[Tagging] Basic cartography features missing, why?

Anders Torger anders at torger.se
Sun Nov 8 15:58:17 UTC 2020

Thanks for your long and thoughtful reply. I'll try to not make it even 
longer :-).

While I have only contributed since 2018, I've followed the project for 
much longer (that's why I though I had contributed for longer until I 
checked my log), so I've seen how the maps have looked and developed. 
But mostly really only in Sweden, so I do indeed have a local 

I believe the processes available are limited in terms of fixing 
structural problems. It works well to add things into an existing 
structure (if you're not in a hurry). A "GOOD idea" is thus one that 
takes little effort and has little controversy, like adding a minor new 
tag preferably one which really don't need to render on OSM-Carto. If 
you need to do something that requires structural change or adjustment 
it seems you're in for a rough ride. Sure that's natural of course, but 
it becomes a bit like trying to run a multi-national company with no 
leadership, just consensus-voting with people "on the floor" inside 
their own local bubble (like myself).

The principle if you see a problem, then you fix it on your own: I know 
all about it, I've worked in many open-source projects small and large 
and released several on my own, some still in active use 20 years later. 
However when something gets truly big, total decentralization can become 
problematic, and at some point many can't thrive only on voluntary 
contributions, some parts need professionalization and corporate 
sponsorship etc. Large successful open-source projects have evolved 
their organizations to adapt to new situations.

"Fix it on your own" is how imports seems to have been managed. With 
varying success. It has worked well in countries were the community is 
strong and technically skilled, but in countries with weaker local 
community, like Sweden, it hasn't worked. I think the problem is that as 
OSM has grown so has the technical expertise required to "fix it on your 
own" so the threshold has just become too large for casual contributors. 
You basically need to be a professional or have this as your only big 
hobby plus have developed engineering skills to be able to make a good 
job, and judging from the results exactly zero such people exists in 
Sweden. Therefore I think OSM should strive to have a professionalized 
import task force where imports are centralized, and merging with 
existing data is made by the crowd of casual mappers according to clear 

Listening to Alan Mustard's talk "Winds of Change in OpenStreetMap" 
https://2020.stateofthemap.org/sessions/RRVNAM/ I get some hope though 
as it seems like these issues are being taken seriously. If you haven't 
listened to that already I recommend it.

Anyway, what is my evidence of all this you ask? We'll let's say I'm 
gathering it ;-). The first thing that got me wondering without knowing 
much at all about OSM's inner workings is the observations I've made as 
a cartography-interested private individual (I'm an outdoor guy), and as 
such regularly visiting www.openstreetmap.org to see if the map had 
become useful yet. Obvious cartographic shortcomings existed 10 years 
ago, and the same ones are still present. I thought when the government 
public data was released here in Sweden back in 2015 at last that there 
would be a boost of the baseline data at least. Nothing happened.

And I've read other criticisms of the project, emacsen's blog post is 
perhaps the most significant.

If OSM intends to be global, it must be able to adapt to local 
conditions which do vary over the globe. Sure you can say that ok, OSM 
has a hard time in Sweden and some other minor European countries, but 
that's no problem, because it works great in the US! I hope OSM to be a 
global project though.

Sure one can argue if cartographic generalization actually needs to work 
better than it does today. Let's say I'm surprised if it's generally not 
considered to be a problem. I know I've read about the empty rural map 
problem quite long time ago and more than once, so I'm not the only 
person that has seen this. The problem with naming groups and land areas 
I actually did not know about until now, simply because noone has named 
much at all in nature in Sweden so far. But after I've mentioned it I 
see others having the same problem, but as it's often not critical, 
especially in dense areas, it's easy to just drop it, there are often 
more pressing features to cover.

But now I get told that getting support for this type of feature is 
typically a 4 - 8 year long process. Hmm... it's feels like opening a 
graphic design software, and get to know that I can't draw circles for 
another 4 - 8 years. Sure I can do all the boxes instead, and put a 
point where it should be a circle, and hope someone fix it later. Maybe 
I'll do exactly that. But I don't think it should be surprising that 
cartography interested casual contributors like myself are struck with 
frustration when they see these limitations.

But I do understand, I come across as "complain complain complain, 
disrespect, baseless accusations, bla bla bla, I won't do anything 
myself except complaining". And well, I can see that as fair criticism 
of my thread :-/. I do feel a bit bad about not having the hours to back 
it up "to say I'll fix it myself, I'll start a community in Sweden, I'll 
handle those imports, I'll work and make generalization algorithm (in 
parallel to Tomas I suppose)". But I just don't have that capacity, and 
the alternative would be to just shut up and continue not knowing what's 
going on, so I chose to stir in the pot a little bit. But I'm a nice guy 
and I don't mean any harm :-). I truly want OSM to succeed globally 
*including* Sweden, *and* have great cartography as we expect here, but 
I just can't do it on my own.


