OpenStreetMap

Not Yours, OpenStreetMap

Posted by Zverik on 8 May 2018 in English (English)

This is a translation of this article in Russian. Far from perfect, but understandable, I hope. Written by Ilya Zverev, CC-BY.

Riding the wave of Google Maps pricing news, Tom Chadwin reminded everyone of benefits of using open source solutions, and concluded with these words: “You now have a concrete compelling argument to those who have always asked: “Why not just use Google Maps?”.

Have I got a platinum argument towards a metaphorical Google Maps: because your open map does not have any future, that’s why. It doesn’t even have good POI coverage, unlike Google, which has franchise owners lined up with location offerings. Because it presents not a dozen grumpy dudes turning every data contributor down, but a nice mat with “Welcome” on it.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. We’ve got a great, beautiful map, which in many areas not only excels — it doesn’t have any alternatives. Nowhere else can you get a reasonably correct road graph. No other map would allow for estimating population density. Nobody would provide you with the data to install a copy of a service in a closed network.

With that, it is hard to not notice that OpenStreetMap is dying. Not because we’ve got a database for a map, or that we don’t have moderators, or the data is not split in layers, like Serge complained. For a technically skilled person it’s impossible to believe in the fall of OSM: the data is detached and decentralized, which is eternal by definition. On top of that, it is free (as in beer) and a million editors contribute to it: why isn’t every website using it?

Because it is unreasonable to use. OSM loses to any alternative maps for one reason: no control. Nobody has it. Over anything. Since around 2012 OpenStreetMap is headed directly into abyss, and rare attempts at correcting the course are met by grumpy blokes, who protect control levers, saying: “power to the community” and “our project self-regulates”. The project’s advantage became its weakness — and, it seems, the fatal one.

No control over the map. Want to import locations for your franchise? Tough luck, your data quality does not meet our standards. Want to map your town? Meet the local gatekeeper, who would scold you for highway tags choice and then disappear, because you are unbearable. And being a watchman is hard: in fourteen years the best we could do was OSMCha. Users of which are still complaining about wide, albeit thin, changesets. We’ve successfully lost the author of OWL. DWG members are still using outdated Perl scripts for work.

No control over the website. This is familiar to anybody who’ve made a pull request to any part of the core infrastructure. You’ll never hear a thanks, but will get a full bag of comments instead. Two guardians do not let through any unconventional change: it’s like amidst a crumbling world we must hold on to what we already have. They don’t see that the power of their grip is what crumbles their world.

No control over the data model. The last effort to advance the API required money and power of the entire Cloudmade company, which means a dozen osmers, working for venture funding for a few weeks. A hope for an “area” data type was faint five years ago, but by now even the most optimistic osmers stopped dreaming of change. The only thing in plans for the new API is restricting metadata for GDPR compliancy, and that’s only because nobody wants to pay charges.

No control over tagging. The main distinction and advantage of OpenStreetMap is a free tagging model. It has grew so enormous, nobody, not even experienced users, can choose correct tags. Forums are full of humor on heath, forest and namespaces. Proposals are a joke: one side invents alien tagging schemas of hundreds kilobytes, another turns inside out in attempts to sink every proposal. Novice mappers are not freaked out by this only because all editors, even on mobile, put tags away behind the presets.

No control over the mapping style. Long ago, the main mapnik style was so complex, people were afraid to touch it. Then it was converted to CartoCSS, made prettier, and contributors started flocking in. For a few years they were improving icons and colours, updated the database structure, sorted out fonts — and the map started looking decent, like on any other popular service. Same bleakness.

But now it’s obvious that nobody knows where to go next. Well, Paul Norman gives talks exactly about this (in my opinion) for two years. It's painful to look at developers’ attempts to continue, especially this year: they fruitlessly try to change established tagging principles, because the OSM data model is incompatible with good carthography. We reached the ceiling of the rendering stack made five years ago. The only way out is to throw it all away and start anew — exactly what authors are discussing these days.

No control over developers. “The most precious resource is the community, which moves the project into its bright future.” Haha, just don’t look at developers, who move in any direction but forward. Some invent a twentieth geocoder, or tenth routing engine; some spend two weeks at data wrangling, only to come up with an unimpressive series of dots. “Hurray, I’ve managed to deploy a tile server”, we hear. Congratulations, but no. It’s 2018 outside, and we’ve got no developer environment, no integration tools, no financial support, no strategic plan. Just some lonely volunteers sitting on key elements of the infrastructure.

No control over license. Mappers want to protect their work, which is understandable. From this were born all the copyleft licenses, to make the world a better, more open place. But there was a flaw. To succeed in this world, you need to learn to bargain. To take a buildings dataset from government, and provide them with geometry updates. To allow a booking service to not open their data, as to get a million and a half verified hotels, and be able to improve position errors in a service used by hundreds millions. And so on.

