all the reason you point out.

But this does not feel great to me, nor does it feel like a great thing 
for mapserver and the Mapserver brand dilution might be catastrophic 
only time will tell. I'm sure it feels great to DM Solutions and 
AutoDesk. I wish this had been done in a more open and inclusive way, 
that is what a community project is about.

-Steve W.

Ed McNierney wrote:
> Folks -
> This morning I sent a few comments about the MapServer Foundation
> off-list to Steve Lime, and (at my request) he forwarded them on to some
> of the other folks involved.  After a comments by a few folks there were
> requests that I post my messages to the broader community.  This post is
> an attempt to do that in a consolidated way.  I apologize for being
> wordy, but there's a lot to say.
> I've been a member of the MapServer "community" for several years now.
> The Foundation project is the first time I can ever recall there being a
> conscious, ongoing, and deliberate attempt to exclude most of the
> community from a discussion of significance about MapServer.  A small
> number of people - some of whom are dedicated developers who've
> contributed far more than I ever have - decided to enter into
> discussions that included two commercial firms (DM Solutions and
> Autodesk).  No one else got to participate, and the work was
> deliberately kept secret.  Doesn't sound like much of an "open" project
> to me.
> A MapServer Foundation is a very, very good idea.  This MapServer
> Foundation has gotten off to a very, very bad start.  I find myself in
> the position of being quite reluctant to support this instance of a
> concept I eagerly wish to support.
> I think I should start by explaining why I think a MapServer Foundation
> is a very good idea (as opposed to what others think, even though we
> generally seem to agree).  MapServer has been well-served by the
> technical and development community that supports it.  It has mainly
> lacked many of the things that make a "program" a "product".  It needs
> better documentation, easier setup and sample sites, product summaries
> and literature, feature/benefit brochures and comparisons, benchmarking
> tests, presentations, a coordinated trade show/conference plan, better
> marketing, directories of consultants, reference sites, etc.  I don't
> mean to denigrate any of the efforts made along any of these lines, but
> I think we all know there are things you can currently get from
> commercial vendors that aren't available with MapServer.  A Foundation
> would be a great way to provide these things.  It wouldn't need to get
> in the way of the development work, and could complement it by filling
> in the blanks.
> All of that takes money.  A MapServer Foundation needs funding to do
> these things.  Fortunately, there are several subsets of the MapServer
> community that are in a position to contribute funding.  There are
> commercial users of MapServer (folks like me, GlobeXplorer, etc.),
> commercial developers/consultancies like DM Solutions and others, and
> the government and educational users who tend to not have much money to
> spend but can usually contribute something.
> To date, organizations interested in financial support for MapServer
> have been limited to funding specific software development tasks.  The
> pace of that development has been such that every time I raise an idea
> about a project TopoZone could fund, it seems that someone else has
> gotten there first.  I could have chipped in money for "future
> development", but there was no place to put it - it didn't make sense to
> just send Frank or Daniel or Steve a check and tell them to try to spend
> it somehow.  And I would rather fund the "other stuff" than fund feature
> development - there's more of a need for it.  A Foundation could fix
> that, by providing a place that takes in revenue from members and
> sponsors, and uses that revenue to fund projects - probably
> non-development projects as I mentioned above, since those won't get
> funded otherwise.  The OGC membership model is a relevant and simple
> example of this sort of thing.
> So what does the Foundation need to do that?  It needs to be open and
> inclusive, eligible to all to participate as peers or as peers within
> certain classes of membership.  It needs to be independent of any
> particular sponsor, and it also needs to APPEAR to be independent.  It
> needs to have a clear mission and it needs to simplify and clarify
> things for its members and for its constituent base.  It needs to be
> seen as the unswerving voice dedicated to the support of MapServer and
> nothing else.
> Today's announcement missed those goals by a wide mark.  Some of those
> errors can be corrected, but some we'll have to live with forever.  And
> most of them could have been avoided by the kind of open, inclusive
> discussion we've always had in the MapServer community - until now.
> Supporting the MapServer Foundation is a great PR and marketing
> opportunity.  It appears that Autodesk and DM Solutions were extremely
> aware of that, and made sure that they didn't have to share that
> opportunity with anyone else.  Being a "founder" is very important, and
> you've already seen Autodesk and DM Solutions take advantage of that
> through their own press releases today.  No other company will *ever*
> get that chance - the press doesn't really care about the next few
> companies to sign on.  When I created TopoZone in 1999, it was
> incredibly important to be the first topographic map site on the Web,
> because the PR value was so great.  I suspect very few folks remember
> who launched the second one....
> Companies will be attracted to sponsor the Foundation because of that PR
> value.  Unfortunately, that value's gone and nothing will get it back.
> I'm certainly a potential financial supporter of the Foundation, but I'm
> also running a business.  I can't simply give money away, but I can
> spend it on things that give me PR and marketing value.  I could spend a
> pretty substantial (for me) sum as an annual commitment to the
> Foundation.  I am now a *lot* less inclined to provide that support to
> this Foundation, because the value (in PR and marketing terms) is a
> whole lot less than it would have been if I could have been invited to
> the party.  I'm certainly welcome to sign on and take a seat right up
> near the front - as long as it isn't in the front row.
> I don't say that because I'm personally miffed at being excluded - I'm
> just TopoZone.  I say that because we'll never know how many firms and