On 2020-11-08 15:09, stevea wrote:
> Warning:  lengthy reply to an already-lengthy thread.
> On Nov 8, 2020, at 3:26 AM, Anders Torger <anders at torger.se> wrote:
>> Regarding a board that makes strategic decisions.
>> The current concensus model with huge community has lead to that it's 
>> very easy to block an idea, and very hard to get it accepted and 
>> realized.
> Anders, here, we disagree.  If you have a GOOD idea in OSM, you may
> implement it rather directly.  If it is truly "good," the community
> will adopt it with enthusiasm.  Sometimes there are misunderstandings
> by some (even at the top-most levels of the project, like the DWG),
> though for the most part, these are remedied with time.  Sometimes
> people choose not to "be bold" (rather simply implementing something
> like a tag "in the wild") but rather go the route of proposals, voting
> and slower, more widely and immediately acceptable community
> acceptance, providing the vote goes to Approved.
> I have had experience with all of these:  good ideas which were widely
> not well-understood (at first), even by DWG members, yet they are now
> well established and well run sub-projects within OSM, as well as poor
> ideas which didn't go anywhere at all because few or no community
> members support them.  Presenting good ideas well takes effort, yes,
> but it isn't correct to characterize this as "very hard."  Maybe for
> someone who has little or no experience in presenting an idea,
> communicating it well and having others accept this it might be
> "hard," (not "very hard"), but this is a life skill, not one limited
> to a worldwide, open project.  It isn't (usually) the fault of a
> project (or institution) when good ideas well-presented to it get
> "blocked," much more often it is the idea or its presentation.  If OSM
> truly has a "block" on accepting good ideas well-presented to it, we
> must fix this.  But I don't believe this is true, nor do I believe
> this is widespread in OSM.  If you have evidence otherwise, please
> present it.
>> A good idea is often blocked just because the first suggested solution 
>> may not be the best. It's rare to see, "it's a good idea, but maybe we 
>> could implement it like this instead?", but it's rather "your idea for 
>> implementation is bad because xyz, end of discussion". Many of those 
>> that has ideas are casual laymen, like myself, and we don't have the 
>> ability to run these processes, and may not have the knowledge to come 
>> up with the best way to implement it. It's very hard to get a grasp of 
>> what's needed and what people actually think in general, it's more 
>> about shouting the loudest. With a larger database in more complex use 
>> cases it's also become much more technically difficult to make 
>> changes, so the people which actually can on their own design a 
>> technical solution is extremely rare.
> Again, I disagree it is about "shouting the loudest."  While it may
> seem that the consensus process is more like dissonant cacophony, we
> largely remain civil while sifting out the wheat from the chaff (good
> ideas, like cream, DO tend to "rise to the top") and any "shouting" or
> disagreement is mostly a bit of heat on the way to achieving light.
> It can be messy, it isn't perfect, but building consensus isn't what
> is wrong with OSM, it is an important part of what is right.  Speaking
> for myself, I don't want some "star chamber" (secretive cabal on high)
> to be developing the future of OSM.  I want me, my fellow OSM
> volunteers, you and others to do so:  this is called "organic
> grass-roots growth."  As individuals, we all have strengths that allow
> us to contribute, these sorts of things tend to work themselves out
> with the usual "we need some help here, does anybody have the required
> expertise" and "I see a problem I might be able to solve like this, as
> I DO have some expertise in the specific realm..." so, you fix it,
> maybe with others, maybe by yourself.  We don't really have "cabals on
> high" in this project, although we do have local chapter boards we (as
> members) elect to do some of the necessary housekeeping (legal, data,
> others) that a project this large requires.  I'm actually in the
> process of "designing a technical solution" with two or three (maybe
> four) other long-term OSM volunteers:  we collaborate on the syntax of
> improving park boundaries and protected areas (a confusing and
> doesn't-render-consistently problem area in OSM).  It might take
> ANOTHER year to get this right, that's OK, we have the patience to do
> so.  This isn't rare, it is OSM in action.
> It might take time, a lot of reading (of wiki, of technical
> documentation, sometimes repositories like GitHub...) and consultation
> with wiser, more experienced people when you run into a block, but
> those kinds of activities are true of any (larger) organization as one
> might strive to make it better, grow or solve problems within it.
> Again, you are asking good questions, but it seems you lack some
> experience in how OSM works, or suffer from what I'm sad to say I
> think a lot of volunteers in OSM find, that "how OSM works" can be
> opaque, confusing and even secretive.  For workaday, straightforward
> tasks like mapping at at simple to intermediate levels, this isn't
> true, in fact OSM does pretty well there, our wiki documentation goes