Our license forbids all that, which doesn’t hurt third parties much: they’ve got enough data on their own. It is us who are hurt, because we cannot make any deals. Community members are on lookout to shut any advances. Even with trivial cases, we’ve got issues. Just this year I’ve seen half a dozen requests to use the map in various TV shows. And every time for similar questions, different answers were given. Nobody, not even the Legal Working Group, understands ODbL. But it is status quo, and in OpenStreetMap, status quo is king.

As you know, in this world to stay in place, you must run as fast as you can. I follow the news for Google Maps, Yandex Maps, 2GIS, and I see them trying new algorithms, fresh points of view. They change user interfaces, always improve data models, learn to communicate with their communities in new ways. They react to problems with structural changes. They have the power to change everything — or the opposite, to tidy up the data, smoothen edges, make it comfortable. They can buy and sell, to make their map better.

All the OpenStreetMap community can do is to gather for a weekend to trace buildings in yet another town. That’s why the main use cases for our project are humanitarian initiatives and serving as a base map layer, when one cannot afford a proper map. Try remembering, what major news we had in the past year, worthy of articles in big tech blogs? A new JOSM release with whitespace trimming in tags?

I agree that relying on a proprietary map means giving up some control to a corporation. But are you absolutely sure you want control over every part of carthographic stack? Do you have enough money for that? A commercial provider can change its terms and put you in an unconvenient situation, but unlike OSM, you can make deals with them. A company is people, who have all the power: you can call them and bargain for better limits, or ask for a help with mapping. You are a client to them; to OSM you, when wanting something for your business, are worse than nobody.

That’s why OpenStreetMap stopped growing. On the charts, you can notice negative trends brewing. Like Wikimapia around 2011, our project has tapped out its meanings. With the current direction, we have ten years, after which we would look like Wikimapia does now: lots of data, no community, who have defected to alternative projects. And then people who chose OSM as a replacement to Google Maps, would have to think again.

In the next year or two we must fix at least some of the issues and find new directions for the project. The “free as in beer” narrative, constant for the past ten years, turned from progressive to pathetic. The main question is, why would you want OpenStreetMap, when you can choose from any of alternative maps, each of which is better in some aspect. And don’t start with “but my yard is mapped better here”. Maybe we plan to revolutionize geography teaching worldwide, or become a universal base map for everyone, or become a framework for experiments in modern carthography. Any answer will do — as long as you are prepared to work.

Until then, most companies would prefer Google Maps.

Comment from imagico on 8 May 2018 at 18:38

I don't agree with your analysis and conclusions in a lot of points but i none the less want to comment on a few things:

You are complaining about OSM sticking too much to the status quo but don't forget that successful corporations like Google have no more important goal than maintaining the status quo in the form of their success. New products, overhauls and stuff like this are not ends in themselves for such corporations, they are means to an end, namely to maintain the status quo.

You are complaining about the lack of control over various things. Have you actually thought through a scenario where some effective means of exercising power and control over these things is established? Does this scenario realistically lead to a positive development in the long term? I agree that a lot of people involved in the OSM community are often opposed to radical changes - but they often have good reasons for this. OSM is meanwhile a project where a lot of very massive economic as well as collective personal interests play in. A lot of these interests are articulated by people who - to put it in a friendly way - are not the most intelligent people who are often looking after their own short term gains rather than the long term common good. An experienced community member who sees this and therefore advises caution against suggestions to make major changes to satisfy perceived short term needs will more likely be swayed by arguments that are based on a realistic appraisal of the long term outcome than by a sweeping critique of being against change.

A few examples:

Tagging: The most powerful forces trying to influence tagging practice in OSM at the moment are the desire to cater very specific applications (in the sense not of tagging for rendering maps in general but for making life easy for a specific design idea in a specific map or for a specific geocoding or routing application) and the dissatisfaction with inconvenient overall rules in OSM (in particular the on-the-ground rule and verifiability) that prevent you from mapping the world as you subjectively see it rather than as it can be objectively observed. If you'd somehow establish a means to exercise more control over tagging these interests would most likely be the ones fighting over having this control and not the considerate voices in the community (which exist) who would like to establish sane and efficient tagging principles and would like to weed out unsuitable ideas and who at the moment also have difficulties achieving that. Many of these people see the status quo simply as the lesser of two evils.

Map styling: Note i am talking about just design here, not the underlying technological basis. What is needed here is not more control but less control. Having a single central map style for the whole project that is controlled by a small group of people (currently effectively two active ones + 2-3 who occasionally also make decisions) who are almost completely autonomous in their decisions is about the maximum of control you can have IMO. I cannot really imagine how you can have more control here - other than maybe giving those in decision making position the money to pay people for doing work - in other words: Going the Wikipedia way.

