[OSM-talk] Actually using OpenStreetMap and the usability of the current maps

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemeD.net
Mon Jul 28 11:48:56 BST 2008

Inge Wallin wrote:

> * Distinctions between roads. In opposition to the case for names, there are
> too many roads on the large scale maps.  Here is what the current map looks
> like around my home city:
> http://www.openstreetmap.com/?lat=58.33&lon=15.408&zoom=10&layers=0B0FTF
> There is too little distinction between the motorway, the few primary
> highways and the secondary.  I don't think the tertiary highways should even
> be on that map. Once they are all mapped they will provide a messy background
> making the important roads even more difficult to see.

Some interesting points.

We are, in a way, a victim of our own success: the balance on the maps  
looked absolutely perfect about six months ago. Now that we have many  
more roads, some zoom levels can look a bit different - and it may be  
time to remove highway=tertiary from z10 on Mapnik, for example.  
(Personally I think it'd be better if people just used  
highway=tertiary less but I may be in a minority on that one. ;) )

That said, "usable clear maps" is not the only metric we should work  
by. "Showing off our coverage and completeness" is another one -  
indeed, if you follow Frederik's argument (which I have a lot of  
sympathy with), you could argue that it's the main one. So it could  
sometimes be considered useful to have a slightly more cluttered map  
than would otherwise be the case, simply to show off how much stuff we  
have - and, in other areas, how far we have to go.

I know very little about the Osmarender layer, but certainly, Steve  
Chilton revises the Mapnik layer constantly:


and I'm sure would be receptive to suggestions. Bear in mind, of  
course, that there are certain technical issues with all the renderers  
- label placement is the bugbear for any automated cartography.

On a related issue, I think you underestimate the usefulness of the  
"alternative" maps with this:

> The topic is how the maps of OpenStreetMap are actually used by  
> ordinary users. I know that the data of OSM is supposed to be used  
> in new exciting ways like the cycle maps, but the majority of the  
> users are just going to use what the programmers have made available  
> to them.

I don't use OSM for planning car trips. It's not quite good enough in  
the UK[1]: the usability isn't sufficiently better than Google Maps,  
and the completeness isn't there, yet.

But I _do_ use OSM for cycling, because there, our map is streets  
ahead of anything else available. There is no better map of the (UK)  
National Cycle Network, full stop. Ok, ours isn't complete for all  
areas, but it is for many; the site is fast; the data's accurate; you  
can put it on a GPS. This isn't true of any other NCN map. And unlike  
the car trips, you can't use the NCN without a map: I could find my  
way from Charlbury to, I dunno, Llanwrtyd Wells by car without a map -  
road signs take care of that - but Charlbury to nearby Banbury on the  
NCN is really hard unless you have a map, because the signs are erratic.

This isn't just my opinion. It's quite telling that if you look on the  
UK roadgeek site, www.sabre-roads.org.uk (dominated by motorists),  
they don't quite get OSM: they just whinge about lack of completeness.  
But the cyclists love it - I've seen very positive reviews on  
uk.rec.cycling, forums.ctc.org.uk, sustransrangers.org.uk. Right now,  
"the majority of the users" for whom OSM is _the_ _best_ _map_  
_available_ are exactly those who are using the "new and exciting"  


[1] This argument is quite different in the Netherlands, of course!

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