> a long way to explain the "how" questions that many have.  But for the
> inner machinations at the highest levels, you'll either need to pay
> attention to a lot of detail (e.g. board meeting minutes) or you might
> discover this is largely invisible and moves with what might be
> described as mysterious forces.  Again, this is no different than
> many, even most larger or very large organizations.
>> As a result the pace of development is glacial.
> I disagree.  Yes, the project can grow and develop more quickly, that
> is something we should work to improve.  But "glacial" is an
> exaggeration.  As you introduce yourself as a "newcomer," how are you
> able to characterize us as "glacial?"
>> 16 years of age and still basic cartography features missing, that's 
>> why I started this thread in the first place. You have a core inside 
>> group that thinks OSM is great in most ways and really nothing needs 
>> to be changed,
> I sincerely doubt that.  While I respect your individual opinion here,
> I doubt you'll find widespread acceptance of that in OSM.
>> and even those things that needs change are just too hard to change so 
>> there's little idea to even discuss it.
> No, they are not "too hard to change," though again, I respect that it
> might feel that way to you.  And there is CERTAINLY a lot of
> discussion (right here, in fact) about change in OSM.  Change is just
> about the only constant in this project!  (I do exaggerate a bit
> here).
>> I've been criticized for putting out a narrative that the competition 
>> is may be moving past us, but I do think that can happen in various 
>> parts of the world. The two main "threats" are government maps made 
>> public / low cost and Google Maps.
> I don't wish to criticize you, though I'm not sure I fully agree with
> your characterization of "competition."  There are millions of maps
> created by humans.  Each have purposes for being published, with
> specific target audiences in mind during their creation.  Many
> (especially digital ones) are customizable as to what data or "look"
> the final "product" actually includes.  In fact, that's a primary
> reason OSM is described as a data project:  with "the truth of the
> real world in the database" (to the extent we have entered these
> data), the actual map (rendering) can be a pre-made renderer or wholly
> up to you.  THAT is the power of OSM, especially as we emphasis "OSM
> is about our data, not how they render."
>> In many cases the public government maps can be used to our advantage 
>> as they in many cases can be used as basis for an import.
> Of course. Vast amounts of government data are in OSM.  In my country
> (USA), all data at the federal level is in the public domain (unless
> classified, e.g. military secrets).  This is true at many state and
> local levels, too.  Many in OSM say (rightly so, for some data) that
> public data should remain in these governmental digital realms, and
> that if OSM users want to use them, use them in their original form,
> rather than importing them into OSM.  But others (also rightly so) say
> that a certain "baseline" of data from government sources DO belong in
> OSM.  (Roads, rail, waterways, forests, parklands, landuse and other
> public lands are some of the good examples included which have been
> imported and truly do improve OSM's data).  Where such data are
> determined to be a good match for inclusion in OSM and how they are
> imported has been the subject of MUCH discussion and we have evolved
> our Import Guidelines to better this process.  Though I do remember
> the wild days of old, before Import Guidelines, and it was quite
> disorderly:  little if any of the learning process that has evolved to
> allow us (the community) to make judgements about "good vs. bad"
> existed in those early days.  OSM had to evolve this learning process
> and we still do so today.  We vet and ponder Imports on a case-by-case
> basis (correctly, we have agreed by consensus) sometimes a proposed
> Import is an appropriate good idea, sometimes not.
>> But in certain countries, like Sweden where I live, this haven't 
>> worked well despite the data has been there for 5 years and almost 
>> 100% of the Swedish OSM map would benefit from import (of high 
>> quality!). This is a huge problem for OSM here locally. I dare to say 
>> that the general view of Swedish people regarding maps is that OSM is 
>> already obsolete.
> You could decide "OK, OSM is obsolete for Sweden" and walk away.  You
> could decide "it will take a great deal of community building,
> expertise, effort and time, but we COULD make OSM around Sweden the
> best slice of Earth that OSM has."  And both of those (as a conclusion
> and a goal) could be true, both at the same time.  Once again, there
> are no magic wands.  OSM takes effort, but many (myself included) find
> the benefits are worth the time and effort.  I wouldn't call it "a
> huge problem for OSM here locally," I would call it "a huge
> opportunity for OSM to shine and be as good as it can be."  It's all
> in your perspective of what OSM is and might / will be in the future.
> Think long-term with OSM.  We do, already.
>> I know many that played around with it 7-8 years ago when maps were 
>> expensive and hard to get, but now they use services that have maps 
>> based on government data, and google maps is coming strong (although 