It is also not true that nobody knows where to go next in OSM map design. There are plenty of people who have good ideas, talent and vision in that regard. But like in case of tagging the most powerful interests acting in this field are not the most qualified ones. So giving control to those who most loudly ask for it would be extremely counterproductive. Those who would be best qualified for a role of leadership in map design are not the people who would ask for it.

What we desperately need in map styling is more diversity and more competition of ideas and concepts. And more appreciation for actual innovation instead of change for the sake of changing things.

So in summary: Yes, there are a lot of fields where some changes would be good but the tricky thing and the reason why many reasonable people are opposed to just changing things is that it is clear that it will be very difficult to make sure that the changes are actually going in a direction that benefits the project in the long term. The question therefore is not how we can change things but how we make sure change goes in a beneficial direction for the community in the long term.

I think your last paragraph has a lot of merit. OSM has grown massively in data and number of contributors over the last years but growth in competence of people, experience and knowledge of the broad community in what forms the basis of this project, tagging (i.e. data representation of geography), cartography and other things, has not kept up with this. We need a broad and open but ambitious and thoughtful discourse about these kind of topics (in contrast to the cacophony of spontaneous and not well thought through opinions that is all too frequent these days) and this depends on broad education. And to be clear: This is not something you can expect the corporate players in the OSM world to substantially contribute to.

Comment from siberiano on 8 May 2018 at 19:00

Agree. You've just came to my conclusion from 2016.

It's increasingly impossible to do anything in OSM besides drawing base map and downloading it.

As a programmer in a company that uses OSM I'm already using Google Directions for public transit, because it's easier to raise a dead than an OSM-based PT router. And I don't want to haul the stack (Valhalla needs 2 auxiliary servers to get PT working).

Comment from SimonPoole on 8 May 2018 at 19:30

Yawn.

Comment from Andy Allan on 9 May 2018 at 01:09

I'm going to divide my response into two parts, in separate comments.

First, my response to the general theme. I agree it often feels like OSM is missing a certain spark that existed years ago - a willingness to bump API versions, or reconfigure everything, or rewrite code or prose from scratch - but that's not my point. My point is to ask the rhetorical question - what could be done to snuff out these sparks? What could be done to make sure nothing ever changes again? What could be done to drive out the passion, the creativity, the resourcefulness and the enthusiasm from everyone involved?

Posts like yours, that's what. Posts like Serge's. Posts that do nothing other than berate everyone for being shit, that provide no solutions, and that just bring everyone down.

This isn't a 1500 word essay that encourages contributors. This isn't a 1500 word essay that makes anyone think "you know what, I'm going to help with this". This isn't a 1500 word essay that highlights something good that has been done and encourages more good things to happen.

If there's any grand problem in OpenStreetMap, it's that the loudest talkers are the ones who are bemoaning the lack of work that everyone else is doing. It's a great shame. It's so discouraging.

But it feeds into the wider point. The sort of people who put up with this environment are rare, so we have few core contributors. Those who are here are generally thick-skinned, battle-hardened, stubborn - or all of the above. So it should come as no surprise that change is infrequent, risks are not taken, the status quo is maintained. The irony is that the very act of complaining about the status quo drives more people away, and reinforces the status quo further.

So if you want to see change, don't moan about the lack of it. That approach has been done repeatedly, and we can all see the damage that it does.

Focus instead on what you like. Celebrate the successes. Cheer on the progress, however little you might find. You have a rare gift for writing and communicating ideas in OpenStreetMap, so use it to encourage the bright future that we all want to see.

Comment from Andy Allan on 9 May 2018 at 01:33

The second part of my response is focussed on two projects mentioned here that I'm closely involved in. Perhaps unlike other core contributors, almost all of the work I do is not as a means to the end, but instead as a means to get more people involved, to lower barriers to entry, and to speed up future development.

The first is the cartography.

Then it was converted to CartoCSS, made prettier, and contributors started flocking in.

I think I did the right thing here, do you agree? That the conversion was the correct thing to do? I deliberately added 6 more maintainers and gave them all the same power and authority as I had. But you go on to say that it's become bleak, that nobody knows what to do, and in your eyes the project is a failure. So I would like to hear from anyone what I did wrong, and what I should have done differently? Should I have stayed as the only maintainer? Or something different? Clearly some mistakes must have been made, and I'd like to hear about them.

The second is the website:

Two guardians do not let through any unconventional change: it’s like amidst a crumbling world we must hold on to what we already have. They don’t see that the power of their grip is what crumbles their world.

