[Osmf-talk] Anonymous notes on osm.org

Harry Wood mail at harrywood.co.uk
Tue Nov 13 03:04:28 UTC 2012

I feel quite strongly that we should allow anonymous notes. The exciting thing about OpenStreetBugs was always the simplicity of the user experience, particularly for non-registered fly-by contributors. Close your eyes and think back to a time when you weren't obsessed with OpenStreetMap. Imagine you're this guy: https://forums.craigslist.org/?ID=221103972   Looks like I failed to persuade him/her to add a bug, and that's without requiring sign in. It's a user experience thing. For me this massively outweighs the other considerations you've mentioned.

But a period of a few months of lockdown might be a good idea ("soft launch")  Discussed here already:


 From: Kai Krueger <kakrueger at gmail.com>
To: osmf-talk at openstreetmap.org 
Sent: Tuesday, 13 November 2012, 2:01
Subject: [Osmf-talk] Anonymous notes on osm.org
Hello everyone,

I presume you are all familiar with OpenStreetBugs and I suspect you also have heard that there are efforts underway to bring a similar concept to the front page of osm.org to increase the exposure of map bugs and notes to a wider audience of mappers and problem reporters.

The current efforts can be seen at


One of the outstanding issues needing to be addressed before deployment is whether to allow anonymous (i.e. non logged in users) notes and comments. Although part of the issue is technical, it is equally a question of policy and if OSM wants to allow it or not. That is the reason I bring it up here on this list to see if a consensus can be found.

The question has already to a degree been discussed on the rails-dev list [1] and on talk-de [2] (probably amongst other places).

I'll try and summarize the points raised pro and contra so far:

- A question of legality: Some people have raised the concern of legal issues. One hope for the notes system is that people provide good enough bug reports for (experienced) mappers to enact on these bug reports without needing to have own local knowledge of the issue. However, with anonymous reports, the knowledge of the issues (e.g. the name of a road) might be copied from proprietary sources like Google maps. As a non logged-in user will not have confirmed the contributor terms and therefore has not vouched for non infringement of third party rights of their contributions, can this information be used directly?

- A question of spam: Having an open API to create notes on a (sort of) high profile page like osm.org probably invites the miss use of the feature in particular in form of spam. Obviously requiring a log-in won't completely prevent spam, but it might reduce its volume? An alternative would be to add e.g. captcha's to the posting process of notes. However, once you do that, is it really much easier than to create an account? Especially with the simplified sign-up process via third party authentication of e.g. "login with gmail"? It might however be a significantly higher psychological barrier though.

- A question of communication: A key component of OSM is the community and the discussions of local knowledge and how best to map it. With anonymous users it might be more likely that a two way communication is not possible, as a bug reporter may not respond to clarifying questions. This might leave a lot more bug reports open that could be solved with a quick answer to a short question of clarification.

This also brings up a secondary question, assuming the decision is to support anonymous users. Should the system allow people to add an arbitrary name to their report / comment or should they just be listed as "by anonymous"?

- A question of simplicity of use: The main argument for anonymous users is obviously the simplicity of use. One of the key points of the notes system is to make it as simple as possible for people to contribute their local knowledge even if they find actually editing OSM data to challenging or daunting and don't want to put in the effort to learn the complexities of OSM and its tagging schemata. Adding a signup / login process before being able to contribute valuable knowledge might be too high of a hurdle, scaring away people who might other wise contribute.

- A question of third party use: A number of third party sites using data and showing maps of OSM have included interfaces to add "report a problem" links to the old OpenStreetBugs. It would obviously be encouraged to do the same again with the new system. However, how would a login requirement to OSM interact with this third party use of OSM (whereby third party might be an editor like JOSM)? On the one hand it would probably make implementing this on third party sites more complicated as the site would possibly have to implement something like OAuth to osm.org. On the other hand it might increase the awareness of users of what osm is and what they are actually commenting on. For example one major flaw with the other wise nicely done bug reporting system of the navigation app Skobbler (MapDust) was the far to low signal to noise ratio. Quite a number of reports were of the form that e.g sound in skobbler didn't work or other software interface issues
 that had nothing to do with OSM's map quality data. Will requiring a signup to an openstreetmap account help educate people about what OSM is if they click the "report a bug" link on some unrelated third party site?

- A question of capacity: From  a more practical point of view, some have raised the issue of whether the mapping community has the capacity to deal with a larger influx of bug reports. If a lot more reports get submitted than the community can deal with, the notes system will perhaps cause more frustration than actually help solve problems. Requiring a log-in (at least initially until the capacity of the system and community is better understood) might reduce the volume to more manageable levels and favor those committed enough to be willing to sign up to an account, increasing the chance of providing enough information to solve the bug. But that is somewhat speculative at the moment.

As I am sure the discussion will show, there are many more pro and contra points for anonymous notes. But perhaps the more important point is to come to a workable conclusion to be able move forward on finally deploying the notes branch and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. After all things aren't set in stone in the first iteration of deployment.


[1] http://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/rails-dev/2012-October/001080.html
[2] http://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk-de/2012-October/099091.html

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