Google Map Maker

Posted by Rostranimin on 11 April 2013 in English (English).

Not a proper diary entry perhaps - but this is what’s in my head so seems relevant to write: Tell me again why we don’t need OSM to be accessible to lots of ordinary people… Google Map Maker is coming to the UK.

So OSM is better - but that’s not the point. Remember Betamax video recorders? For those who aren’t old enough… there were two formats of video recorder. One worked much better - very much better. It had powerful backers too. BUT those supporting the other made sure that it was easier to get hold of films in their format. Lots of feedback loops appeared - those wanting to watch films bought recorders for this - which made them cheaper - which made it important to supply your films in this format - which made them cheaper and which made it harder to get hold of films in the other format, and so on…

Nobody believed that the better design would lose the contest - but it did. It vanished. And we spent years with the less decent technology defining our video experience.

I’m really worried that OSM might follow suit. OSM is much better - but in general much less accessible, much better designed, but that’s not the point.

For those who think that we need our front page to invite people in - for those who think we need to be really highlighting what OSM does really well - here are two links: The German OSM page translated and Openstreetbrowser (don’t try to use IE with this) which is an absolutely brilliant tool - needing further development (and our support), but amazingly useful.

Comment from _sev on 11 April 2013 at 10:57

Now just tell me how to download Google Map Maker into my Garmin…

Comment from Rostranimin on 11 April 2013 at 11:16

You can’t can you? No argument with OSM being better!

Comment from robert on 11 April 2013 at 12:21

Google map maker (’s handcuffs will kill it.

OpenStreetMap’s in no danger of dying because of it but it would certainly be nice if those contributors could be put to more productive use.

Comment from robert on 11 April 2013 at 12:23

Stupid link detection. Google Map Maker.

Comment from chillly on 11 April 2013 at 14:00

Google maps is not in competition with OSM, we fill different needs. Google maps is a place for G. to hang adverts. That’s what G. do. G. maps are just another way to expose adverts to people in the area of the advertiser and to help get to the service. OSM is about map data, for any purpose. You can hang adverts on an OSM map, and people do, but you can so much more too.

Comment from Rostranimin on 11 April 2013 at 15:47

Nice to have comments :-)

My point is that GM is starting to move towards fulfilling (badly just now) the same needs as OSM. I disagree profoundly that GM fill fail on this ground - it’s building on an extremely strong customer base (as with the example I gave). This easily trumps the fact that OSM is better, that our data is free, that OSM isn’t just a map but open data, etc etc. GM also has a strong commercial interest in moving into the space that OSM currently fills - taking up the competition that OSM has begun (I disagree that they fulfil different needs - perhaps just now they do, but GM is coming to get us, that’s how competition works). It WILL move gradually into this space unless OSM increases its customer base. The only way for this to happen is for OSM to become welcoming and friendly to non-OSM people. To invite people in. To showcase its value not to hide it away for specialists (or a few people taught by specialists).

The reason I sound irritated by this (nothing personal intended - its a long term irritation) is that becoming friendly and inviting to non-OSM people really wouldn’t be hard, and because nothing would be lost by doing this.

What’s lost by having a front page like the German one? Or something even better?

Comment from ika-chan! UK-USA on 11 April 2013 at 16:33

Only OSM has street light data and speed limit information, but OSM has more for detailed analysis and demographics than just planning an odd journey.

Comment from mikeleib on 11 April 2013 at 17:38

I, for one, completely agree. I feel most commentators have missed the point.

Our front page (at least in English) does not effectively draw novices into making a contribution. This is in comparison with Google Map Maker.

Comment from Rovastar on 11 April 2013 at 18:05

I have got to sat I don’t understand why openmapbrowser is better. I couldn’t see anything that would encourage me to edit. I cannot see an edit button or anything.

And a fail to see how Google draws us in I just see a tiny “edit in google map maker”

Am I missing something here?

I agree we should try something to encourage more contributors and at times (most times) there is a massive reluctance to change anything on the front page.

I hope with the new editor coming that might spark some forward thinking.

Comment from ika-chan! UK-USA on 11 April 2013 at 18:57

Maybe hide the editing options until they are logged in and explicitly allow remote editing. That might reduce confusion.

Comment from Rostranimin on 11 April 2013 at 23:02

People keep saying that OSM is better. That’s to miss the point. It’s very much better… but GM is very very much more popular… by which I mean that interaction with GM is something which is part of the habit of a very large number of people. And it does some things stunningly well (Streetview particularly). This means that if people can accomplish things using GM they will - even if it would have been better accomplished using OSM. Right now that’s not a problem, because most of what can be accomplished with OSM can’t with GM, The real point is that as what can be accomplished using GM grows (it’s growing steadily and shows no sign of stopping) the risk to OSM increases dramatically. OK maybe it’ll not die completely - even Betamax video recorders retained a small geeky fan base long after the rest of us gave up on them…

Once again - my main point is that the effort to make OSM welcoming would be small and nothing at all would be lost! “We’re not trying to be Google Maps” isn’t a good reason for being unwelcoming.

And I’m not talking about ‘contributing’ mainly by the way - I’m talking about using the data. Recently I wanted to find my way about a new foreign city. That’s where Openstreetbrowser (browsing OSM data) came in. It’s a stunningly useful tool not for contributing but for browsing. Once you know what you are doing you can very very easily find your way around a city by public transport using this. Yes I know, there’s a strong feeling among some that OSM isn’t about finding your way around (I disagree) - but those finding their way around may well become contributors. I only started contributing once the map was worth using - I had no interest until then. Now I’m an enthusiast.