Well, I'm one of those unnamed "guardians" I guess. But I've never considered what I do there as clinging to power, or preventing changes, or anything of the sort - but obviously you think differently. I'd like to hear more about your point of view. I've worked hard to refactor the code for the last two years, I've put in hundreds of hours on getting the moderation branch ready, and I've reviewed and dealt with lots of issues and pull requests, many of which have been outstanding for years. All of this is focussed on getting more people involved, not fewer.

I haven't made many big user-facing changes since that's not what I think is the most pressing problem that I can solve. Like with the stylesheets - I didn't redesign the map from scratch, I took the moribund project, made some technical changes to make it easier for others to get involved, and opened it up to the community. I'm trying to do the same thing for the website, taking the existing project, making technical changes to make it easier for others to get involved. I hope someday soon to add another half dozen maintainers to that project, and move on to the next most pressing project in OSM.

That's my point of view. But it's clear that you disagree fundamentally with two of the largest projects that I'm involved in - there's no harm in that, everyone has their own views. I'd like to know more details on what you believe I'm doing wrong, and what I should be doing instead, to reinvigorate OpenStreetMap, since what I've been doing for the last few years apparently isn't working.

Comment from pizzaiolo on 9 May 2018 at 01:36

There's a lot to unpack here but I'll just focus on the licensing: there is no way I'm going to contribute to some permissively licensed project that is just going to get sucked in by Google and the rest of Silicon Valley. If I dedicate time and effort into this, I want it to be perpetually free for all reusers down the line.

You are very wrong when you say we are hurt more than they are. Companies need to waste money on Google/Bing/TomTom maps to do what need to do; while we lose nothing since time has shown we can grow comfortably without the occasional massive imports (which are often rolled back anyway because of quality issues).

Comment from Dzertanoj on 9 May 2018 at 08:01

Oh, look who makes accusations of abuse of power and over-restrictive actions. One who took criticism of a project he is related to (that actually uses OSM data) as a personal insult (like he often does) and declared a vendetta against certain individuals, then - took over the main channel of communication of the whole community and, obviously, feels bored now.

Why exactly do you need more anarchy, to be able to carry out your personal ideas, like (just a hypothetical example) more imports of crappy Russian government data to make Maps.ME look better and brag about it? Leave rhetorics aside, start talking at least about things you actually want to do and why, instead of shaming and blaming others.

Comment from mikelmaron on 9 May 2018 at 12:50

Ilya

You have some fair points. There are important things to work on that I agree with.

But they are completely buried in lazy negativity, finger pointing, with no creative thought about ways forward. This post is just going to absorb more energy which could have gone towards productive work. We don't need this.

Also want to say thanks to Andy for his excellent response and amazing work with the website.

Mikel

Comment from ImreSamu on 9 May 2018 at 13:51

Today's challenges are our opportunities!

I prefer: "Challenge" or "Strategic Inflection Point" expression insted of "OpenStreetMap is dying".

For me : "OpenStreetMap is dying": is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is like predicting the worst , similar than "nocebo" in medicine.

Zverik:As you know, in this world to stay in place, you must run as fast as you can.

my favorite quote: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

We have a similar problems like other open source projects, What we can learn ? ("Shared vision", "More contributors means less progress","Implementing peer review") https://opensource.com/life/14/6/12-challenges-open-source-projects

Comment from 26eb5473101d742b174d730717409668 on 9 May 2018 at 14:26

I have already said it on IRC and we had a nice conversation there, but I will repeat it here for the people who read comments instead of hanging out in #osm:

The complaints you make are not wrong, but they remind me a lot of the complaints of "Linux will never make it on the desktop unless we do X". And fair enough the year of the Linux desktop never came. But we have Linux 80% or so of all smartphones, a similar fraction of all servers in the Internet and 100% of all supercomputers.

So we should not repeat the kind of mistake that lead to fights if KDE or gnome would be the window manager that brings Linux to all desktops. But we should try and create the Android of open maps and databases of geo information. There is nothing to be gained by fighting a war in the community in the attempt to unify people behind a single window manager or new area data type.

What we need to do is to figure out "where would OSM be really usefull and what can we gain from the people with that use case?" And that question will not be answered in diary posts or by blindly doing what Google does.

And to be honest I do not have the answer to that either. But maybe somebody of you has found it. If that is the case, don't bother arguing about what OSM should do. Just make it happen.

Comment from Zverik on 9 May 2018 at 14:46

Christoph, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree with most of your points, and I don't have all the answers, of course. Otherwise I'd still be on the Board. I don't like proposals in their current form, because they hurt the map, and I have some ideas about that. By lack of control in styling I mostly mean lack of strategy and vision. OSM-Carto contributors, which do great job, would probably agree: I basically retold Paul's SotM talk in my own, harsher words. I agree that change should not be for the change itself, but I tried to show a few areas where it might help.

