[Tagging] Basic cartography features missing, why?

stevea steveaOSM at softworkers.com
Sat Nov 7 12:30:52 UTC 2020

On Nov 6, 2020, at 1:51 PM, Anders Torger <anders at torger.se> wrote:
> I'd love to help out if the workload and chance of success was reasonable, but I'm a bit wary about the tagging proposal process. Most of my mapping contributions is simple things like correcting and adding roads so all the various online route planners (and indeed bike computers) that use OSM in one way or another can work in the areas I spend time. For that the map does not need to be complete at all, I just need a graph of roads, and I use the regular government-provided maps to actually scout the area.

Anders, you make many excellent points.  You also seem ambitious and there is nothing wrong and everything right about that.  Well-done cartography that is at a “gold standard” level of quality often DOES take professional, “old school” cartographers (and / or their methods and technology base, whether long printing toolchains, serious drafting and actual cartography skills, or similar things).  OSM rather “democratizes” that process to the level of individuals who can do everything from add a simple POI (or even simper, a POI update) to the map and perhaps “be done” with that contribution.  Even if small, no contribution that adds value to OSM is unwelcome or TOO small.

However, to really “improve an area” (to make a slice of OSM suitable as a general-purpose map for a wide variety of “many citizens”) is a deep, time-consuming, technologically involved process.  Myself and many so-called “craft mappers” who both wish to and actually do add such deep, long-term quality to the map (in the form, mostly, of “improving our own areas”) have been busy doing this for six, ten, twelve years or even longer in OSM.  Some (having started more recently) of us are well on their way after just as many months, becoming so enthused by the project that we decide to engage with a rewarding activity and keep at it for many years.  Others still decide that ambitions exceed their time or ability and manage to contribute exactly what they are able to contribute, and do, while their ambitions remain “on a back burner,” or maybe get channeled into community-building with other volunteers who complement each other's skills and benefit from the “magic multiplier” of crowdsourcing.

However, there are no “magic wands” one might wave that guarantee “reasonable chances of success” at a workload that is acceptable and sustainable for any given individual.  There are only one’s efforts over the short, medium and longer terms which achieve such good (quality) results.  And the satisfaction of knowing that others do so, too, and we are stronger, better and a wondrous map of “we” as we do so.

> Recently I got more interested in trying to make actual complete and good cartography, make maps that accurately describes the area (to a certain detail level) and doesn't require "a real map" on the side for scouting, in other words make OSM to be a real map in the areas I live. It would also be nice if one could make hiking maps for the mountains. This is an extremely ambitious goal, in Scandinavia, and probably many more countries, we are used at having really great cartography from a special cartography institute which is a part of the government. Previously the maps were expensive to get and you could only get it on paper. Today the main aspects exists for free in digital form (which is a good thing, it's made with tax payers' money after all). Here, this is the gold standard for a general-purpose map.

Good!  That sort of spirit is exactly what fuels OSM.  Yes, it is “extremely ambitious,” yet “tall mountains beg to be climbed."

> However, when I see there are some key features missing in OSM to be able to reach that level, and each of those little features may take years of processing from proposal to actual implementation in a renderer (and even if a proposal goes through, I suppose it's not guaranteed that it may be implemented), then it feels like it's just too much for me, as I'm involved in many other volunteer projects too. Mapping is not even my main project.

I’m sorry to hear that it’s too much for you.  I’d rather hear that it MIGHT be too much for you, as then “your door remains open” to contribute SOMEthing that might channel your awesome ambitions into shoulders that others might stand on to grow the map taller into the future.  For example, you might consider a “skeleton” approach (hills as natural=peak or perhaps natural=ridge with names, both of which render).  These can offer a rough sketch that others in OSM can use to build upon later, adding natural=wood, scrub, bare_rock, glacier, islet, amenities, roads (highways) and so on.  I DID mix up a bunch of keys and values right there (a key+value is often called a tag) as these are the sorts of “alphabetic basics” that make up OSM.  Learning these, how to use them, how you might propose changes to them (though, this isn’t required, as a lot can get done with existing tags) does take time and practice, often years.  (It’s true).  But it is also amazing how a few good “seeds planted” in an area can “take root and grow green shoots” that other mappers can “take to” and “run with.”  This is part of the magic of how OSM’s crowdsourcing works.  Yes, it is ambitious to get to “gold standard,” but it is also true that “many hands make light work.”  Mapping in OSM should be (and often is!) fun, it should not feel like drudgery or work (too much!).

> To make this happen it seems like I will end up with having to implement my own style and have my own tile server and using my own tags... it's just not feasible. What I have done so far in my own mapping applications which works sort of fine is to use ready-made government maps in a custom layer for the more zoomed out map (and indeed have an own tile server for that), and then switch to OSM for the most zoomed in levels. The limitations in name handling and missing names for large areas is less noticed when fully zoomed in. But it would be really cool if one could use OSM for the whole cartography experience.

