[OSM-dev] The future of Potlatch

Tom Carden tom at tom-carden.co.uk
Thu May 1 22:06:44 BST 2008

2008/5/1 Richard Fairhurst <richard at systemed.net>:
>  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.

I'll be up front here - I have spoken informally to Steve about the
potential of us working on this, but nothing formal has been arranged.
 I'm not sure whether Stamen would take this project on, or what our
availability is, or any of that - I only speak for myself here and not
the company.  If Stamen did work on it, there'd be no guarantee that I
would be personally involved.

Steve (or anyone else you've talked to) shouldn't be talking about a
potential business relationship that doesn't exist yet, nor should
they be holding it over you as a (dubious) incentive to improve
Potlatch to their liking.  I'm sorry if that's what's happened.

>  As you can imagine, this has taken me aback a bit.
>  As I understand it, their main issue is a technical one. Potlatch is
>  written in ActionScript 1, which is the same language as JavaScript,
>  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.

Since I'm here, I will offer my own opinion about perceived hurdles to
developing Potlatch. I'm aware that this might be an inappropriate
place to do so, given that I'm somehow implicated in your
taken-aback-ness, above, but I think it's worth adding...

I think the fact that it has its own API is a much bigger concern than
it being written in AS 1.0 is.  If Potlatch was using the main API,
development of API-backed features in Potlatch could be shared by
other editors too.  Any tests written for the API would help Potlatch.
 Any changes to the schema would only have to happen once. etc. etc.

>  I'm not so sure. I think people are beginning to contribute code to
>  Potlatch; that as essentially JavaScript it's approachable enough; and
>  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.

It's certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the applet I wrote, I have no
problem admitting that!

>  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.

You're right I think.  API aside, the main reason to move to AS3 would
be speed, the availability of more libraries and better development
tools, and the larger developer community that Couldmade cites.
Certainly though, the lack of a solid open source platform to run AS3
code on is an issue for a project like OSM.  Not so much for a
business like Cloudmade though, I expect.

I think the rest of this thread has already covered the fact that
there has to be room for more than one editor in the OSM eco-system
(and I point people to OAuth as a way to open that up), but that the
Edit tab on OSM should be given to whichever editor suits
new/quick/casual users best - I don't see Potlatch leaving that role
any time soon.

>  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.

Sounds like an awesome idea.

>  Thanks for reading. :)

It's been a while, but I miss this list!


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