[Tagging] Basic cartography features missing, why?

stevea steveaOSM at softworkers.com
Sun Nov 8 22:00:01 UTC 2020


On Nov 8, 2020, at 7:58 AM, Anders Torger <anders at torger.se> wrote:
> I believe the processes available are limited in terms of fixing structural problems.

You say you have long experience in open projects, that is a fantastic launchpad from which to join OSM and improve it, even criticize it.  I read that you (here, now) begin to identify what some of these "structural problems" actually are, but your major criticism seems to be that "processes available are limited" (I disagree), while my response has been that I agree with you that improvements in OSM take a (relatively) long time to fix.  Being consensus-based, OSM makes no apologies that major structural improvements take a (relatively) long time to fix, but major improvements usually DO take a long time to fix, regardless of organizational structure.  To wit, even if OSM were run by a single autocratic despot, major structural improvements would still take a relatively long time to fix.  This means "the processes available" being limited as specious (plausible, but wrong), as there is vast creativity on tap that OSM applies to solving problems:  this is another example of the power of crowdsourcing being unleashed performing powerfully.  Crowdsourcing doesn't apply simply to a bit of mapping here, a bit of mapping there adding up (though, that is true), it also applies to processes, code improvements / bug fixes, structural betterment, better wiki documentation, better tools and (over time), the voting in of better qualified board memberships which contribute sharper and better-applied skills to problems that need solving and improvements that need doing.  Sometimes there is "a step backward with two steps forward," but that is true in any organization.

OSM doesn't claim to be perfect, fast or complete.  It does get better, though slowly, that seems to be "baked in" to how OSM works.  It appears this may be too slowly for you, but I submit that this may not be true, should you apply some shoulder to the effort in appropriate places (improve the map, improve tools that provide you with your renderings...) rather than to complain.  Especially as I (and others) might identify your complaints as misunderstandings that can be solved by working more within the established paradigms of OSM.  However, identifying problems is the first step in solving them, so I hear you, though mostly what I hear is frustration.  If you can propose better paradigms for OSM, you do have people listening.  (Though, this does not seem the proper venue to do so, we are likely putting people to sleep here).

> 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).

Yes.  So?  Structural change in OSM isn't "a rough ride," it is hard work and takes time.  That's a truth in any organization.

> 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.

Propose specific changes, please.

> "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 guidelines.

If your community is "less strong," then please strengthen it.  That's why it hasn't worked and it has (a rather obvious) solution, defined right here.  You seem quite technical and quite familiar with open projects, two excellent skillsets for performing "fix it on your own."  Is the threshold too large for you?  If so, you might find / solicit / recruit / request resources that are either local or not who CAN do what is required.  There isn't a shortage of these people, we are simply busy doing other things (not necessarily YOUR things, but working to make the map better in OUR ways).  So, as this is a "free and open" project, you might get in line once you find these people, or ask them for some short-and-sweet guidance they might offer to send you on your merry way to do these things — you are likely up to the task given how you present yourself.  But to throw up your hands and say "it seems the threshold to fix it on my own has become too large" has become your mantra instead.  Courage, Anders!  Please channel your frustrations into knowledge and practice within OSM that kick-starts forward momentum on your desires in OSM.  It took me years to find my way (a decade ago), but now I have confidence that I can have positive effects in this project.  You can, too.  You don't need to re-invent the top-level structure to do that — I didn't, I developed my skills within the paradigm of the project, connected with others who have similar goals and we work together to do what we wish to see happen.  This is OSM.

> 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.

I have listened, they are being taken seriously.

> 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.

"Wishing" or "seeing if" doesn't do it.  Waiting for "other people" to complete what you want to see completed will have predictable results.  Roll up your sleeves and implement the improvements you want to see in the map.  Thousands of us (even millions) do this already, there is little to stop us — as I said, the sky is the limit.  I have yet to crash into realities that prevent me from implementing what I want to implement in the map (improvements at local, regional and national levels in a variety of realms like cycling, rail, hiking and landuse).  People have told me "good for you, Steve" and the map has clearly improved.  You can do this, too.  I haven't heard you say anything that actually prevents you from doing so.

> 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.

That's because you (and it's true, others) didn't make it happen.  There are no magic wands.  "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride."

