[OSM-talk] SteveC should decide

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Sat Oct 3 00:08:23 BST 2009


Gervase Markham wrote:
> I may be entering dangerous waters here, but I'm wondering if this 
> comment of yours reveals quite a lot.

Before I discuss the contents of your message, a quick word about style:

It may be your way to try and understand a conversation by looking not 
at what has been said, but at who said it and what that might reveal 
about their personal situation, upbringing, education, employment or 
other circumstances.

I'm used to this from previous discussions in which you participiated, 
but I still don't find it (morally or intellectually) acceptable to talk 
about what you think a posting reveals about its author. This is 
off-topic and useless at best, insulting at worst, and reflects poorly 
on your intellectual ability to engage in factual discourse.

> You need to distinguish between good leadership and bad leadership. Good 
> leadership sometimes tells people to do things they don't agree with. 

Because the leader is the intellectual visionary and the sheep cannot be 
expected to have the information or the intellectual capacity to 
understand. Yes, that is true with many religious, political, or 
business leaders of past and present.

> More examples from the Mozilla project

Frankly, I think it may be a mistake to try an apply experience from the 
Mozilla project to OSM. I think there are vast differences between our 
projects on various levels, and it would be wrong to say "well they're 
both large projects to do with computers so they must be somehow the same".

I agree that if you write a piece of software, it makes sense to make UI 
decisions and give "your" software a certain character instead of trying 
to be all kinds to all people. If I were with the Firefox development 
team, I'd also tend to say: "Ok, let's do it *this* way and if people 
don't like it, let them choose another browser." rather than make 
Firefox into some kind of browser development environment.

I just don't think this is a lesson that can be transferred to OSM in a 
meaningful way.

> If I were considering using OSM data in my business, I would consider it 
> laughable that after 5 years there had not yet been a decision on what 
> value or small set of values I needed to look for on boolean attributes 
> to see whether they were true or false. Laughable.

On the face of it, this true/false thing is really not a big deal and we 
would be truly stupid to waste so much time discussing it. Even the 
hardcore freeform tagging people, among whom I count myself, would not 
suffer if, for some reason, there was only true/false to choose from for 
boolean values.

What we're seeing here is a discussion about a *principle*. We're not 
discussing about the individual question of whether boolean values 
should be restrained to two values. Behind the scenes linger the much 
lager questions of:

* who has the power to decide which values are allowed for a certain 
tag? who would decree that "oneway" is boolean?
* how is that codified in our software?
* how is that codified in our social structures (votes, elections, who 
is allowed how many votes, who decides who has how many votes and how 
does the appeal process work)?
* what happens if someone thinks they need an exemption from the rule?
* what is the balance of power between mapper and user interests in OSM?
* ...

I continue to think that calling for a strong leader to make a decision 
is seeking the easy way out (just as easy a way out as the "oh well 
let's just add a user preference" way out in application design). I 
think that this often amounts to a kind of unreflected "it has always 
been this way in the world so it will be the same with OSM" attitude. I 
think it is a big challenge to try and remain the "open" project we are 
and all these "we just need someone to make a decision so we can move 
on" issues are temptations allowing us to take a wrong turn. There may 
really be a few cases where "we just need to make a decision and move 
on" but I think that every single one of them has to be very carefully 
worked out and debated, rather than summarily deferred to a strong 
leader who has the ultimate say.

We have, time and time again, debated tagging rules. Some people, 
including you, tirelessly (well, more or less) campaigned for stricter 
rules, with a tight voting system and all. Others, including me, were of 
the laissez-faire disposition.

I think that if some people devised a set of tagging rules or 
recommendations and laid it out in a structured way, including rules on 
how to create, discuss, amend the definitions, there would really be 
demand for that inside OSM. Many people would use that set of 
recommendations and participate in its development. If desired, those 
adhering to that set of recommendations could put something on their OSM 
user page saying "this user adheres to the tagging committee rules". 
Bots could be put up that take anything edited by these people and fix 
it if it doesn't match the rules they say they follow. These rules could 
of course also include that certain values must be either true or false 
or they will be removed/flagged by a bot.

It is well possible that after a few years of operation, such a 
committee-backed set of tagging rules would be so successful that 
anything else is virtually insignificant. (I would perhaps use these 
rules myself if I found they made sense.)

All this is possible *within* the existing OSM framework and without any 
strong leader telling us where to go. I really do encourage you and all 
those calling for leadership to get together, form your own advisory 
board or tagging committee or whatever, create the structures you think 
are required, and then offer them for voluntary use by the community.

I don't quite understand why those who crave most for strict rules etc. 
never, ever tried to do what I have sketched above, when it would seem 
the most natural way of evolving such a system. My only explanation is 
that there are some who want strict rules but don't want to engage in 
creating them (and take their share of responsibility), and some others 
who want strict rules but from ex-machina authority, rather than letting 
the great unwashed decide whether or not they want to accept a certain 

If you cannot get voluntary buy-in for your concept of authority 
("people will never use my system if they're not forced to but it is for 
their own good... they are just too stupid to see... if we only had a 
leader to force my system down people's throats...") then it is no good 
for OSM.


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