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Expanding the OSM Community

Posted by FTA on 26 August 2015 in English.

One common theme weaved into the State of the Map US conference was the difficulty of community onboarding…once people are finally drawn into OpenStreetMap, how can we retain them and help them feel like a part of the community? I think we should have some sort of OSM Ambassador program. A welcoming committee, or mentoring program, that reaches out to greet new users as they join the community and serve as a contact point for questions about OSM, correct tagging, using the data, or just why this community is so great. This group can also be the connection from individual mappers to local OSM chapters, Maptimes, and other organizations.

The program should be somewhat local, focused on the country, province, or even city to provide a “local” touch to the communication–not just a generic response. The ambassador/mentor/welcomer doesn’t necessarily have to live there, but it would be great for them to have some knowledge of the location to provide advice tailored towards that region. This initial contact would perhaps help the new mapper realize they aren’t the only person in a TIGER desert of nodes. It would also give them a direct contact point if they don’t want to approach the mountain of mailing lists or try their hand at IRC and other help mediums.

A similar mechanism has likely been informally happening already by many of us in the community. I have personally sent messages to people as I’ve randomly seen a new editor show up in the history, usually when they are in my area. Minh Nguyễn, had a great talk at the SOTM US, where he touched on how he has also reached out to new mappers in the bigger picture of inspiring local mappers. It makes sense that we already do this, because we truly care about the OSM community. But we should organize our efforts so that we can ensure all of the areas are covered.

This project is, I think, the biggest step forward for springboarding an ambassador program. We should look to organize this worldwide and rally around welcoming people into our community to provide a group of fellowship for mapping and open data!

Location: 43.102, -89.415


Comment from mavl on 26 August 2015 at 05:15

It’s very good idea. Such tool is useful. For example, in Russia old contributors usually welcome new contributors (using OSM messages or changeset comments) only if they make mistakes.

Comment from joost schouppe on 26 August 2015 at 06:30

The idea really is to turn the project you mention into something global. It’ll depend on contributors and resources if this thing turns into a global service where local chapters “adopt a region” or if it will be a tool you can install for your own region.

Meanwhile, there simply is no reason to wait. It is quite simple to set up an IFTTT recipe that will send the Neis-one RSS feed of new contributors to a Google Doc. Add some nice formulas, and you have a nice spreadsheet of who started mapping, with handy links to see what they did and to a place to send a message. Here’s a bit of info. If necesary, I’m willing to expand on that, or even help you set it up for your area.

We’ve been doing this for a while now, and while it is hard to measure impact, we have had some people joining the local Meetups and the mailing list after receiving the welcome message.

Comment from SOSM on 26 August 2015 at 11:40

This is a very old idea that is implemented all over the OSM community, and it doesn’t need any technical infrastructure outside of what is already there. Just setup a RSS feed from and off you go.

I wouldn’t overestimate the impact that it has, but at least (in our case) we’ve pointed out the available resouces and where to ask in the case of questions.

Comment from Omnific on 26 August 2015 at 15:17

For such a large community, there is barely any dialog (outside of mailing lists and local groups). It’s actually quite strange that the forums and diaries are nearly deserted, as are OSM subreddits and Facebook pages. For a project with 25k active contributors, there is very little dialog. I’ve seen more communication with a group of 25 people. This is especially true in the US, where we have a tiny number of contributors per square mile. Without stronger community connections, the US is going to remain far, far inferior to Google, Bing, etc. We need a group chat option or something similar.

Comment from FTA on 27 August 2015 at 03:41

Simon and SOSM, that is great to hear you have been doing this for a while! Part of my initial suspicion I believe was likely the result of reading that diary entry at some point in the past year or so.

It’s definitely anecdotal but most of the times that I have reached out, the user has been very receptive and absolutely had questions that I was able to answer or clarifications that I could resolve. Did my initial contact push them to continue editing and be active? I’d like to think so, but that’s optimism at best. If nothing else, I would think that friendly exchange at least gave them a positive image of OSM and possibly convince them to “recommend us to a friend or family member” (as all those business retention surveys say).

My main hope is to help organize this in countries that don’t have such a program already in place towards greeting people and following up when they have questions. The workflows presented are a great way to tackle this issue and I think will continue to inspire the mission. That said, I think some of the upfront effort investment to get this kicked off and organized in other countries (the US, for example) could be mediated with a tool that aggregates this information and provides a ticket-like infrastructure to check off who has been contacted (so that they don’t get spammed) and help make that nearby person connection.

Comment from Minh Nguyen on 27 August 2015 at 20:39

The Wikipedia community does this kind of outreach via public user talk pages, which has tradeoffs. It prevents multiple users from spamming the new user exactly the same way (which is probably a good kind of problem to have anyhow), makes it easy to have small group conversations, and makes it clear when a lot of talking is happening. On the other hand, the private message system here on is great for one-on-one guidance, especially for timid users who’d rather not post their first-day questions for all to see. So a checklist tool would help to make sure no one falls through the cracks. (I just hope no one decides to then automate the process with bots the way Wikipedia has!)

Beyond the initial mentor system, I agree with Omnific that we need a better communication channel for the kinds of groups that form around a city or (in less-mapped countries) a region. None of the mappers in my area are willing to spam the country list about regional issues, and I think casual mappers would be more willing to join a Web-based discussion group than subscribe to a mailing list or join an IRC channel. Offsite services like Facebook have very little visibility on An OSM wiki page might work for this purpose if it were federated with OSM logins and made it easier to follow discussions (like with the Echo extension Wikipedia uses).

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