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

At 2014 SOTM-US where I was a speaker, emacsen (in his capacity as DWG member? I'm still not sure to this day) and another DWG member enjoyed lunch together with me after my talk.  Even after my 29 minute presentation (obviously in detail) on the topic of establishing a national bicycle route network in OSM, Serge reflected profound ignorance of what I / we were doing as I assured him that I was (not so simply, it turns out) "channeling emerging consensus on national bicycle routing into accurate data representations in OSM."  You'll notice that his screed you quote was only published after he loudly quit the project, to use a crude saying in English, "peeing on the tent from the outside" rather than improving it from within (the tent).  He seemed to indicate his profound frustration — as do you — with the shortcomings of its ability to improve itself long-term.  That is a sad state of affairs, as nobody likes it when a project which is vibrant (in one place or realm) frustrates those in what feel like "deserts" of loneliness of data and poorly developed community.  I can only suggest that you be as much a beacon of light as you can be by your contributions and outreach.  This is called "building community."  You will find it, it is out there, it is likely larger than you think and as Alan says "it is expansive."

So while I have listened to Alan's talk, (and then Q&A) and while I have spoken with Serge personally and read his blog post, I can say that Serge being on the outside complaining and Alan being Chair of the Board speaks volumes.  Criticism has to be constructive to be both welcome and effective, but first and foremost, it has to be accurate and widely acknowledged as being true.  Serge's take(s) on what is wrong with OSM show some age, even as many consider it a seminal, important critical review of OSM's major shortcomings.

> 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.

I also hope for OSM to be global.  I welcome and deeply encourage vast geographical participation, from major developed economies with deep involvement at many levels (individuals, coordinated mapping in communities / regions, corporations...) to relatively sparsely mapped less-developed areas (economically and "in the map").  The only way through, is through, so less-developed areas really have no shortcut than to develop their communities and mapping.  Yes, this is easier said than done.  I don't say this is "no problem," I say this is a challenge.  So, please rise to that challenge, and please bring others along with you as you do so.  Community building can be difficult but it is absolutely necessary.

> 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.

This seems to be a problem that can be described by both "which came first, the chicken or the egg?", as well as a phenomenon known as "the hundredth monkey."  In the former, the answer doesn't matter, what matters is that SOMETHING actually "goes first."  In the latter, even as "99 monkeys" all eat sand on their sweet potatoes, once that 100th washes hers in the river, all of the others see the wisdom in doing things a better way, so they all do so, too.  OSM has seen similar "sparks of growth" when a critical mass of community + wisdom (or simply better practice) takes place.  And then, that community (in a particular realm, solving a particular problem) is off and running.  This really happens.

You may feel you are only the "first monkey" or only the 90th, and you've still not achieved critical mass.  Grow.  Keep growing.  Develop your community.  Keep chipping away with your efforts, even if it feels like it is oh-so-slowly.  One day, you might be recognized as a pioneer and you can answer questions on how others can contribute.  This really happens.

> 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.

Please.  This 16-year-old project is mature enough for you to map.  True, you might need years to develop specific processes that are specific and local.  So does everyone else, by the way, but this doesn't mean the project is broken.  While I'm really doing my best to listen to your concerns, what I hear instead are your frustrations that longer-term aspirations on your part take longer terms.  No surprise there.  These "limitations" as you describe them seem (to me) to be either a dearth of data or misunderstandings about the availability of tagging schemes to map what you wish. So, map.  Map well.  Coin tags if you need to.  Build community, as it seems you truly need to do so.  Outreach.  Move your longer-term goals from the back burner to the front burner as you see fit and have time to do so.  THAT is what takes years (along with finding others who might share your similar goals and have the skills and time to help achieve them).  All of this can be done, as it is doable, I have done so.  In fact, with the growth the project has seen in the last several years, the timeframes seem to be decreasing, as the tools / channels of communication have diversified and improved, the processes of good dialog turning into good intentions turning into good mapping have shortened and become better established as "here's what worked for us, something similar tuned to your environment can work for you, too."

> 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.

Please don't "shut up and remain ignorant" as that is giving up.  A moribund community with a death of data can be (it IS, it sounds like in your case) highly frustrating.  The best I might suggest is to take a long-term approach, "sketch" (as I described, what might be used as a "skeleton" on which others will build upon in the future) into the map what you are able to, doing so in bite-sized chunks at a time.  Take a "chip-chip-chip away at it" attitude and give things time to grow, as this is simply reality.  You won't build Rome in a day, but you can build the bones, while others build the muscles, nerves, organs, skin and hair.  Pretty soon (believe me), it will walk and talk and be a vibrant, local community with a pretty good, always improving map, which is never done, but always gets better.  This is OSM.  You can do it and I wish you success.  We (the larger community) are here to help you with what we hope is both good advice and inspiration; good luck.


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