Is there any reason why we shouldn’t be welcoming to ordinary people who just want to find their way from A to B? What could we lose by doing this? Nothing?

Comment from Richard on 12 April 2013 at 10:57

I don’t think anyone is, or has, argued against being welcoming to ordinary people. Where OSM has problems in this area, it’s not for a lack of desire; it’s just that we simply don’t have enough volunteers to actually do the work, and the fact some of our community seem to delight in pouring scorn on our existing volunteers hardly encourages new ones.

Saying “the front page should be better” is easy. Actually doing the work to make it unambiguously better is hard.

You highlight OSB, and that’s great. Getting that functionality on the OSM front page would be a vast challenge of design and of resources, and that’s why it hasn’t happened overnight. As it happens some work is underway on a solution that provides some of this functionality (see, and it would be great to extend it in an OSB direction - perhaps by making the unloved data overlay more user-friendly.

But if you can’t code, and can’t design, yet still want to help: the new Welcome Working Group desperately needs support and commitment. And OSM’s documentation always needs improving (well, strictly speaking, it needs taking outside, shooting, and then starting from scratch). Drop a line to Martijn van Exel if you want to get involved with WWG.

Comment from Rostranimin on 12 April 2013 at 11:31

Richard - thanks for your comments. My main motivation for posting the original diary entry was to add to the motivation for change, not just to moan… so I’ll certainly look up the suggestions.

As you say, this isn’t easy… at least I think it IS easy, but only once people are motivated, and only once a big enough group understands why it’s important. I had a go at adding improvements to the beginners documentation some time ago (just at the time that the phrase ‘or some of the many other services’ was added to the front wiki page), but became completely frustrated as easy language was converted repeatedly back to more technical/involved/detailed information.

For clarity, I’m not necessarily advocating advanced functionality on One of the best things about OSM is that it doesn’t depend on one page… what I’m pushing for is that the first encounter with OSM tells people this. That’s not such a difficult thing technically.

One thing I’d like to suggest - if it were technically/politically possible - because this presumably would be technically simple - is that simply adopts the German front page (translated of course). Surely this ought to be possible?

Comment from Richard on 12 April 2013 at 11:39

Certainly technically possible. Politically very difficult. There are lots of people who say “this is a map project, it should have a map on the front page like Google does”. I can see both points of view: explains everything, sure, but there is way too much text and most people’s instinctive, if not conscious, reaction would be ‘tl;dr’. It’s not that “a big enough group” doesn’t understand that it’s important; it’s just that their view of how to tackle it differs from yours. :)

But it should be possible to better communicate what OSM is about, while still presenting a usable map, without resorting to such an extreme. The trick is to build that - such that 90% of people say “wow, that’s great, that’s what we wanted all along if only we knew it!”. OSM has always thrived on the work of talented, driven people.

With documentation - basically, don’t get involved in the wiki. It’s a complete timesink and beyond reform; think of it as a community scratchpad rather than newbie-friendly documentation. Better to help with LearnOSM and/or WWG. By the same token, I built rather than working on the developer docs on the wiki, and the impact has been far greater.

Comment from Rostranimin on 12 April 2013 at 12:31

Aha, Richard, you’re the Switch2OSM person. Very nice site. I’ve been close to creating an equivalent for new map users a couple of times… those just wanting to find their way around… but I’ve not quite found the time. Again, I don’t think it’s that huge a job, and would certainly be worthwhile if people took notice of it.

Unless you fancy adding something on this to Switch2OSM??

Strangely we seem to be stuck between (at least) two points of view. One says “this is data, not GM, not for finding your way around, so it doesn’t need to be friendly to people needing this.” The other says “this is a map project and should have a map on the front page like GM.”

Ideally a combination of both the German system and the current one would be great - but technically harder I’m sure. A map on the front page yes, but without making people think that the one page is the totality of OSM - in fact making sure that they know that they need to dig a bit to make the most of OSM.

I suppose my starting point is that the German page needs work - but that it’s SO much better than our current one…

Comment from Richard on 12 April 2013 at 15:33

Depends who you mean by “new map users”! There are many different groups of users.’s clear focus is “people using on third-party websites”. has a focus on “show the newbie what to do”, although it’s a bit compromised right now by having been written for HOT use at first… but that can be fixed. I’m sure both would welcome clued-up new contributions… or is there another target group you’re thinking of?

Comment from Rostranimin on 12 April 2013 at 18:19

The target group I have in mind is definitely different from these two - it’s people who want to use the map/data in the simplest ways.

This group is huge I think. It would include: John who wants to drive to a conference somewhere new. Jake who wants to know a good cycle route to his workplace. Jane who wants to check where the nearest Tesco store is. Janet who wants to print a map of her local area so she can show a friend where her new house is. Jackie who is trying to find her way around a strange city by bus. Jack who wants to see what rivers he could paddle a canoe on. Jo who wants to know the name of the odd building near her office.

None of these people initially come to the map to contibute data… but they all have the potential to do so. None of these people necessarily have any technical ability, beyond that required to navigate Google Maps.

Comment from mapryan on 15 April 2013 at 12:04

The whole “betamax was better than VHS” thing is a myth

Comment from Rostranimin on 15 April 2013 at 14:32

Interesting - but I think that’s beside the point (we could get into a discussion about this without getting anywhere useful - and I’m writing partly based on my personal experience of both systems which is of course personal…) - there are many other examples in any case. My point stands - in a ‘free market’ it’s not necessarily the best design which wins where there’s competition.

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