>> it's still pretty bad, but it is showing progress). Now few even know 
>> that OSM is actually used via providers in say facebook, and various 
>> global fitness applications. In other countries the situation can be 
>> totally different of course.
> Your perspective sounds parochial (local, limited, not as broad as it
> could be).  So what? that "many played around with it years ago?"  So
> what? that "few even know that OSM is used by providers?"  If you
> don't like the (e.g. fitness) apps' data in your country, then improve
> the map data in your country.  The apps data will catch up and you can
> be proud that you improved OSM's data AND (therefore) the apps' map
> database (as one and the same thing).  I do this all the time with
> local trails and such and download the results in Garmin maps that are
> published on a talk page periodically, then I hold in my hand my GPS
> with an SD card that has my and other OSM Contributors' edits on it.
> Yeah!  Your other option is to simply not use OSM, as it appears it
> may not be suitable for your purposes.  That's fine by us, we don't
> want to be something we are not.  However, you may be surprised to
> discover that OSM is highly flexible as a geographic database:  if you
> wish to make use of OSM in this way and improve what will end up being
> data you use as a consumer, not only do YOU benefit, but the rest of
> the OSM ecosystem does, too.  That's how OSM works:  give, take,
> give...and up and up the map grows — for everybody.
>> A board would not have as goal to run over people. It would identify 
>> risks, identify things that needs professionalization, manage 
>> commercial collaborations, and just make things happen.
> Our local (chapter) boards already do these things:  LWG manages legal
> risks, some grant money has recently been allocated to
> "professionalization" (further development and refinement of services
> that OSM already uses, like geocoding).  The "manage" aspect to
> "commercial collaborations" is a bit tricky to both talk about and do,
> as the corporations that choose to collaborate with OSM do so on a
> number of different levels (sponsorships exist, for example).
> However, corporations that wish to develop GOOD relationships with OSM
> learn sooner or later to "play by the rules" or they find themselves
> frustrated by the community (with reason).  Saying "just make things
> happen," unfortunately is too vague for me to make sense out of, so I
> won't try.
>> Or maybe there is some other way forward. But I think something needs 
>> to change if we want to 1) be able to attract new mappers, 2) stay 
>> relevant long term.
> I don't wish to sound smug, as I'm as eager for wise improvement as
> any enthusiastic Contributor should be.  But we ARE attracting new
> mappers and we ARE relevant long term.  Please cite your evidence
> otherwise, unless it is your own personal dissatisfaction with certain
> (localized) aspects of the map not being as well-developed as you
> might like.  The solution to that is to better develop OSM.  And there
> are LOTS of "ways forward."  You sound like you give up easily.
> Please don't.  The creative spirit to ask questions, develop solutions
> within the community and literally change and grow as a maturing
> project is what makes OSM what it is.  The (effectively dead-end)
> approach of complaining "it isn't good enough" or "it appears to be
> missing basic cartography features" (oh, you didn't say "appears," you
> asserted we DO) is NOT what OSM is about.  I'm trying to help you see
> that your spirit seems to be going in the right direction, but your
> approach is stunting your ability to do so.  Don't look for reasons
> why OSM is all wrong or not to your liking.  Do look for how your
> creativity and contributions can MAKE it MORE to your liking.  That
> "lights a fire" for others to do so, too, and so grows the map.
>> I strongly believe that openstreetmap.org needs to present a set of 
>> great end user maps for the most common use cases.
> Then you appear to be mistaken in your interpretation of what OSM is.
> If you want those, and find them lacking, then build them — it sounds
> like you are talking about specific renderers, and there are many,
> many specialized renderers around the world that use OSM data to
> present its underlying data in precisely the rendering that you wish
> to see.  If you build that renderer and find that the data it presents
> are lacking in some part of the world you wish to see rendered, the
> solution to that is to build the data in OSM.  But saying "OSM needs
> to make this" is no different than wishing for a magic wand.  There
> are no magic wands.
>> It might hurt business of mapbox and others short term, but will help 
>> them long-term. There will always be need for additional styles and 
>> custom maps even if the official OSM maps are made great for typical 
>> applications.
> Even though I have been to their headquarters, spoken to a lot of
> people there and use their products, I can't pretend I know enough
> about Mapbox's business practices to say (here, now) what would "hurt"
> Mapbox.  And as a "newcomer" (your first words as you introduced
> yourself here), maybe you don't either.
>> We already have the start of that on www.openstreetmap.org and 
>> recently another layer was added, but well, in my humble opinion the 
