[Tagging] Basic cartography features missing, why?

Christoph Hormann osm at imagico.de
Sat Nov 7 14:34:04 UTC 2020

I wanted to quickly comment on two things where a misleading narrative seems to be represented in the discussion here so far.

The first one is the idea that OSM community cartography is being held back by the lack of computing power.  It is not.  The resources that would be required to run various data preprocessings that have from time to time been considered in map style development are absolutely negligible compared to the ressources used by the OSMF for rendering and tile delivery.

The problem is process development and maintainance.  I have - together with Jochen - from 2015 to 2019 operated openstreetmapdata.com where we offered various preprocessed OSM data for cartographic applications updated daily and we offered to develop additional processes and extend this with additional processed data offers in case people were willing to invest in that.  The interest in both the existing data sets as well as in developing new ones was extremely sparse.

And any such process needs aintenance obviously - the costs of which by far exceed those of the computing infrastructure.

I have during that time and since then done quite a bit of customized cartographic data processing for map producers but none of them was ever interested in actually financing open source process development in that domain.  Hence the work i have done there stays proprietary technology.

The bottom line is neither in the hobbyist OSM community nor among commercial OSM data users is there a substantial interest in investing in technologically advancing quality in automated rule based cartography based on generic geodata like in OSM.  The bays and straits Frederik discusses are a good example.  Both mappers and corporate data users seem much more keen in crowd sourcing the drawing of labeling polygons to the cheap labor of the mapping community than to invest into development and maintenance of open source processes to derive importance rating and labeling geometries from bay and strait nodes and coastline data.  The irony is that compared to some other problems of automated cartography based on OSM data (river networks just to mention one) this is not even close to rocket science.  With a 10-20k investment you could achieve quite a lot in this field (which is already now far less than the sum of work hours at minimum wage invested by mappers into drawing and maintaining labeling polygons).  This is just an example of course - there are many other fields.

The second thing i want to comment on is the yet again resurfacing story that OSM is falling behind compared to <pick your favorite hype of the day technology/company/organization/etc.> - in this case government mapping.  And therefore we all quickly need to throw overboard all values and traditions of the project and urgently become more like <Wikipedia/Corporation project X/Anglo-American tech project Y>.

Such calls are universally based on a lack of understanding of what OpenStreetMap is and how OSM became what it is today.  Yes, OpenStreetMap has deficits it needs to improve on (i discussed one of them above) but throwing overboard valuable lessons learned from the past and throwing ourselves at what seems to be the hype of the day is not going to solve anything.  Focusing on what OSM is good at and what has made and makes it successful as a social project, the cooperative collection of verifiable local geographic knowledge, is the key.  That requires a certain technological, communicative and yes, also cartographic context and to be and stay avant-garde in that context.  But trying to imitate for example what government mapping agencies do (who are universally still pretty much stuck in mere 1:1 digitalization of traditional pre-digital processes), or on other fronts:  what big corporate map producers do for cost efficient production of mediocre maps for social media platform customers who don't care a bit about cartographic quality, is definitely not a long term winning strategy to do that.

Christoph Hormann 

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