The social construction of technological stasis : the stagnating data structure in OpenStreetMap

  • The article aims for examining the ‘technological stasis’ of the data structure in OpenStreetMap – the successful global collaborative geodata project devoted to ‘create and distribute free geographic data for the world’. Digital structures are strongly influenced by continuing stagnation. This technological stasis – the lack of change in technology – influences data in various ways, as demonstrated by the intensive discussion of the issue by computer scientists and software engineers. However, existing research describing stagnating software is often technic centred and fuzzy, while critical research is barely considering issues of technological stasis in the digital context at all. Therefore, this paper aims for enriching this body of knowledge in order to shed light on aging data structures. I reframe technological stasis with a social-constructivist perspective – using the approach of Social Construction of Technology – especially with the concept of technological frames. Based on the case example of OpenStreetMap, my findings suggest that the data structure – and its stasis – is the outcome of competing understandings and perspectives, shaped by power asymmetries. Although the data structure did not significantly change for more than 10 years, I demonstrate that this is not because of a lack of motivation, nor technological difficulties of carrying out such changes. The technological stasis is rather rooted in the dominant position of few project members who are able to change the software design; it is their perception of the project that defines how data should be stored and what features are dispensable.

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Author:Matthias Plennert
Parent Title (English):Big data & society
Place of publication:Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Document Type:Article
Year of Completion:2018
Date of first Publication:2018/07/30
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2018/10/30
Tag:OpenStreetMap; Social construction of technology; data structure; legacy software; technological frames; technological stasis
Page Number:18
First Page:1
Last Page:18
Creative Commons Non Commercial CC BY-NC: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Institutes:Geowissenschaften / Geographie / Geographie
Dewey Decimal Classification:0 Informatik, Informationswissenschaft, allgemeine Werke / 00 Informatik, Wissen, Systeme / 004 Datenverarbeitung; Informatik
3 Sozialwissenschaften / 30 Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie / 300 Sozialwissenschaften
Open-Access-Publikationsfonds:Geowissenschaften / Geographie
Licence (English):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung-Nicht kommerziell 4.0