OpenStreetMap

Frustration

Posted by Buadhai on 7 October 2009 in English (English).

I've been working hard over the last few months to map the area where I live (Korat, Thailand) and a resort area near here (Wang Nam Khiao, near Thap Lan national park, Thailand).

What's frustrating is that POI icons only show up at high zoom levels. While this might be appropriate for urban areas where you need to avoid icon clutter at low zoom levels, it is highly inappropriate for rural and wilderness areas where POIs are few and far between and displaying them at low levels would enable users to orient themselves and get better information out of the map.

I've noticed other areas where OSM is very Euro and urban-centric. Little thought has been given to making OSM useful in places that are less developed and less densely populated.

Location: Ban Bantaree 3, Nakhon Ratchasima, Ban Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima Province, 300000, Thailand

Comment from JohnSmith on 8 October 2009 at 06:06

We (Australians) share your pain, we've been attempting to modify the default style sheets to make maps from OSM data more useful, but it's a complex subject and so we haven't made much head way so far.

Comment from Buadhai on 8 October 2009 at 06:15

I wish I understood why it was so complex. CloudMade allows you to customize style sheets, which seems to show how easy it can be. But, CloudMade customizations do not include displaying POI icons at lower zoom levels. In other words you have to be having a detailed look at the VB cans in the Todd River before you discover there's a pub in town….

Comment from Minh Nguyen on 8 October 2009 at 06:21

Each of CloudMade’s custom stylesheets applies globally, just like the stylesheet OSM uses. So it’s not as though CloudMade can render one part of the world using one stylesheet and automatically switch to something else. Perhaps OSM could render three versions of every tile (sparse, medium, and dense population) and offer a stylesheet chooser, but I think just that would require lots more resources.

Comment from Buadhai on 8 October 2009 at 06:40

Why not render each tile based on the number of objects present? That way you can render each tile just once using a density-appropriate style sheet.

Comment from Zartbitter on 8 October 2009 at 10:07

OSM isn't just the map - it's the data. Feel free to generate your own map showing POIs at other zoom levels using the data.
One map cannot satisfy all the needs of all the people around the world.

Comment from Buadhai on 8 October 2009 at 11:08

"Feel free to generate your own map showing POIs at other zoom levels using the data."

Certainly, if I could, I would. I don't have the slightest idea how to go about such a thing.

And, believe me, with an arrogant attitude like that you're just going to chase people away from this project, not attract them.

For example:

A friend and I worked hard to map this area of Thailand:

http://osm.org/go/4ZA9uwr-

It's an ampoer (county) in Nakhon Ratchasima province. It's adjacent to Thap Lan National Park and contains dozens of funky little resorts and restaurants. We decided it would be a decent public service to map the area and mark POIs for all the struggling little businesses in there.

After mapping the roads and starting to locate various POIs we realized that our effort probably wasn't worth it. In order for the map to be useful you need to view it at the zoom level in the URL above, so that you can see that national park and the main highway. But, in order to see any of the POIs you have to zoom in so far that you have no idea where you are in relation to known landmarks.

Bottom line: my friend decided not to bother any more. Result: we've lost the only data gatherer we had in that part of Thailand.

Comment from balrog-kun on 8 October 2009 at 12:07

I don't see Zartbitter's message as arogant, he just states the facts. You shouldn't judge OSM as a project by the rendering at www.openstreetmap.org, it's one of many renderings and it's one of the less important parts of the project. And certainly don't judge the usefulness of your mapping this way. Think of the navigation software and search engines rather, they'll find your POIs.

Also, thank you for your mapping, it's definitely not useless.

Comment from amm on 8 October 2009 at 17:10

If you are interested in rendering your own map please do give it a try. There is some documentation of how to do it at http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Mapnik and I believe there are other tutorials of how to use Mapnik to render your own map using OpenStreetMap. Also, do feel free to ask on IRC or the mailinglists if you do get stuck on setting up a map rendering. There are many examples of people setting up their own renderings as the default one didn't suit their needs. You also don't need to render the entire world, but only a part like for example Thailand if you don't have the resources to. Some examples I know of are e.g. the Netherlands-Tileserver at tile.openstreetmap.nl, the Map for India (http://xlquest.net/ unfortunately seems to be down at the moment), the various language renderings by wikipedia ( http://cassini.toolserver.org/tile-browse/ ) and many more specialised ones like the cycle map or the public transport map (http://www.öpnvkarte.de/). So although the comment by Zartbitter might not have been the most helpful to the average user, it does have a point that OpenStreetMap is so much more than the single rendering presented on openstreetmap.org. We don't do a particularly good job at showing that diversity though. (http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Using_OpenStreetMap is somewhat of an attempt at it but could be improved).

