[OSM-talk] Things People Say

Michal Migurski mike at stamen.com
Wed Dec 28 05:19:13 GMT 2011

Nestoria's writeup of the switch from GMaps to OSM made the rounds here recently. Elsewhere on the web, it triggered a fairly in-depth thread on Hacker News: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3392851

Here are a few interesting snippets from that thread, and why I think they're worth calling out:

> OSM is of course an excellent product for people who want to do more than the off the shelf google functionality.

This is a nice thing to read.

> According to the article, the Google "sales force" seems to leave much to desire. They don't keep appointments, they can't explain their product, they don't understand their client, and they overprice their product.

Google is deeply good at a lot of different things, but interaction with actual human beings isn't one of them. On the other hand, I've been snarked at on this list by influential OSMers enough times to acknowledge that our project isn't great at this, either. I view this as an opportunity for us to make a good impression, though.

> OpenStreetMaps has its own data but it is provided by a community that does not have as much momentum as Wikipedia, even New York City data is pretty much incomplete[1]

This was in response to the out-of-date NYC page on the wiki, and Russ Nelson set the commenter straight in the thread. Still, the perception of lower quality or at least incompleteness is lurking out there.

> I think the key factor here is something Google does very, very well: UI. There is just something about google maps that makes it more appealing to the eye. And that's crucial to create a great service. I saw a post long ago (i couldn't find :/) that compared the graphic style of Maps, Bing and others. Google just nails layout, ease of understanding and other factors. I believe it is this key factor that makes the difference.

This comment was partially referring to our default cartography, and it's one I've heard echoed by employees of other organizations thinking of embracing OSM. The post he's referring to is Justin O'Bierne's 41Latitude blog, which demonstrates some of the simple ways that GMaps cartography uses tiny perceptual differences to assist legibility (http://teczno.com/s/lw2, http://teczno.com/s/5t1).

I see a timely opportunity here to bring our cartography up to date to help in some of the same ways. We're seeing meaningful interest from organizations like NACIS.org in the OSM project and I'd love to work on a long-term plan for the standard OSM tileset. It's evolved organically over the past few years, and I believe it's time to remove a few fire hydrants and turning circles and bump up some font sizes in the service of a less-busy, more-comprehensible selection of elements.

> ETA: And as I go to OpenStreetMaps and see it struggle to serve me a page showing my house (and showing exactly the same wrong place for my house that Google Maps does, because it's using the exact same data), it doesn't much make a case for anything but "well, at least it's free".
>> Yes, it loaded glacially when I tried it, and there was a link begging me to donate for a hardware upgrade. It showed precisely the same wrong location, given a search address, that Google Maps shows - which is pretty impressive if they're somehow not using the same data, there. As for fixing it, fix it yourself. I'm not a cartographer, and I'm not actually interested in this project or in being hectored by someone to pitch in on a project I don't give a damn about.

This person is caught between the "it's a map" / "it's a project" divide. We have a home page with a big map on it so it *seems* like it's the same thing as GMaps, and the various calls for help are perceived as annoying intrusions rather than the point of the whole enterprise.

> Yep, 80% of my town is unmapped. The same goes for some other towns in neighboring areas that I've checked. Compared to Google maps it's just no good. I have no idea how or on what basis the blog author concluded that OSM is just as good or better then Google maps. Also, I didn't see the option for satellite view.

Same thing here.

> Using the OSM's online mapping tool is fun. I really enjoyed doing the maps for around my home - it made me look up streets I'd never noticed. I felt I learned a lot about my local area.

This made me happy.

> The last time I checked OSM was based on US Census TIGER data. The TIGER data format is extremely quirky and importing the full dataset is non-trivial. I'd imagine they only do it periodically. Add to that the lag between new construction and appearance in TIGER and it's easy to see why OSM has not yet caught up.

This is an interesting misconception about our TIGER import. Maybe it can be ignored, though.

> Other than the Google logo in the bottom left hand corner, Google has done a great job of taking the back seat on development. You can pretty much make a map that looks like it's completely void of the Google family.

I believe this poster is referring to Google's support for modifying cartography, the ability to make small tweaks to colors and layers at a late stage of rendering. We don't do this, but in return we have layers like Andy's transport map.

> Going completely over to OSM takes alot of work when building your own hardware stack, but our alternative (with relatively low traffic), is paying google maps $40k next year, and who know what the following...

It's my understanding that the sales process for GMaps is quite fluid, where they quote you a ridiculously high number and you walk it down to like 10% of the original. This works when you're the only game in town, but when the alternative is knowable Google will have to be more realistic about sales. Setting up your own tile infrastructure is something that's easier now thanks to all the work that's gone into Mapnik, Planet replication and other tools. Can we make it easier in the eyes of a business, by showing how the costs too are predictable and doable?

> This seems rather disingenuous. A map that is missing major areas is not only not well mapped, it clearly "does not work".
> This sounds to me like the age-old argument us techies make to laymen. Use open source! If there are problems you can fix them yourself! Except these people are not programmers, nor do they have any interest in being one.


> Which is entirely true, but misses the point by a mile - developers may be interested in contributing to OSM (I know I am), but how many are willing to ship this in a production environment, where the goal is to build a great product, not baby-sit an incomplete data provider?

I think these two comments are perceptions to overcome rather than bugs to fix. Some people don't want to be mappers, but we still want them to use OSM. The "production environment" term sounds a lot like the way people used to say "enterprise system" on Slashdot, which is to say knee-jerk conservatism and power worship masquerading as informed consumption. So, we make every other part of the puzzle - the server, the data, the tiles - so easy that suddenly a few old TIGER roads in Wyoming look no worse on OSM than they do on GMaps.

Maybe it's just the end of the year, but between Facebook's switch to a customized Bing variant and the Obvious Writing On The Wall with regard to Apple's purchases of mapping companies, the mental model of online maps in many people's heads is about to be turned on its side. GMaps will continue to have the bulk of everyone's mindshare, but maybe in the same sense that Kleenex™ is what people think they're reaching for when they want a tissue?


michal migurski- mike at stamen.com

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