Andy, I am very sorry you took it all personally. I follow your work and all of it is great. You basically revived our mapping style, and now you are doing important work in the website code that nobody had time or will to do. You should remember that besides these awful articles I also do OSM Awards, I highlight new developments in Shtosm blog and twitter (in Russian), and organize meetups to make more creative people visible. That doesn't mean I cannot attempt at seeing and critiquing a bigger picture. I am not moaning: listing issues is the first step to solving them. I did not like Serge's list, so I made my own.

The osm-carto style is definitely not a failure. I celebrated every breakthrough you and other contributors had: converting and refactoring it, merging footways and paths, changing road colours, improving borders, and so on. Yes, it's bleak, like every other popular style, but that's okay. Good for a base layer. What I'd really like is to have options. I see that style developers are looking into them, and I am looking forward to change.

I don't count you in the guardians of the website: you don't take part in deciding which pull requests get merged and which are left to rot, you just do your work in improving the internals. I like that there is work going on, though I'd prefer some kind of commitee or a set of policies for website development. I've seen too many developers who started learning Rails development and writing pull requests, only to be shot down. You would have so much more to refactor if we managed the community right.

Pizzaiolo, the data is not yours. But it cannot be owned by anybody else, Google cannot take it. Look, maps.me works solely on and because of OpenStreetMap, and has our map suffered from it? To me, it has more eyes and more editors than earlier. If Google took all our data and added to its map — with attribution, of course — we would have exposure like never before, and more people would come to us, because they would have a choice between "only Google" and "Google, Mapbox, MAPS.ME and everyone else".

Dzertanoj, vendettas and anarchy are the only way to go! Don't change.

Mikel, sorry that you feel this way. I am not good with English, so I might have been more harsh here than in the original text. The only finger-pointing here is towards the website maintainers, I could not resist it, and I am sorry. Everything else is not negativity, it is an attempt to find issues we can solve. I hope you, as a member of the Board, could take something from the article to you meetings. Like, to try strategic planning, or to find more goals to the project besides providing the data.

Comment from pizzaiolo on 9 May 2018 at 14:54

If Google incorporates OSM data, why would a regular user even care about contributing to a small project? Might as well just fix Google itself, which is what we'd all be doing. No thanks.

Maps.me is beneficial to OSM not simply because of the attribution, but also because it allows users to directly improve a map that can be used and reused by all of us.

Comment from mikelmaron on 9 May 2018 at 15:24

Some constructive suggestions

And being a watchman is hard: in fourteen years the best we could do was OSMCha. Users of which are still complaining about wide, albeit thin, changesets. We’ve successfully lost the author of OWL

I think OSMCha is pretty good. There's lots more brewing. Integrating OSMCha into History tab is one idea worth pursuing.

You’ll never hear a thanks, but will get a full bag of comments instead.

Get over it and help create the environment there you would like to see. Do the hard work of working through feedback. TomH does hard work reviewing all code. Help there too.

A hope for an “area” data type was faint five years ago, but by now even the most optimistic osmers stopped dreaming of change.

Do some work or put up money.

The main distinction and advantage of OpenStreetMap is a free tagging model. It has grew so enormous, nobody, not even experienced users, can choose correct tags.

Create tools that help us manage the process of designing and integrating tags better.

It’s 2018 outside, and we’ve got no developer environment, no integration tools, no financial support, no strategic plan

There's a ton to do here. Andy's work is a great start.

Nobody, not even the Legal Working Group, understands ODbL.

There's work happening to communicate this better.

Also in response to Christoph

We need a broad and open but ambitious and thoughtful discourse about these kind of topics (in contrast to the cacophony of spontaneous and not well thought through opinions that is all too frequent these days) and this depends on broad education. And to be clear: This is not something you can expect the corporate players in the OSM world to substantially contribute to.

Well that's uninformed. Corporate players are very interested in this and have a lot to bring to the table.

Comment from SimonPoole on 9 May 2018 at 16:27

Just to correct a few of the many factual errors:

  • the LWG understands the ODbL very well, thank you,
  • the ODbL does not in any way forbid reuse of the data,
  • the issues with media productions have nothing, but really nothing, to do with the ODbL

To expand on the last point: the issue with media productions that want to use tiles from the standard style from openstreetmap.org is that they are licensed on CC BY-SA 2.0 terms . This does creates a bit of an oddity in that the producer (likely the OSMF) of these tiles is using a far stricter licence than what the ODbL requires (essentially just attribution), and that you can actually take the osm-carto style file and render your own tiles (exactly the same) on more permissive terms, or have somebody do that for you. But as said using CC BY-SA 2.0 is a choice by the OSMF not anything to do with the ODbL.