However, I can also completely understand your frustration. Even though no one gets paid, everyone wants some form of reward and a nice map detailing all the hard work you have put in is a good reward. We have seen it in many other places too, until there is a good rendering of some feature, people are much less likely to add the data for it.

Comment from chillly on 8 October 2009 at 17:16

Kosmos is an alternative renderer for Windows http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Kosmos.

Comment from Buadhai on 8 October 2009 at 22:09

Thanks to all for the constructive comments.

Collaborative community projects which depend on armies of volunteers can only succeed if the information they gather is accessible to the masses in a way that inspires even more volunteers. Think of Wikipedia. It has been wildly successful because anyone with a web browser can use it. The interface is clean and intuitive. It's all right there. But, how successful would it be if each search only retuned a summary of the article and to get the entire article each user had to compile and run a rendering engine on their own machine?

Look, I'm a 60 year old fixed-income retired geezer living in rural Thailand. The chances of me being able to compile and run Mapnik on my little Mac Mini are zilch. And, even if I were successful in rendering tiles for my part of the world, I'm not going to be able to serve them up to all comers.

I started working on this project with high hopes. Those hopes have mostly been dashed. I'll probably continue, but not with the enthusiasm and vigor that I had in the beginning. The rewards, in terms of contributing to the public good, are just insufficient. That said, I've learned a lot. Always a good thing when you're in your declining years.

Comment from Jeffdelonge on 8 October 2009 at 22:33

I agree with you, i think this feature is a frustation for à lot of people. and we need to share a render more accurate for rural countries. some thing useful for rural tourism offices and small business.and to convince other volunteers to participate to this project.

Jeff from rural area in France

Comment from peSHIr on 9 October 2009 at 05:42

This entire discussion shows one thing: the map view on www.openstreetmap.org (which is what most OSM users/visitors will see as *THE* map, even though we know it's basically the database that counts) should be much more than the editing portal it still is. It should dazzle (new) visitors with a multitude of maps views, easily selectable, to really pull people in...

Comment from Buadhai on 9 October 2009 at 05:46

I have a slightly different take on it…

One of the reasons Google gained market share on Yahoo! so quickly was because Google's user interface was clean, uncluttered and unambiguous. It did one thing and it did it well in a simple, intuitive way. OSM's home page should strive for the same thing.

Here's a quick-and-dirty mockup:

http://www.mgnewman.com/sz/osm_mockup.jpg

Comment from daveemtb on 9 October 2009 at 12:54

The problem with OSM at the moment is like that of many open source projects - the geeks think that it's easy to render your own map so no-one programs a nice front end. Normal people take one look at the instructions for installing Mapnik and think "no way am i even going to attempt making my own map".

Thus the project doesn't attract even reasonably technically minded people because they aren't familiar with playing with Python etc. Just because they aren't a major geek doesn't mean that their contribution to OSM isn't worth attracting.

I am *almost* an example of this. I've stuck with contributing despite the lack of user friendly output options, and my edit history shows that. However, I found outputting a usable Garmin map of Madeira for my father-in-law to be a very tricky and time consuming task. When family members have asked why I spend time doing this "mapping" thing, unless I can show them useful, easy to use, output options, they think I'm crazy. To be honest, I'm starting to think they're right and I've really cut down on the amount of data I'm contributing. Until OSM geeks start seeing things from a non-geek perspective, this project is not meeting it's potential. I agree that Zarbitter's response was arrogant. It basically implies that unless you have the techical known-how to make your own renders, you aren't valued here and your contribution and uses for the map data aren't worth considering.

I know that the default renderers are not the most important output of OSM, but EASILY available output is what will persuade people that it is or isn't worth contributing.

Until those within the community that can program (that certainly isn't me!!) start programming output utilities for OSM with average-Joe users in mind (no command line, for starters!) we are a missing huge opportunity to gain contributors.

Comment from Buadhai on 9 October 2009 at 23:18

Thanks for your comments, Daveemtb. I think you're right that there is a definite division between the geek-kings who write code and the map-serfs who gather data for them. I believe, protestations to the contrary, that the geeks look at this as "their" project. As a result, they don't take suggestions kindly:

"Telling us what colour you think the bikeshed should be doesn't get it any nearer to being built."

