MapServer Foundation thoughts and reactions
pgiencke at GLC.ORG
Tue Nov 29 13:56:02 EST 2005
Having just read that Autodesk will be using/usurping the Mapserver name for
their decidedly not-Mapserver corprate product, I was reminded of the
feeling I get when someone buds in front of me in a line - it's unjust. A
LOT of work/support/etc has been put into making Mapserver (and its good
name) into what it is today. I just don't see how diluting Mapserver (and
its associate tools) with different (competing?) product(s) can be a good
thing for this community.
My mini-rant aside, I'm very(!) enthused about the Mapserver Foundation and
for what it will bring to the Mapserver community ("classic community" and
otherwise) in the coming months.
From: Stephen Woodbridge [mailto:woodbri at SWOODBRIDGE.COM]
Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2005 12:48 AM
Subject: Re: MapServer Foundation thoughts and reactions
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.
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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> TopoZone.com / 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 topozone.com
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