[Tagging] Basic cartography features missing, why?

Anders Torger anders at torger.se
Fri Nov 6 18:31:42 UTC 2020

Hello everyone, newcomer here!

I've been a casual contributing mapper for a couple of years here in 
Sweden. Only since 2018 :-O, I thought it was longer, and during this 
time I've made 1700 edits mostly using iD, just started using JOSM for 
some more complex edits. Anyway, I recently tried to up my game to make 
really high quality and "complete" maps in the areas I live. I have a 
lot of local knowledge combined with very high quality government maps 
(already preloaded into the editor, not the highest resolution version, 
but enough for most aspects) together with satellite images which today 
has much better alignment than a few years ago (still government maps 
are best on that). So good reference is there too, I have all I need to 
make a good job.

My areas are bit more rural, more nature. Villages, hamlets and towns. 
Nature is prominent and naming nature is important, many old names but 
still in active use by forestry, outdoor people, hunters and locals. 
When mapping these, I immediately run into basic issues that I'm 
surprised that they aren't solved already.

I'm not 100% sure if this mailing list is the right venue for discussing 
these issues. OSM as a community is quite hard to grasp for a newcomer 
and I have been sent to different places, but now I'm here.

Anyway, my observations (mostly using the default openstreetmap-carto 
style) :

** Tagging bays and straits as areas work great, as the renderer gets 
and idea how prominent it is and it can make proper text sizing and they 
can be seen even if zoomed out if the area is large. Lots of our lakes, 
even quite small ones have sub-naming, and with these features I can 
make really good mapping of this.

** Tagging and naming areas on ground does not seem to be developed much 
at all, unfortunately.

** There is natural=peninsula so one can tag and name an area of varying 
size, but it doesn't seem to render (unless I've made some mistake...)

** I can't make an area to name hills or slopes, which is very common 
around here (natural=hill would be nice and is more generic than slope). 
There's peak, but that's only for point for the highest peak with 
elevation, so it doesn't the purpose here.

** Valleys can only be tagged as ways, but here it would make much more 
sense to make an area, as sizes of these valleys vary a lot, and the 
renderer need to know how large this is (not just how long) to make sane 

** Due to limitations in area-based name tagging the map looks empty 
just when zoomed out a little, as names disappear almost directly, so 
despite detailed mapping and tagging the overview map is not as useful 
as it could be. While the renderer can and does make proper decisions of 
prominence for bays and strait made as areas, point-based natural names 
often yield strange and misleading maps as vastly different sized areas 
have just a point for the name and no other differentiator, there's no 
way the renderer can make an appropriate render decision as the data is 
not there.

** Support for group naming is limited. It's here very common that 
several smaller islands are named as a group, smaller ponds are named as 
a group etc, without having individual names. There are tags for that 
(group/cluster), but not rendered. The best alternative today is to make 
it a named multipolygon, but only few renderers make the expected 
result, ie one name rather than only in one subarea or duplicated in all 
areas (which looks strange as the name is often in plural form, or it 
doesn't show up at all if each subarea is small).

** Another fairly common group naming concept is when each feature has 
its own name, but the group of features have also a separate collective 
name. Maps supporting this concept will thus when you zoom out not show 
the individual names but only the group name. The group/cluster tag 
would perhaps be the way to do this, but as far as I know no current 
style supports it.

** As a minor note, I've noted there is no good tag for anonymous gravel 
yards, which there are a lot of here. Abandoned quarry is the closest, 
but still not right, as only some actually were gravel/sand pits to 
start with. Those gravel yards are often leftovers from construction 
work or forestry often even locals don't exactly know when or why they 
were made. Today they are used mainly used for parking by people being 
out in nature, but they are not maintained so they are not exactly 
parking lots either.

The central issue here is about naming though, support for group naming 
and the ability to name areas on land which just like bays and straits 
have fuzzy borders (there is no exact start or end of a hill or a 
valley). There is no question about it that the naming I mentioned above 
exist plentiful at least in Sweden, and it's used in Swedish 
general-purpose maps, it's not some special odd feature.

To me, which know very little about OSM and its history, but am used to 
using maps both in digital and paper form, see the ability to name 
groups, and the ability to differentiate size of natural features as 
very basic functions required to produce high quality cartography. But 
OSM is a 16 year old project and still doesn't have widespread support 
for these basic features, essentially making high quality cartography an 
impossibility at least in this part of the world. This is strange, there 
must be something else going on. Maybe it's technically difficult to 
implement. Maybe it's technically difficult to make any new things at 
all as the database has grown. Maybe it's hard to get acceptance for new 
features as the community has grown large and diverse. Maybe OSM is not 
intended for mapping natural features. Maybe the ability to show 
anything useful other than maximally zoomed in isn't a priority. Maybe 
rural areas isn't important to OSM. I don't know.

Oh, while these cartography issues indeed are more prominent in rural 
areas, we do have named areas in denser places in Sweden too like in and 
around Stockholm, it just doesn't hurt as much if you leave out these 
names as there are much other things to navigate by.

Anyway, I'm not really prepared to fight or self-tag 100000 of these 
objects just to try and see if these features might be accepted some 
years from now. I'm basically just checking out the status here to see 
if OSM and I has a future together :-). For my own mapping needs I don't 
absolutely need OSM, I can choose to work with the government data 
instead as much of that has been publically available since 2015. It's 
however nice to be able to contribute to something that is globally 
available with an open license, but great cartography is also important 
to me. I know I will get that from the government data. With OSM it 
seems... ehh... complicated. I'm not really prepared to significantly 
increase my mapping effort (Sweden in OSM is still too a large extent 
unmapped or poorly mapped) if despite exact and fully detailed 
contributions there will still be sub-standard maps coming out of it.

/Anders Torger

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