>> renderings are not great due to lacking cartography features.
> Such complaints deservedly get (from me, here and now) the suggestion
> that you improve them.  I have read (and re-read) your (nine specific)
> complaints that started this thread and they seem largely to be based
> on limited understanding and/or practice with OSM tags, mapping and
> Carto renderings, blending concepts of what you call "basic
> cartography features" with OSM's renderings (confusing "the territory
> for the map") when things like "grouping" (a common theme in your
> list) are not necessarily "basic cartography features."  I WILL say
> "thank you for your questions," as they seem to point out some
> shortcomings, but these seem largely to be part of your understanding
> of cartography and mapping, not in some inherent limitations of OSM as
> a geographic database.  Yes, that might underscore that OSM has some
> work to do in remedying the specific limitations in your particular
> understanding of what you might wish to see in renderings, so I
> continue to attempt to get at the root of what your complaints are.
> But I don't believe it is in some limitations in OSM's ability to
> provide "basic cartography features," as I don't believe it has those,
> even after reading your list of complaints.  Do you want to map an
> "anonymous gravel yard" but don't know how?  I don't know how, either,
> but if I had a burning desire to do so, I might search wiki, come up
> empty, then simply draw the polygon and tag it man_made=gravel_yard,
> including a note tag that offers specifics and why you "coined" a
> value for key man_made that is undocumented.  That's not perfection,
> but it is OSM in action, and while it won't render (today, who knows
> about in two, three or five years, though...), it gives future mappers
> the basic data needed to make sense of your entry into OSM.  That's
> OSM, right there.  (Thank you for asking).
> But so is you asking "hey, it seems I want to map things, yet I can't
> discover how to tag them."  Good for you.  We're trying to help you
> here.  But we don't need complaints from a newcomer that OSM needs to
> be things it will never be, or that we ought to be in the business of
> affecting businesses whose business it is to use OSM.  That is broken,
> circular logic and hinders what you and we are trying to do (make
> great map data that can be used by anybody).
> Sure, you could propose "anonymous gravel yard" as a new feature
> proposal and go through what it takes to do that.  (And I'm going
> through it right now, and I know it is a fair bit of sweat and work).
> Sometimes that is appropriate (like for broader things like Park
> boundary betterments), sometimes it is overkill (like maybe for
> anonymous gravel yards).  I don't know, but the community does, so try
> it out.  (Either coining a tag or making a proposal).  One way or
> another you win, OSM as a community wins, the map (data) wins.
> Everybody wins.  But not until you "do things" as OSM sees them and
> knows them to be done.  We find ourselves on the tagging list, which
> is a very widely read forum and perhaps not appropriate.  Try
> more-specific venues as I describe (actual coined tag on a node or
> polygon, or a modest proposal).  The community WILL respond, I
> promise.
>> And the website is actually more of an entry point for mappers rather 
>> than end users, which is really odd. I don't even know where to send 
>> newcomers when I want to show them what OSM can do. I think 
>> www.openstreetmap.org should be an end user site, and say something 
>> like edit.openstreetmap.org could be the site as it is now. I think we 
>> need to think about how OSM is experienced from the outside, unless we 
>> just want it to become a niche handicraft object for ourselves.
> Thank you for your opinions.
>> And by the way the website looks exactly the same it did like 10 years 
>> ago. That's good for an edit website for insiders. It's not good for 
>> being the face of OSM, and contributes to the view that development is 
>> glacial even if a lot happens under the surface. Sure people like us 
>> usually don't like website fashion, but we can't just ignore how OSM 
>> is experienced from the outside. Oh well, we can, but I don't think 
>> it's a good idea long-term.
> Thank you for your opinions.
>> Garmin has a vector rendering of openstreetmap in their connect 
>> fitness web app, they also have Google and HERE as alternative layers. 
>> The vector openstreetmap layer is no way showing near what actually is 
>> in the current database, and there's various artifacts. A huge lake 
>> where I live is missing alltogether (probably because the polygon is 
>> made in some way that vector engine can't understand). I think this is 
>> just one example what happens with the fragmented landscape of OSM map 
>> providers and that our own maps are not able to fulfill the needs of 
>> typical applications. Garmin as being hugely popular in Sweden among 
>> fitness and outdoor people showing OSM in a rather bad way. That's not 
>> helping the widespread view here that OSM is becoming "obsolete".
> Thank you for your opinions.
> Anders, we want to help.  Let's take bite-size chews here, so we can
> masticate and swallow, without choking.  Rome wasn't built in a day.
> SteveA
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