The value of crowdsourced street-level imagery: examining the shifting property regimes of OpenStreetCam and Mapillary

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OpenStreetCam and Mapillary are two increasingly popular online services centered on providing street-level imagery through close association with the OpenStreetMap platform and crowdmapping community. While both services provide crowdsourced street-level imagery, the differences in their aims and operations present an opportunity to discuss the various ways in which commercialization dynamics and crowdmapping practices are reshaping each other in the geoweb. This is significant because crowdmapping relies on massive distributed pools of unpaid labor, and is often characterized by a discourse and identity of community-centered sharing that eschews profit-seeking as a central motive. While the use of OpenStreetMap by commercial products is not new, the emergence of crowdsourced street-level imagery is an innovation with significant consequences. Projects like Mapillary and OpenStreetCam have the potential to both change the collaborative dynamics that drive OpenStreetMap, and simultaneously disrupt the state of street-level imagery ecosystem, which has been dominated by a single private provider: Google Street View. In light of this, crowdourced street-level imagery should be assessed, not only in technical terms, but through the full range of its political-economic ramifications. To this end, in this article we examine the role of commercialization in crowdmapped street-level imagery through a property regimes framework. Using this approach, we identify, analyze, and critique the allocation of rights, roles, and economic value within these services, thus shedding light on the emergence of crowdsourced street-level imagery in the context of the geoweb, and the digital and ‘sharing’ economies.


This article was originally published in GeoJournal. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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