[Imports] Value of imports in general

Serge Wroclawski emacsen at gmail.com
Fri Feb 7 13:44:42 UTC 2014


I have to tell everyone that this thread has me extremely burned, not just
on imports, but I may need to take some time off OSM after today, just to
keep my sunny disposition...

As I see it, this discussion has both sides digging in their heels and
seeing less of what the other side is saying. I'm not neutral on the import
issue, but I think I see the issue fairly clearly.

For the pro-import folks- many (not all of you) are relatively new to the
project. Being heavily involved the project for more than a year or two,
you will see the damaging effects that the existing imports have done. I
was already working on a blog post about how difficult imported data can be
to maintain. Let me just say now that imported data has problems, and
maintenance is a big part of it.

It's also important to know that, as far as I know, we've never, not once
in the history of OSM, had a successful update of an import. The fact that
we've never been able to update an import always gives me pause. The claim
that "we'll figure it out later" has never rung true to me, and so we must
heed the warnings of the past.

It's also a fact that the community is what sustains this project. Other
projects have been created that are just the same as OSM in terms of
technical infrastructure, but rely on imports. If imports were really our
golden ticket, then those projects would be competitors- they'd even be
better than we are in some places (since we move so slowly on imports). But
they're not. They're hardly a blip on our radar, and that's because we have
something bigger and better than our collection of data, imported or not.
OSM emerges from the efforts of tens of thousands of individuals all doing
their part, all working together as a cohesive whole.

For the anti-import crowd, I think it's important to see the potential
value in these external data resources, whether they be directly in the OSM
main database, or uses as part of our rendering or geocoding. I've argued
for years that we need to think about OSM as something more than just the
current data and current methods. We need to consider new ways of gathering
primary data, of using external data, of doing validation The power of a
single mapper with a GPS is undeniable, but they cannot be our only kind of
mapper. We must find ways to use other resources available to us in order
to achieve our goal of making the best OSM we can, and imports can be a
part of that.

You (anti-importers) should be focused on actionable problems. If the
problems aren't identified, they can't be addressed. If the problems are
systemic, then the import can't go through, but until everyone has had a
chance to look at them, we'll just run around in circles. Most of you are
senior member of the community. Use your experience and technical expertise
to come up with solutions.

And for both sides please stop the rhetoric, stop throwing down the
gauntlet, stop making false analogies. Just stop it.  You're all better
than that. We all love to the project, and we need to see that this
discussion, this back and forth is what keeps the project in a constant
state of self improvement.

Speaking of that- please stop attacking on another, or (just as bad) thumbs
upping or +1ing each other. Concrete suggestions go a long way towards a
better project.

People are frustrated because they're not being heard, and I think the
anti-import side is very scared. They're scared because they've seen the
damage that imports have caused in OSM. I've seen the damage. I've caused
the damage! I know the problems that a bad import can create, and I know
how incredibly hard it is to fix them, and sometimes the effects can be
felt for years. Please try to listen to one another.

As the great philosopher, Red Green once said "Remember, I'm pulling for
you. We're all in this together."

- Serge
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