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

Kai Krueger kakrueger at gmail.com
Thu Feb 25 12:07:48 GMT 2010

On -10/01/37 20:59, Randy wrote:
> Vic Morgan wrote:
> 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 tired of the crappy maps, either out of date or in error, that were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.

I too think that Vic and Randy have some valid points.

Perhaps (and without numbers it remains speculation), an even bigger usability 
problem to the "casual newbie" than the difficult to use editors and 
particularly the layout of the main page, is the usability of the data. I.e. 
what can they actually do with OpenStreetMap data? Why, other than idealistic 
reasons, should they contribute to OpenStreetMap? Many people will work for 
free, as in without money. But few people are truly altruistic, i.e work with 
out expecting some form of reward. So we need to offer them something. If we 
want to attract "Geeks", Cartographers, GIS professionals and programmers as 
mappers, then vector data is just fine as a reward. If we want to attract "Joe 
the plumber", and I think we do, then most likely we need to offer him something 
else that he actually finds useful.

If there is a good enough reason to contribute, then there are sufficient number 
of "newbies" who will get through the main page or editor usability issues. 
Wikipedia, I think is a good example for that. It is the 6th biggest site on the 
entire internet and has collected vast amounts of knowledge with a large number 
of non-techy people contributing to it. Never-the-less their usability "sucks", 
as SteveC would put it so friendly. Think about all those various combinations 
of double and triple brackets, nested templates, stars, equal signs and what 
else that has been arbitrarily mapped onto markup meanings. OpenStreetMap's 
editor usability and tagging system can't be that much worse. Yet loads of 
people contribute to it. Possibly because end users find it a valuable resource 
and end users see a reason to put in all this effort to jump and climb over the 
barrier of entry to get to the party...

Given, that I too see OpenStreetMap _primarily_ as a map data provider and not a 
mapping site, I don't think all of the end user functionality necessarily has to 
be "in house" (although probably more than we have at the moment). But it has to 
be reached very easily and quickly by new people and not strewed arbitrarily and 
difficult to find on hundreds of different servers. The Openstreetmap.de 
"Schaufenster" ( http://www.openstreetmap.de/schaufenster/index.html ) I think 
is a good starting point for that.

In many ways, we do indeed already have a lot of the necessary end user tools. 
Like the garmin maps, like the various routing providers, like the examples of 
how to embed OSM into your own website, like navigation tools for many other 
mobile platforms, useful utilities somewhere in our SVN repository... What we 
probably are lacking is a good integrated experience so that "newbies" can find 
these resources, start using OSM data and eventually they will hopefully become 
mappers if they notice issues in the data while using it.

All that said, I am definitely not saying we don't have a need or shouldn't 
improve our editing tools to lower the barrier of entry. There is definitely 
room and need for improvement, but perhaps we shouldn't forget this other side 
of "usability" as an additional option.


P.S. one thing that has to be kept in mind though if we would push additionally 
more towards an "end user" site, is, do we have the technical and financial 
resources to support that? Running a large end user site requires a lot of 
resources and we might end up needing a "yearly donation drive" like Wikipedia. 
Do we really want to get into that (already)?

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