It might seem like building your own tile server is a method to achieve your “gold standard dreams.”  But I’d also say you can get a great deal done (quite useful added to OSM as a database) while you take that vision into a longer-term future as you realize there is a great deal you can do today as I outline above.  Consider working within the existing paradigms of OSM (start with its standard, Carto renderer as a “base”), knowing there are other renderers that have been built and that you (and OSM friends / helpers) might build one, or be required to in order to achieve certain goals, in the future.  But this is quite an advanced thing to do in the project as it really is some technical heavy-lifting and a medium-term to longer-term investment for the reward of “gold standard” (however you might define that, the work to achieve it doesn’t happen by waving a non-existent magic wand).  The work to map has no shortcuts, only paths that are paved with some effort.  This is true of any map database or map rendering.

> As far as I understand, OSM is supposed to be a decentralized and semi-anarchistic consensus community that's why the proposal process looks like it does, but somehow I was hoping for that there was a strategic work group with access to professional cartography expertise that on their own could recognize, pick up, and implement both the feature and the guideline for baseline type of "must have" features, while tagging proposal process would be for more exotic things.

I don’t want to say you are totally right or totally wrong about your perceptions or your impressions of resources available in OSM as a community or as a project:  there is some in what you say that is both quite correct and slightly “you’ll have to look hard and / or develop some of what you want to do on your own.”  This is OSM.

> I'm afraid that with this thorough long-haul process and still pretty basic cartography features lacking, we may never see them. I understand that OSM is a geo database, not a map as such, and it seems like the actual map-making hasn't been a top priority but left to third parties, and this may be a reason that features required for top quality cartography has been left unimplemented for so long.

OSM is a living database, a living project and at least one (many, really) renderings of its data.  What you call “third parties” are more like “a part of the community, too” rather than something separate or other.  Yes, it can be confusing to understand how all the pieces fit together, especially as we are admonished not to tag for the renderer, yet we all enjoy the magic of seeing our map editing efforts “blossom” in a “map” (renderer).  The specific software pipeline is more than software, it is people, process, consensus, years of discussion and effort and somewhat complicated as it exists as a toolchain.  But you need not worry about that unless you mean to affect the entirety of this, which most volunteers in the project seldom if ever do, and if they DO mean to “affect the entirety,” they know this happens over years and even decades.  Which, if you think about it, is as it should be and how it will be.  Change in OSM is wonderful, encouraged, vibrant and even constant.  Yet it has a pace that some might consider slow.  Really, it is at the pace that the community both decides and absorbs simultaneously.  It has to be this way if you think about it.

> Another thing with these naming features is while they are indeed important to reach professional-grade maps, you need to be a very patient and persistent perfectionist to actually care (sort of like an old-school cartographer), and have the endurance to continue to care. It's much easier to just skip the names that can't be mapped, or make them as a point and not care that zoomed out maps don't work well. We've seen plenty of desperate/chaotic use of place=locality tag just to get names when there is no real support.

Yes, you need “endurance to care.”  Again, this comes with practice.  Learning what “works” in the map (how tagging becomes rendering, how poor tagging gets “weeded out,” how careful tagging gets reinforced and replicated…) and how to work with other people in the map who share your visions are all part of how OSM works.  Please resist the temptation to “skip what can’t be mapped” and keep asking the excellent questions you are asking to connect with others who might show you, “Anders, here is how the names CAN be mapped…” (in a context of “you might not know…” or “we might better wiki-document that for THIS feature — around here, as we have fjords, or glaciers, or whatever…THIS is how we map these).  It seems to me you are on the right track to doing these things and I want to encourage you to keep doing so.  There are not often “magic wands” that do the hard work of making “something special” out of “very little or almost nothing at all.”  However, there are helpful people and a lot of “machinery” (history, tagging schemes, collections of key-value pairs that mean to signify certain things…) to do so.  Ask.  Listen.  Seek other members of your community here.  Share your common goals and perhaps “regionalize” areas (you take north of here, I’ll do south and west of there…), and "we’ll see how far we get in a month.”  I and many other mappers have good success with these sorts of strategies and we build bicycle networks, train routes, hiking trails and city blocks, neighborhoods, shopping districts and power infrastructures, just to name a few.  The sky is the limit here on Earth and in OSM:  be imaginative and creative and let your ambitions and community share together and discover how high you can fly.

> If that's the case, then it maybe is better to just relax, let go, and let OSM be what it is today and not try achieve what it can't do. For me this means going back to just doing road work, and switch to the government maps anytime I need a real map. I'm fine with that.

OSM is what you give to it and then you can take something of it and from it and say it is yours.  Giving is the first step in receiving, although there are many who simply avail themselves of the wondrous fruits of the OSM tree — there is nothing wrong with enjoying its resources, too.  However, if you CAN give (data, resources, local knowledge, skills, vision for the future, people skills like community development, writing skills like wiki documentation, or even just simply that you know the hours of when the coffee shop opening now happen an hour earlier on weekdays, please, contribute what you can to OSM.  As I do so, I find the rewards are amazing.  May you, as well.

OSM Volunteer since 2009

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