Further point, the nice thing about development in the open is that it is completely possible to inspect the facts. So I'm sure you have the hard numbers to back your statement that:

"I've seen too many developers who started learning Rails development and writing pull requests, only to be shot down."

Comment from imagico on 9 May 2018 at 16:35

This is not something you can expect the corporate players in the OSM world to substantially contribute to.

Well that's uninformed. Corporate players are very interested in this and have a lot to bring to the table.

It might be a good idea to carefully read what i wrote and not just read what you want to read in order to be able to dismiss it.

I think the world wide track record of corporations in contributing to public education and intellectual discourse in their respective domains (and i am not talking about providing courses to use their product here, i am talking about discourse that questions and refines the foundations of the field and about substantial education instilling true competence in people) speaks for itself.

If you want a bit of advise what corporations could actually do towards contributing here: Practice some humility. Accepting and appreciating that others might be more competent and more qualified in communicating knowledge and abilities to others is hard for competitive corporations that maybe even aim to be a market leader. But it is an essential step towards substantially contributing to intellectual discourse and education.

Note this is absolutely no statement about the abilities of people working for corporations in the OSM context to individually contribute to this. No individual community member needs to feel criticized by my statement.

Comment from mikelmaron on 9 May 2018 at 17:41

Hey @imagico, I'm happy to work with you on practicalities of what corporates can bring. Just please don't demand humility, that's a contradiction and I would love see more practice of what we preach here.

Seems like you really want recognition of your intellectual value -- I will grant you that.

Let's make room for all, and maybe try to have a level headed discussion, and a reality based grasp of all the people and groups in the room here.

Comment from imagico on 9 May 2018 at 17:59

@Mikel - not sure why you want to make this about me. This is about a broad educated discourse on key topics in the OSM community as a whole. If i individually can contribute something of value to that does not really make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.

I don't think there is anything wrong with suggesting to corporations to exercise some humility. But i don't want to hijack this discussion with an unrelated topic. So i will leave it at that.

Comment from rorym on 10 May 2018 at 13:34

Questions about the licence are really about what you value. I think everyone agrees that without the share-alike clause, OSM data would be in more places. But some (including me) would rather have a share-alike part than the more uses-without-share-back-requirement. For me, that's the better trade off. Different people value different things, and I'm glad OSM, in general, values share-alike and has it in the licence.

Comment from bgirardot on 10 May 2018 at 16:25

Thank you for writing Zverik.

I agree with much of what you wrote.

To those who feel criticized in this post: I got very little of that. What I read in it was just a view of where the amazing work of so many individual has gotten us, which is to a high successful #OpenData project.

Gate keepers, self appointed police of OSM, folks who are grumpy from years of thankless stewardship, with views hardened by long time, real world experience with this project, and everyone else who has contributed in any way, have made this project a success.

It is quite natural to do everything right, for years, and end up at a place where new ways of doing things are needed. No one need to have made a mistake for there to be a need for change or evolution of a project and community.

I think "control" is a negative word, I see a need for more empowerment of the board to make decisions and move forward and develop the funding resources to make things happen. That will have all sorts of benefits.

I think we have seen the board move in that direction and I support it. The draft "Directed Editing Policy" is one of the most controlling documents I have ever seen and it seems to be supported by the majority of the most involved folks. So it is not control itself that is the issue, it is about the subject of the control.

Many of us feel their is a need to extend that same sort of leadership on other topics as well.

As often happens, I think we all agree on a lot more than what we disagree on!

I will say I feel fundraising for the OSMF so it has some resources to support the community to implement its leadership vision and leadership priorities is the number one priority of OSM.

Much of the big moves we want to see for OSM will only happen with funded efforts that can be community driven, but ultimately implemented by folks from the community with time dedicated and supported for the duration of the development and implementation.

Respectfully, Blake (Disclosure: HOT Member)

Comment from pnorman on 10 May 2018 at 20:14

But now it’s obvious that nobody knows where to go next. Well, Paul Norman gives talks exactly about this for two years.

Please don't use my name this in support of your views, which my talks do not support.

Comment from Zverik on 11 May 2018 at 06:50

Sorry Paul, I've added a remark that it was just my understanding.

Regarding the comments, I must say I am astonished. Especially when comparing reactions here with responses in the russian and some other smaller communities. All I can say is that when criticism is taken personally or perceived as an attack, it is the most prominent sign of major issues with a project / establishment / company / government.

Comment from Dalkeith on 11 May 2018 at 06:54

I am a new user and new editor to Open Street Maps and undoubtedly ignorant of much of the finer details of the operation and processes.

My view however is that this is an undeniably successful exercise which I think has a great future. I come from a database background and I consider that databases are absolutely the way forward when handling all large datasets I also think that key value format of data is probably the only workable solution when dealing with a dataset that needs to be edited by so many people I really think maintaining the integrity of layers would be pretty much impossible.

