[OSM-dev] The future of Potlatch
richard at systemeD.net
Thu May 1 18:35:59 BST 2008
[warning - long ponderous e-mail follows!]
A fairly weighty issue concerning the future of Potlatch has arisen,
and I'm completely baffled as to what to do - so I thought I'd "ask the
community" for thoughts and advice.
CloudMade (Steve and Nick's VC-funded company set up to commercialise
OSM data, www.cloudmade.com) wants to commission a new online Flash
editor for OSM. It would, I believe, probably be written by developers
from Stamen Design (www.stamen.com): some of you will remember that
Stamen's Tom Carden wrote OSM's early Java editing applet, and they've
also written a slippy map in Flash called Modest Maps.
As you can imagine, this has taken me aback a bit.
As I understand it, their main issue is a technical one. Potlatch is
but for Flash. The latest version is ActionScript 3, which is much more
like Java for Flash. The end user doesn't notice a difference, but the
programming style is very different.
CloudMade believes this is holding back the development of OSM: that if
the editor were written in the latest version of the language, more
Flash designers would come to work on it, resulting in a better editor.
Steve cites OSM's move from pure Ruby to Ruby on Rails as an example of
how a contemporary language encourages more people to contribute. And
they're also worried that if I were run over by a bus then no-one would
be able to speak ActionScript 1 and maintain Potlatch.
I'm not so sure. I think people are beginning to contribute code to
that the problems of attracting developers is symptomatic of core OSM
in general (as per http://trac.openstreetmap.org/log/sites/rails_port).
I hope that Potlatch, as something maintained by an active community
participant _for_ the community, has demonstrated a pretty rapid rate
of improvement anyway. It's meant to be small and compact, of course,
not a a bells-and-whistles editor like JOSM: nonetheless, in the last
few months, for example: it's become the only editor yet to offer
revert/history, gained very good relations support, background layers,
flexible GPX import, etc. And there's a lot of stuff on the way, mostly
focusing on usability - from a generic 'undo' and pop-up help panel to
a new, super-user-friendly tagging panel with draggable POI icons and
things like that. It's got faults, everything has, but it's come a long
way in the last year. For what it's worth I think it's the best thing
I've ever coded.
For most purposes AS3 probably is a better language - except for the
fairly major proviso there's no open-source player even in development.
Indeed, if I were starting all over again I'd probably do it in AS3,
and in a couple of years I may well migrate Potlatch to AS3 (or 4, or
whatever) anyway. But right now it's more important to spend time
improving usability for mappers, given that - like most people here - I
do have a full-time job which isn't OSM (which isn't computer-related
at all, in fact) and consequently time is not unlimited.
So I really don't know what to do.
Part of me thinks that the most important thing is that Potlatch is
still available and users are offered the choice. Part of me thinks,
well, if there's going to be a new Flash editor, there's no point in me
doing any development on Potlatch from today forward. Part of me wants
to say "well, screw you" and walk away. And part of me wants to take
CloudMade up on its OSM Grants scheme (http://blog.cloudmade.com/) and
say, ok then, I'll announce a medium-term feature freeze, take a few
weeks' holiday, learn AS3 and recode it for a large amount of $$$. I'm
utterly stumped and would welcome suggestions.
Thanks for reading. :)
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