[Tagging] Basic cartography features missing, why?

Anders Torger anders at torger.se
Mon Nov 9 08:59:59 UTC 2020

Hello Steve,

I admire your passion.

This is my perspective: there are many projects to contribute to, I have 
multiple interests, I have a limited amount of hours to contribute. I 
have worked in many high risk ventures, and seen at least 10 years of my 
work life's production has just disappeared in projects that did not 
make it. I have experienced work-related burnout once in my life, 16 
years ago, and I still have not recovered 100% probably never will, so I 
need to be careful before I bit over something too large.

So I make a "due diligence" of projects before I commit. For OSM I 
actually started before looking into it, fixing roads so the route 
planner I used for sharing my bike rides would actually work. But this 
year I've been thinking about stepping up the game, considering mapping, 
not programming (that's a whole different level of brain activity).

Then I first started with testing if OSM feature set was currently 
capable of generating maps to a similar level I'm used to from the real 
maps I've been using all my life. It was not in some important key 
aspects, and I was a bit surprised of the type of features that was 
lacking as I consider them central for good cartography. So I started 
investigate how these could be added, first simply by reporting them as 
bugs, with an initial suggestion how they might be fixed. But long story 
short, I've come to realize that it's a multi-year process, and the 
interest of having these "basic" cartography features is weaker than I 
expected. I've also investigated import status in Sweden, why the 
situation is like it is despite five years of good data being available 
which could significantly improve the baseline. The result of that 
investigation is that we don't have much if any organization locally, 
and it's technically hard to make imports, those that have tried have 
got less than optimal and/or only partial results. I've also looked at 
community statistics. There are about 50 active mappers in Sweden. 
Despite me being rather casual mapper, I was recently placed top 15. And 
we have the competition from easy access of high quality maps. This is a 
tricky situation for any project.

It seems like due to the limited maturity locally, I need to go in full 
time and become an OSM champion, and that is what you tell me as well. 
Indeed I think I have the competence (or rather have the basic skill set 
so I can build it), but unfortunately not the capacity, and if I need to 
spend a lot of time I prefer projects with more programming and less 
politics. It's natural that large communities have lots of politics, so 
I tend to prefer smaller projects, or alternatively large ones with 
clear roadmaps and well-defined sub-tasks to engage in (my Linux kernel 
work belongs to the latter).

If I wait for the project to move on its own here locally, I consider it 
to be a substantial risk that nothing will happen, but who knows, 
hopefully someone has the skill, time, passion and capacity to engage. 
It also seems like cartography to the level I expect is not a key 
priority within the majority of the project, and to me personally that 
takes away a big part of the joy of mapping. I don't just want to make a 
geodata database, I want to see beautiful useful maps. Of course all 
want that, but there are many different views on what makes up useful 
maps. To me the generalization shortcomings are just too large, and have 
been that for a long time.

About overall maturity, I don't think 16 years runtime makes a project 
automatically mature. Another perfectly realistic scenario is that the a 
project outgrows the initial processes making it stagnant in certain 
aspects which causes various functionality gaps that wouldn't be 
expected of a project of this age. It's my assessment that this is 
exactly the current situation with OSM. No assessment is perfect and 
100% complete, but for my own purposes I've got enough of those 
indications to come to that conclusion. This doesn't mean that it cannot 
change, but it's not something I can do. The only thing I can do is to 
report what I see and then the rest of the community can do whatever 
they like with it.

In all, for me probably the wisest thing to do is to step back and 
continue my casual contributions as needed for my bike routes, and keep 
and eye and see what happens with OSM at large and locally in Sweden, 
but not engage in detailed cartography until it can be represented well.

Regarding suggesting things, I think I have made plenty of suggestions, 
both in terms of how features could possibly be implemented, and how 
priorities could be changed etc, and many of these are just the same as 
many others have suggested in one way or another. Of course, I cannot 
expect these to be implemented just like that, and obviously many think 
that these suggestions are outright poor ideas, perhaps the majority of 
the community. I don't know. This is just a view of some random guy 
making a due diligence of the OSM project from a Swedish casual mapper 

** Strive for more professionalization in certain areas, not necessarily 
permanent but run in time-limited projects
    ** Task force for imports, targeting weak areas
        ** Make import into separate layer, use the crowd of casual 
mappers to do merging with existing work
        ** Prioritize imports to reach a decent baseline, potential 
casual mappers are discouraged
           if they have basically a blank sheet to start with, especially 
if they live in an area where other
           high quality maps are easily accessible.
    ** Cartographic expert group, analyze current situation make action 
plan to fill in the gaps
** Strive to have clearer mapping guidelines, maybe have a 
professionalized short project to shape up the wiki
    guidelines. Instead of "nothing right or wrong, some renderers do 
like this, others like that" have stricter
    and more well-defined mapping guidelines and give OSM-Carto the 
status of reference implementation for the
    basic feature set rather than just an example implementation. This 
does not need to apply to exotic and
    experimental features, but basic things like, can we have polygons 
split with arbitrary seams or not (quite
    common practice, but also quite common that renderers make these 
seams visible).
** Allow the OSMF board to make more strategic decisions, or in some 
other way get a roadmap
    ** Decide which features to prioritize
    ** Avoid too much fragemented work when several people do the same 
things but none just don't catch on as
       it hasn't been anchored in the community first
** Strive to make the database (or tools) organized in layers
    ** Easier to work with as data gets dense, less problematic to 
introduce new types of mapping
** Separate osm.org in one for mappers and one for end users, make the 
end user site more modern and more fashionable,
    think about "selling" the project and market communication.
    ** We need casual mappers, lots of them, not everyone can be OSM 
champions. We need to think about "selling" to
       casual mappers, make it easy, attractive and encouraging to 
    ** Presenting a good attractive map for end users is the best way to 
attract mappers
    ** Have a page on osm.org which tells about the project what it does 
how it works etc.
** Prioritize cartography over speed in rendering
    ** Give better generalization of names high priority, better overview 
** The default map should have contour lines, a "simple" way to make the 
map look much more complete
    ** Import task force can look for country imports of height data, 
some countries have public data available at a
       considerable better quality than the common global source.
** Try to secure funding for server infrastructure and maintenance so 
the capacity is there to serve the demand
    ** Find a way so we don't need to be too afraid to compete with the 
commercial providers
    ** It's important for OSM success that there to the casual public is 
one solid high quality entity,
       today it's too fragmented

On 2020-11-08 23:00, stevea wrote:
> 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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