[OSM-talk] "Second decade" visions

Daniel Koć daniel at xn--ko-wla.pl
Tue Mar 10 22:53:54 UTC 2015

W dniu 10.03.2015 3:52, Alex Barth napisał(a):
> Casting the net a little wider:
> What do you think are the big topics and challenges for OpenStreetMap
> as we're about to go into the second decade? What does this mean for
> State of the Map?

I'm not sure what does this mean for SotM (?), but here are my thoughts 
on strategic topics as I see them being the active OSM community member 
from Poland. They are not very outstanding and visionary probably, but 
IMHO they are important and it can easily take few years - up to decade 
- to achieve these goals nevertheless... =}

TL;DR summary:

1. More synergy between (sub)projets
2. Managing data overload
    2a. Semi-automated tasks execution
    2b. Continuous sanity check tools
    2c. Big data analysis
3. Tools for personalizing OSM data presentation
4. Redesigning some key tagging schemes
5. Cooperation with external projects (especially open, like Wikidata)


And now that "TL" part alone:

1. More synergy between (sub)projets

OSM is acting in a highly decentralized way. I think this is healthy in 
general, but because the project is now on the road to be "The Map" 
(much like the Wikipedia is "The Encyclopedia" now), this results in 
growing inefficiency and inertia. Of course we can't avoid having some 
departments, just because the OSM is getting bigger and people tend to 
focus on their favorite activity, but nobody seems to care about the OSM 
output as a whole. For example you can talk to death every detail of 
tagging some esoteric features while completely ignoring how will it 
affect the rendering, routing or usability for mappers (for example how 
to tell the difference between tags A and B).

While it's a general issue and can't be resolved once and for all, I 
think connecting more dots inside the project is very important factor 
of reaching "The Map" level.

2. Managing data overload

We have so many data these days! It's a blessing and a curse. There are 
still many remote places where nothing is mapped - sure! But now we know 
how to do it, we have the tools to do it and we can help local 
volunteers to start (one of our most active member is helping to develop 
mapping in Nepal, another one is fond of Kyrgyzstan mountains).

But what to do with big, dense cities, where we have the landuses, the 
buildings, the streets and all the other "micromappping" things - plus 
the 3D layers, indoor mapping, underground facilities, etc. squeezed 
together? It will be increasingly hard to work with them - and new users 
will be those who will suffer the most, because it's easier to damage 
something while trying to add nice shiny object than to really extend 
the map.

Maybe we should split the data into "sets" or just make the iD and JOSM 
more layer/theme-centric tools - I don't know yet, but the problem is 
here to stay.

2a. Semi-automated tasks execution

One of the things we should really start to practice is to rely more on 
the automation. Let me quote:

"Try not to let humans do what machines could do instead. As a rule of 
thumb, automating a common task is worth at least ten times the effort a 
developer would spend doing that task manually one time. For very 
frequent or very complex tasks, that ratio could easily go up to twenty 
or even higher."

[ http://www.producingoss.com/en/managing-volunteers.html#automation ]

As an example - we are just starting to use semi-automated script for 
updating public transport routes in Warsaw. There are over 300 lines 
here, many hundreds of bus/tram stops - and they are constantly 
changing, of course. one by one. When I got interested in it, we had a 
dedicated Wikiproject, but it was on hiatus by then and I quickly gave 
up too, because tracking so many objects in Wiki was a tedious and not 
very useful task. Once we learned that local public transport operator 
(called ZTM) has started giving away their precious raw data with 
coordinates (!), me and few other mappers started to add all the stops 
focusing on "stop_position" tagging. Now, after almost a year of work, 
we have all of them and the C++ script which creates updated routes 
network in about 15 minutes. Two important things happened lately 
regarding transport system in my hometown - one of the bridges was 
destroyed by fire and a new subway line was opened. If we did everything 
by hand, we would be dead now, because too many things would change too 
fast - but the script, even as rough as it is now, has no problem even 
if all the lines will change at once. We have only to feed it with new 
stops (when they are created) and we're done!