I also have a sneeking suspicion that when we all get to grips with AI/ Data capture automation The talented individuals here will be able to leverage the existing data both in terms of vector and aerial maps to really accelerate the quality both in terms of collecting new information and importantly curating and fixing existing data. No wonder Microsoft chose to allow use of their aerial maps. The existing data set is a data analysts dream.

Applications such asf OSM turbo and ID editor and JSM editor are simply outstanding - so is the documentation - I really feel positive for the future of the project.

Comment from Geonick on 11 May 2018 at 08:44

Hi Zverik

I agree that OSM can be enhanced. But I also get somehow the impression, that you are frustrated - probably because of impatience?

I'm also sometimes impatient. But I would never say "... your open map does not have any future". Most of your arguments of having no control apply to Google Maps even more.

And your assertion, that Google e.g. has more POIs is quite debatable (do you really prefer commercially biased data?).

And of course let's try to stick on those aspects which are comparable between Google Maps and OSM (ratings and commercial offerings are not part of the comparison, right?).

Headlines like "Not Yours, OpenStreetMap" are perhaps tought or even action provoking. But they are only constructive, if they are followed by another, positive post, and by continued engagement to make OSM even better.

So, I'm looking forward for your next diary entry :-).

Comment from Zverik on 11 May 2018 at 08:55

Geonick, thanks for the reply. I've been writing articles on OpenStreetMap's impending doom since 2011. At the same time I love the project, I highly respect all its contributors and developers with their work, and I believe in its victorious future.

Articles like this are an attempt at indexing the project issues, and at the same time at provoking constructive thoughts in readers. There will be follow-ups on Shtosm (I'm writing the next one), but I doubt I'll have the will to translate them to English.

Comment from Geonick on 11 May 2018 at 09:26

OK; so we agree and believe in its (OSM's) victorious future. The english translation should'nt be a problem, since there's DeepL as another (partial) replacement of the G* service stack - like OSM for maps. The main issue here still is another one: The weakness of OSM having almost no outreach "staff" (volunteers) - besides the word of mouth of course...

Comment from LivingWithDragons on 11 May 2018 at 17:05

Something nice to say?

Negative articles like this are becoming a trend in OpenStreetMap. They are somewhat click-bait and get a lot of attention. Andy made a good comment on your article, and Ilyia gave a really positive response.

Why couldn't your article include some of that positivity and thanks? The OSM Awards you lead is not getting anywhere near as many nominations as there are deserving recipients. It would have been great if the article pointed to seeking out more nominations.

Comment from Dzertanoj on 11 May 2018 at 21:04

All I can say is that when criticism is taken personally or perceived as an attack, it is the most prominent sign of major issues with a project.

There is no surprise in the fact that once something is actually written as a passive-aggressive verbal attack ("politely" avoiding specific names, but making it obvious while using some people's names to support something they haven't actually ever supported), it will be taken personally by those who you've indirectly mentioned. And it has nothing to do with any other problems even if there are plenty of them.

The negativist message is even more clear if you know which connotations some of the words used in this post have in Russian. "Gatekeeper" in Russian is an insulting term that means "(an old and retarded, grumpy) person who does nothing useful but prevents others from doing something (new) or exercising their freedom". This meaning is as common as the literal one. So, please, those who don't speak Russian, keep this in mind when interpreting Zverik's words. He personally used this term quite a lot in exactly that meaning I've described above.

So, yes, this is not a systemic issue described above, it's nothing but venting a personal frustration in a form of hypocritically blaming others.

Comment from bgirardot on 11 May 2018 at 22:00

@dzertanoj Your comment really caught my eye. gatekeeper is nowhere near that negative of a term in American English.

I just got done writing at length of a reply, but I just made it a diary post here: "OSM needs gateopeners too" instead.

Comment from kocio on 12 May 2018 at 03:08

Hi, Zverik,

As one of the mapping style developers, I have difficulty getting your point regarding it:

But now it’s obvious that nobody knows where to go next.

In multiple directions, because no single one is good for everybody.

It's painful to look at developers’ attempts to continue, especially this year: they fruitlessly try to change established tagging principles, because the OSM data model is incompatible with good carthography.

Which examples do you mean? There are tags that are better and worse when trying to render them, but I don't see any fundamental problem with the OSM data model.

We reached the ceiling of the rendering stack made five years ago.

It looks quite limited to me, sure, but still extendable.

The only way out is to throw it all away and start anew — exactly what authors are discussing these days.

There's more than one way. Paul made a fresh new style and toolset (Bolder) and might add more features to the point where he's happy with the amount of rendered objects. At the same time Andy is proposing evolutionary way instead - just adding intermediate vector phase, which allows rendering multiple versions based on the osm-carto.

