[Tagging] How to overcome lack of consensus

Daniel Westergren westis at gmail.com
Mon Sep 16 20:59:06 UTC 2013

Hi all,

Being a relative newcomer to OSM (made my first edit one month ago,
although registered a year ago), but having edited intensely during this
month, I find this discussion interesting. I personally agree with all of
you to some extent. It's not necessarily a problem with multiple tags for
the same thing, but there are some major ones that need to be more clear
particularly to newcomers. And it's not always easy to find info about what
tags to use.

Some suggestions based on my main problems starting to map with OSM:

   - It took me some time to find out about the taginfo site. I think a
   link to that site should feature prominently on the main wiki page, as well
   as the Map Features page<http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Map_Features>.
   I only found out about it from other mappers (and later realized there were
   links to it from individual tag pages).
   - Centralize beginner's documentation. Direct people to learnosm.org and
   scrap the beginner's guide in the wiki, so that not two newbie sites have
   to maintained side by side.
   - If there are multiple tags for the same, or similar, thing(s), either
   agree on one being preferred (if it's quite obvious that they mean the same
   thing and not a language issue like British/American) or add all synonyms
   on the tag's page, so that if people search the wiki for any of those words
   they end up on that page.
   - Make it easier to edit the wiki. I'm very computer savvy. And I've
   wanted to change some things in the wiki, but honestly refrained from doing
   so because of the difficulties in editing. Add a WYSIWYG, to make it easy
   to add text and understand how it will look, and to add links etc. I don't
   have time to learn how to edit a wiki, I want to map!
   - Make the wiki more organized. Regularly go through content that hasn't
   been updated for awhile and remove it if no longer useful.  Structure the
   frontpage in such a way that I can see what's actually useful, not a messy
   page where I don't really know what to look for and what's important. Only
   then does it become easier to know where to look for information when I
   need it.
   - Make it easier for people to team up with others in the same region.
   Tagging issues are very often specific to a region. Such as residential
   unpaved roads as highway=residential or highway=track. In northern Kenya I
   always use highway=track in villages where the tracks are just that,
   tracks, although they are still the only residential "roads" for the
   infrequent vehicles.
   - And lastly, a cycleway that also allows for pedestrians is not a path.
   To me, there are cycleways (for only bicycles), cycleways (for both
   bicycles & pedestrians), footways (for only pedestrians) and paths (which
   is often unpaved and not the main "highways" for bicycles). Plus that
   there's a thin line between tracks & paths in a place like northern Kenya,
   but that's a discussion for the just new Kenyan OSM community :)

Sorry for long email, but there is certainly a lot that can be done to make
it easier to attract newbies and make it easier for them to know what tags
to use. For me, I didn't see OSM as a true option until I read about iD...
(although I now use JOSM, but only after I got hooked on this).