"Feel free to generate your own map…."

It's definitely off-putting and doesn't do anything to attract people to the project. And, as you noted, the frustration causes many of us to lose enthusiasm for what could be a worthwhile project.

Frankly, I don't have much optimism that things will change in a way that makes me comfortable with continuing to contribute.

Earlier in this diary entry I mentioned a friend who had given up contributing to OSM. Here's what he wrote to me recently:

"For a '60 year old fixed-income retired geezer living in rural Thailand' you express yourself quite articulately. Seems like a lot of people see the same shortcomings in OSM that you do. What to do? Well, first: Don't take it all too seriously. I think I am getting better at sometimes -- perhaps often -- simply saying forget it. It's not worth it and there are so many other worthwhile things to do. Not that I'm suggesting you/we should give up the mapmaking project. Just that we see if we (well you, really) can find a more productive direction to achieve the goal. Enough."

Comment from Wynndale on 10 October 2009 at 14:45

I left Wikipedia because there were people who threw away all of the supposed good they did for the project with their abrasiveness. Unfortunately there are people like that here to and I don’t know if they can reform themselves.

Comment from emj on 11 October 2009 at 01:53

Budhai.... You know things move forward, in the begining we could wait months for rerendering of the map, there was no standard way to tag footways.

As rural users you have to work and fight to get what you want, I think the people to nag is the Mapnik people. Since they are the ones who decide what shows up on the map, and they can solve it technically.

Things I have been thinking whlie mapping rural areas is:
1. mores pois in non dense areas
2. height curves
3. mapping signs (a road to the left 500km to Mumbai)
more?

You apparently have tried changing the stylesheets on cloudmades servers do you have anything that works for your situation, then perhaps we can see how it works for us in other parts of the world.

Comment from Buadhai on 11 October 2009 at 10:39

The only thing I really want to produce is maps that show POIs at a lower zoom levels than the OSM default. This makes great sense for sparsely populated urban areas. We have lots of areas like that in Thailand.

Unfortunately, the CloudMade customized style sheets do not let you make POI's visible at lower zoom levels. They do let you go the other way: make the zoom level at which POI's are visible higher than the OSM default.

I am now in the process of teaching myself Python and Mapnik. So far I've been able to use Mapnik to generate customs maps with POIs as I want them. Unfortunately, learning Mapnik XML formats that let you customize maps is no easy task. For example, I still haven't been able to figure out how to use TextSymbolizer to draw text on the map. But, for a silly old fart I'm doing OK so far. But, I've spent the better part of three days just getting this far.

However, it is complete folly to expect ordinary people without substantial command line computer experience to actually install and use Mapnik. It ain't easy.

Comment from Wynndale on 11 October 2009 at 12:06

Mapnik has got a feature to omit names when they get too crowded. If there’s a similar provision for POIs they could be put into the smaller-scale style sheets. You can ask for this at http://trac.mapnik.org, though that’s only useful if there’s someone out there willing to code it.

Comment from emj on 12 October 2009 at 22:37

Well Thailand is far denser populated than Sweden (on average!), so I understand you pain. As Wynndale says if you have the will you can try to get Mapnik to implment it, I've only had the strength to send one email on the OSM mailing list (getting no response).

Comment from emj on 12 October 2009 at 22:38

BTW please post your progress with your stylesheet, it would be really cool to have more people working on rural problems.. :-)

Comment from Buadhai on 12 October 2009 at 23:21

What I'm doing at the moment is looking at the osm.xml stylesheet which I got from here:

http://johnnydobbinscom.s3.amazonaws.com/osm.xml

I need to see how to revise that so that it does what I want with POI's at low zoom levels.

BTW, I got some good hints from this site: http://johnnydobbins.com/2009/05/31/mapnik-ogcserver-setup-from-scratch/

Slow going, but I'm getting there and learning a lot.

Comment from emj on 19 October 2009 at 09:44

So a lot of people agree with you, and we have a server here in Sweden that we are going to use to render the country side. I will hopefully work with it next week hope we can work together.. There is still the problem with choosing when to use the countryside style or not..

User:ingwa told me that he is going to use Spreadnik to handle the mapnik style sheet, he was told at SOTM that it's the best tool.

Comment from Buadhai on 19 October 2009 at 09:50

Great news emj. I started out trying to do this myself, but it's a huge task. I actually have mapnik running, both on my Mac and on a linux virtual machine.

I understand the problem of deciding when to use the countryside style. What are your thoughts, so far?


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