> how much financial support could have been raised if someone had tried
> to solicit input and support in an open, inclusive way.  There are lots
> of us out here.  I've been told that it's "incredibly important" that
> the Foundation be seen as vendor-neutral and that it not be at the mercy
> of a single funder's contributions.  Sounds good, but don't tell me that
> now - those are both reasons to solicit a larger number of contributing
> founding members rather than selling the whole package to Autodesk.
> It's not easy to undo that; the Foundation is clearly already seen as an
> Autodesk initiative by the press (in part because Autodesk has tried to
> make that point clear) and not many firms are interested in throwing
> money at Autodesk - they've got more of it than I do.
> My second huge concern is the branding/product lineup for the
> Foundation.  I woke up this morning to two MapServers where we had one
> before.  One of them has the impressive-sounding name "MapServer
> Enterprise" while the other is currently named after a large pussycat
> but may or may not be open to the possibility of being named after a
> different mammal.  There's no doubt in the potential customer's mind
> which one is the grown-up, field-tested, production-ready, scalable,
> capable system.  Unfortunately, they're thinking of the wrong one.
> Branding really matters.  It's very important.  Tyler Mitchell says so,
> too, on the new MapServer site.  Autodesk has zillions of people who
> know that very, very well.  They just bought a great brand and MapServer
> suddenly managed to take a back seat to itself, something I would have
> thought anatomically impossible.  They've managed to appropriate a
> well-respected brand name and take center stage with it.  Autodesk's
> press release takes advantage of that ambiguity by introducing Steve
> Lime as the "creator of MapServer" without saying which one they're
> talking about!  Speaking of press releases, in an effort like this it is
> common for all founding members to see and sign off on each other's
> press releases in advance, something which appears (from some developer
> comments) to not have happened here.  This is PR 101 stuff - if you
> don't try to keep what you're doing a secret, you might get helpful
> advice.
> The same is true, by the way, about the questions raised on Autodesk's
> patent policy.  This should NOT be an open question *after* the
> announcement - Autodesk's patent portfolio and their defense of it are
> well-known.  It should have been one of the first questions raised and
> answered.  Once the Foundation's plans were made public it only took a
> few hours to bring it to everyone's attention - remember the benefits of
> open development?
> The "MapServer Enterprise" product just got inserted into the MapServer
> family by decree.  Customers know very well that when they see two
> similar products side-by-side, usually due to a merger or acquisition,
> they sit back and wait to see which one gets killed off.  This usually
> has the effect of discouraging adoption of BOTH products, because
> customers don't know which one to implement and don't want to make the
> wrong choice.  Believe me, I've been a CTO standing up in front of
> customers in that situation more than once - they don't believe you can
> serve two masters, and they're right.
> Does the Apache Foundation offer two Web servers?  Apache Enterprise and
> Apache Other?
> Can't kill off MapServer, you say?  Perhaps not in a technical sense,
> but if there's a MapServer Foundation and a MapServer Enterprise, who's
> going to notice if that other thingy doesn't get the same amount of
> attention?  Perhaps the platypus is indeed a good choice, as it may
> belong with the nearly-extinct monotremes.  You can't kill the MapServer
> code, but you can certainly kill the brand.  Please don't confuse the
> two.
> Why was the Foundation "announced" when it apparently doesn't actually
> exist?  It seems like today's announcement was designed primarily to
> maximize the PR value to DM Solutions and Autodesk - after all, the
> press got briefed about it before the rest of us did.  As far as I can
> tell, there isn't any foundation, but when we get one it's going to be
> great and open to all, because DM Solutions and UMN and Autodesk have
> all assured each other that it will be.  Each time I hear that "now's
> the time to participate", I cringe because I'm being told that by the
> exclusive group who deliberately prevented all of us from participating
> until they decided they had gotten what they needed out of it and it's
> now OK to let the rest of us inside.  The time to participate was last
> week, or last month, before anything got announced and before we were
> all handed the Foundation.  If the Foundation is really a genuinely open
> opportunity for us, then tell us that the inclusion of Autodesk's
> product isn't non-negotiable.  Do the rest of us get to insert
> MapServer-branded products whenever we want to?
> All of these problems were preventable.  All it would have taken was an
> open discussion of the proposal.  You get a lot of people spouting off,
> and then you find out who's really interested.  You find out how many
> commercial sponsors you can get and at what level of support.  You
> create what appears to the public as a truly open consortium that's
> worth watching, instead of one that triggers discussions about Autodesk.
> You demonstrate right from the start that you have a broad base of
> commercial support, with commercial firms from the USA, Canada, Europe,
> South America, Australia, etc.  What was the perceived benefit of
> keeping the process secret and exclusive?  Did someone threaten to pick
> up their marbles and go home?  You can often be surprised at how many
> folks are willing to contribute their own marbles when something like
> that happens - but you never know until you ask.
> The MapServer community really needs a Foundation to support it and to
> keep the product healthy and growing.  There are many examples of the
> creation of such consortia to draw from, both inside of and outside of
> the Open Source community.  It doesn't appear those examples were
> considered.  We really need a MapServer Foundation - I'm not at all sure
> that we need this one.
> 	- Ed
> Ed McNierney
> President and Chief Mapmaker
> / Maps a la carte, Inc.
> 73 Princeton Street, Suite 305
> North Chelmsford, MA  01863
> Phone: +1 (978) 251-4242
> Fax: +1 (978) 251-1396
> ed at

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