[OSM-talk] Thoughts on OSM design, and looking forward - and back

Randy rwtnospam-newsgp at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 25 08:29:57 GMT 2010

Vic Morgan wrote:

>I just thought that you'd like the opinion of a (not so) newbie in this
>intense discussion.
>In order to attract people (potential mappers) to the site it has to
>offer something back - it has to have functionality. Not functionality
>to the mapper - Potlatch is quite adequate for my level of expertise -
>but both a reason and a reward for taking an interest in OSM. I'd
>suggest that some of this functionality could be provided by links to a
>couple of recently mentioned sites, and probably others;
>1. Openrouteservice.org
>This is a clear demonstration of how the OSM data can be used to provide
>a useful service to the user. It's a usable and useful tool, and as an
>added bonus readily demonstrates any weaknesses in local OSM data.
>2. Maposmatic.org
>Anyone visiting OSM will have an interest in getting a map of some
>description. Ordinary punters will have no interest whatsoever in
>rendering - all they want is a map. Maposmatic provides just that,
>without bogging the user down in technical detail.
>Between them these two sites offer the rewards that might just tempt
>people into contributing to the OSM project because they can connect
>data gathering with an end-product, without inviting the user to
>undertake an instant course in half-a-dozen arcane IT subjects.
>So my message is - add functionality and usability to the OSM entry
>point by linking to usable, useful sites. Why else would they want to
>visit the site? If the site is genuinely useful, and perhaps inspiring,
>they'll come again and may start to contribute.
>Once they are 'hooked' you can expose them to appalling mire of the OSM
>Wiki and so-called help pages. By then they may have the inspiration to
>plough through it all to satisfy their own particular needs.

I think Vic has very nearly placed his finger on the issue. Many of the 
older OSMers are deeply entrenched in the ideology of "OSM is not a map, 
but a database of the world" and there is absolutely nothing wrong with 
that. But, this approach is only useful to a second tier of developers, 
such as the Cloudmades of the world who take the data and create useful 
products from it. There is a certain class of people, i.e. many of those 
on this list, for whom collecting the data is in and of itself an 
intriguing and useful activity.

However, I am not really one of those. I came to OSM, because I was tired 
of the crappy maps, either out of date or in error, that were available 
for my areas of interest and I was told about this project that would let 
me actually fix the maps myself. I suspect the casual OSM visitors, 
hopefully users, hopefully contributors, initially get to the website for 
about the same reason. There needs to be something to immediately engage 
these casual visitors and draw them in.

In my opinion what the casual visitor needs to see is emphasis on a top 
notch map rendering (and I'm not saying that Mapnik is not), along with a 
usable navigator. That is the bare minimum that the "competition" has to 
offer. This is necessary to engage the user at all, otherwise the 
impression will be, "Oh, this is an interesting project, I hope they make 
something useful out of it some day."

Now that you have engaged them you make it clear that while they are using 
the products of the underlying data that are included on the website, if 
they happen to see something missing, incorrect, or just plane crazy, they 
have several options for getting it fixed, a) a bug report which some 
volunteer may some day act on, b) a very simplified editor for simple 
fixes so that they can fix it immediately themselves, c) a set of more 
robust editors that, if they are interested they can learn about in order 
to create and correct some of the more complex objects.

In my opinion, the map, the navigation function, the simple editor, a 
simple tutorial, and possibly a couple of pushbuttons that would show 
different styles, etc., for a little flare, are all that should be 
emphasized on the home page. This is what is needed for initial 
enticement. Of course, links to other pages, such as "What is OSM really 
all about", how to do more complex editing, etc. should be clearly 

In my opinion, this is the way to engage new users, some, if not many of 
whom will become casual contributors, some of whom will be hooked into 
becoming major contributors, some of whom will become major flame war 
contributors :-]. It needs to be a graduated process so that the 
transition from visitor, to user, to contributor, to major contibutor can 
be made in comfortable steps, none of which will leave the person feeling 
totally lost with the process, and each of which will entice one step 

Granted there are realities along the way, tagging ambiguities, for 
example, that prevent this ideal. But if the user is able to enter the 
process in an orderly manner, the snags along the way won't be offputting 
to the point that they say "This is not for me", but either continue to 
develop interest in more sophisticated contributions or else reach a point 
of sustained casual activity at a more elementary level.

Ah well, enough rambling.

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