2013/9/16 Peter Wendorff <wendorff at uni-paderborn.de>

> Hi,
> let's tackle the "problems" you mention one by one:
> Am 16.09.2013 16:41, schrieb Matthijs Melissen:
> > Dear all,
> > [...] The lack
> > of consensus does cause problems for the Openstreetmap community, though.
> Most often it only cause problems for consumers of our data, not for the
> mappers. Nevertheless you're right, it would be good to have clearly
> defined rules in some cases.
> > Therefore, it would be good to have ideas or procedures on how to create
> > consensus.
> >
> > There are currently quite a lot of OpenStreetMap features for which there
> > is no consensus on how to tag them. Some examples (but I'm sure there are
> > many more):
> > - What is the difference between highway=footway and highway=path?
> A footway is a footway, mainly or only dedicated to people using it by
> foot. Any exception should be stated as such (e.g. bicycle=yes if bikes
> are allowed).
> A path is a path - which might be used by pedestrians/walkers, but not
> only and not necessarily - you may guess what's allowed and what's not,
> but you should not rely on anything without taking additional tags into
> account.
> That's for you as a mapper.
> For the data consumer that might be different:
> - a path may be estimated to be accessible by foot if not stated
> otherwise, because (!) there's not enough detailled data to be able to
> rely only on existent data.
> > - What is the right scheme for tagging public transport?
> (I'll skip this)
> > - Is an unsurfaced residential road a track?
> At first: unsurfaced? there's no surface? should be impossible because
> if there's no surface then there's no road ;)
> If you mean unpaved: it depends how you map it.
> I personally would add a residential as highway=residential, independent
> on the surface. In many development countries residentials are nearly
> never paved, so that's only a guess (depending on the region) if not
> stated otherwise.
> A residential therefore IMHO should be highway=residential, and if you
> want or if you think it's useful as it's not what anyone would estimate
> there, add surface=* to it, like surface=unpaved, surface=mud,
> surface=sand or whatever matches.
> Again: On the consumer side a residential e.g. in most parts of Europe
> would usually be guessed as being paved with paving_stones, asphalt or
> concrete, but that's only an estimation again, so to make it clear, map it.
> > - Should we use shop=betting or shop=bookmaker?
> > - Should we use shop=fishmonger or shop=seafood?
> > - Should we use office=estate_agent or shop=estate_agent?
> no idea - never used it.
> > - Should we use shop=tailor or craft=tailor?
> Depends...
> Is there a tailor inside? or are they only selling what a tailor produces?
> Is the shop directly connected to/containing the workshop? or is there a
> shop selling the stuff and another place where it's crafted?
> The craft tag is there to get exactly that difference, I think.
> A better example might be confectionary.
> A shop=confectionary sells confectionary, but it does not necessarily
> produce them, there does not need be someone making them - instead they
> could by it.
> A craft=confectionary on the other side may sell their own products - or
> not.
> That leads to three possible combinations, all valid and all telling
> different things:
> - shop=confectionary + craft=confectionary: selling and making
> confectionary
> - craft=confectionary: making confectionary, but not necessarily selling
> them via a shop (they may sell them via internet, or only to other
> shops, or they may sell it in their shop somewhere else)
> - shop=confectionary: they buy their stuff somewhere and sell it to you.
> > The lack of consensus becomes clear by the fact that there are
> > discrepancies between documentation on the wiki, the outcome of a voting,
> > actual use (as documented on Taginfo, for example), and what editors and
> > renderers support.
> >
> > The lack of consensus creates several problems. These problems include
> the
> > following.
> > - Multiple parallel tagging schemes and unclear documentation creates
> > confusion for newcomers.
> That's true, but how do you want to tackle that without limiting the
> freedom to invent new and better tags?
> The multiplicity of parallel tagging schemes comes in where there's no
> best variant - or where there's a lack of documentation.
> Lack of documentation: go and document ;)
> Confusion to newcomers: Explain it. Explain why there are several
> possibilities, explain that they themself may invent own tags, and give
> them taginfo and the wiki to search for reasons to use one or the other
> variant.
> > - Users are often advised not to follow the documentation on the wiki,
> and
> > to look at Taginfo instead. This makes the wiki useless. It also leads to
> > the fact that hardly anybody bothers to edit the wiki anymore.
> True: Do you have any idea how to solve the problem of documentation not
> reflected by practice or the other way around?
> In general both has to be seen. A documentation in the wiki might be
> outdated - then mappers should avoid following it, it might be missing,
> and it might be plainly wrong. On the other side sometimes there is good
> documentation but the documented features are very rare or the tagging
> is new, so that there's not yet "current usage" you could find on taginfo.
> Therefore both is necessary, and yes, it's not easy to see both and to
> decide what to do, but how to solve it?
> If you would put the rule to follow documentation "only", what if Mapper
> Max invents a new tagging scheme, documents that but nobody uses it,
> because it's a bad idea?
> If you would put the rule to follow actual usage, what if a group of
> mappers get a really great new tagging scheme, documents it, but it's
> not used yet? Nobody would (and could, following your rule) use that new
> scheme as it IS not used yet.
> Both is necessary, and the connection between wiki and taginfo (taginfo
> linking the documentation and the wiki showing stats from taginfo) is
> one step to the right direction.
> The next step which has to be worked on continuously is to extend and
> polish documentation in the wiki.
> regards
> Peter
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