However - beware of "botocracy"! If there's only one person able to use 
the tool, it's not sustainable model. It's important that the script 
only gives the .osm file on the output and we can easily handle 
injecting it into the database once a day - or at any other time rate. 
We have a chance to make manual fixes here and there if needed. Too much 
automation is not the answer - just let us get rid of boring details!

2b. Continuous sanity check tools

Such tools as this public transportation updating script need to be run 
continuously - be it once per day or whatever. And we need some more 
tools to monitor the whole service and data. Sure, we can't predict 
everything (see this message:

https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk/2015-March/072273.html ),

but we can have a "control center" for managing all these bots. The more 
data we have, the bigger is our project, the more we will need also this 
kind of automation. And it should also be open to the public to avoid 
"hit by bus" kind of situations.

2c. Big data analysis

We should not only collect more data, but also analyze and aggregate 
some of them. Probably some data analysis software exist yet, which can 
be used with our database more or less directly, but now it looks like 
we care only for editing and maps rendering (and sometimes printing them 
too) - let's imagine some other outputs in scope of OSM!

3. Tools for personalizing OSM data presentation

What we have now is 5 different map styles on the main page to choose, 
but people will need more and more personal styles (AKA "data skins"). 
Rendering all of them on OSM servers is probably impossible, but we can 
develop (just-in-time?) client rendering interfaces for our database. It 
has to be easy to use, like switching on and off visual layers and 
letting people choose the crazy colors, icons and the interesting areas 
in their browser just by clicking.

We can still serve some basic CSS skins/prestes via our repository - 
like "map for the developers" (I would like to see every POI, street 
lamp and the pipelines too) or "interactive contour map for quiz/web 
page" (two of my friends was asking me exactly about it for their work!) 
- but the rendering should be on their side. They can share some 
elements to avoid duplication - P2P in the background can be of some use 
here or even "CloudMapping". We should use people's machines much more. 
I still miss the Tiles w Home project, but that was still old static 
one-size-fits-all concept. In the next decade users can make a dynamic 
cloud sharing common resources, but dynamically creating and compiling 
personal "forks".

4. Redesigning some key tagging schemes

I think that will be one of the hardest think to change, but while tag 
crafting is mostly a grassroot process, we need to rethink some of them 
in a more systematic way.

For example amenity=school should be really landuse=school (if not used 
just for the building), landcover namespace should arise (so on the 
landuse=park we can see green space only when there's a grass actually, 
not on the whole this area), maybe some nature/man_made tagging should 
be replaced by terrain namespace... That's not important what exactly 
should be (re)designed from top to bottom this time, but once you have 
the needed level of expertise, you can make new implementation better 
instead of just patching the original one.

We also have a lot detailed objects which are not always clearly defined 
and we should try more "cascading" approach, like "amenity=fast_food" => 
"amenity=food+amenity_food_type=fast_food" (or something alike). That 
way we can have "Here is food!" label without forcing mapper to 
distinguish if he's not really sure.

I expect there will be strong reaction against using "top-down 
committee" methodology, but some well-known problems with our ontology 
architecture will never go away if we try to change it tag-for-tag. Of 
course that is true only for this class of problems - most new schemes 
will still be best when created ad hoc and then used by more and more 

5. Cooperation with external projects (especially open, like Wikidata)

I remember when Wikipedia was afraid of using maps from OSM, because 
that was an external project. But if the license terms are not 
prohibitive and you know this other community works with the same 
principles in mind as your own, it would be a shame not to use their 
resources just because we don't control it fully. Recently I also heard 
some voices regarding using Wikidata in OSM, so for me it's the same 
story retold from the other side. =}

OSM is mapping/GIS community and is defined by this. It should not try 
to reinvent everything not to loose the focus. If somebody wants to try 
something different, she's free to join those "other" projects as well! 
And all those projects can cooperate to share what can be shared.


Well, that is what comes to my mind when thinking about strategic 
visions for next few years. Most of the times I just try to scratch my 
own little itch day by day, but after few years in the project I also 
have some long-time expectations and ideas. They can be not accurate or 
- heaven forbid! - the best ones, but remember: that was YOU who asked 
me about "big topics and challenges for OpenStreetMap"! ;-}}}

Piaseczno Miasto Wąskotorowe

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