Both ways can coexist on the same hardware, but even if that's not possible, they can be developed in parallel, as many other styles and solutions.

Maybe I'm missing something you wanted to say, but from my point of view we're now in a good point for OSM map styles to grow into healthy, diverse ecosystem.

Comment from scruss on 12 May 2018 at 13:41

I'm a (sometime) ham radio operator. Hams have been writing “Ham radio is dying!!!!1!!” screeds for the last 70 years or more. It's still here. It's changed a bit, but it's still here. It's survived total shutdowns due to world wars, but come back. It's expensive, time-consuming, semi-futile and the community can sometimes be entirely toxic, yet it persists. In between the noisy gatekeepers and public nuisances there are good, innovative and kind operators.

OSM is much the same. It'll only die when there aren't enough contributors to write “OSM is dying!!!!1!!

Maybe it's your interest in OSM that's dying. If so, that's okay. You contributed for a while, and now it's not fun any more. These things happen. OSM can't compete with commercial web mappers. That's okay too. Maybe you'll come back when it seems like fun again. I hope so.

Comment from mboeringa on 12 May 2018 at 23:27

I must be from another planet, because I just don't get it: So people really prefer the right images over the left ones in your opinion?...

Instead of spelling "impending doom since 2011...", I have worked quietly for the past 4 years developing my own personal style and renderer workflow, just on my own, no gazillion dollar company here... David against Goliath perhaps?, I leave it to you all to judge who wins ;-)

ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - United Kingdom - Edinburgh Full size image link: ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - United Kingdom - Edinburgh

ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - United Kingdom - Snowdonia Full size image link: ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - United Kingdom - Snowdonia

ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - The_Netherlands - Kagerplassen Full size image link: ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - The_Netherlands - Kagerplassen

ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - Austria - Hohe Tauern Full size image link: ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - Austria - Hohe Tauern

ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - Austria - Kitzbuhel Full size image link: ArcGIS Renderer for OpenStreetMap - Austria - Kitzbuhel

Comment from kocio on 12 May 2018 at 23:46

It might be preferred to have less elements on the map. In my opinion Google designed their map to be sketchy, because this is meant to be just location map. Their strength is full integrated geo stack, not the map itself.

So it's easy to find OSM styles that are similar to GMaps (OSM Bright, Wikimedia Brighmed, Mapbox Streets...), but it's hard to compete with GMaps+Google routing+aerial images+Street View+being default on Android devices+sponsored POIs (I guess).

Comment from Zverik on 13 May 2018 at 11:14

Gregory, thanks for the suggestion. I assure you I did not write this to get upvotes. OSM doesn't get much critique: I remember just one other article this year. That is too bad. It is like having a big development team, but no QA, because pointing out bugs is negativity, could not they write some more code instead?

I agree this article could do with more positive comments. I tried to outline all good things in the "map style" section — and you see how people who worked on it still take it as personal attacks, because of the context. There are many positive articles on all things OSM: just WeeklyOSM alone shows how many great stuff is developed or otherwise done each week. We had a surge of such articles after Google had announced their new pricing. We all know why and how OSM is the best map out there.

Finally, I came to despise the "do it yourself or gtfo" attitude, common to open projects, that Mikel's expressing in his latest comment. It reads as "your work for the past N years, however useful it was, doesn't count. You have to enlist to all working groups (and/or pay a lot of money) and do all the other things instead". You ask me to respect work of many developers in OSM (and I told you I did — by showcasing it for five years in a daily news blog, for example), but don't show any respect to my work.

Blake, thanks for the follow-up, it is very good.

Kocio, I'm pretty sure you know many issues with the data. Like the recent issue with borders, or with generalisation, or with multiple meanings for POIs (amenity+office). I am pretty sure you've got a great community around the map style and can produce several more, trying out different stacks. I wish you nothing but luck and more contributors :)

Mboeringa, your style looks pretty, apart from a few issues, like unlabelled roads or shifted halo on some labels. Please continue :) But to compare it with other styles means to understand the purpose of all styles. Some are made to make a standalone map, some — to serve as a basemap for other data. When comparing your map to Stamen's Toner, you sure won't blame it for bleakness and lack of colour. The same for Google: it was made as a background for POIs (and ads), and for other people's markers. In that regard, it is pretty good.

Comment from rorym on 13 May 2018 at 11:23

@dzertanoj Your comment really caught my eye. gatekeeper is nowhere near that negative of a term in American English.

Depends. Gatekeeping is a very negative term among trans* people in USA and elsewhere, it refers to the denial of medical/legal resources needed for transition. (linky)

Comment from mboeringa on 13 May 2018 at 11:35

@Zverik. Just a few minor technical remarks: shifted halo is just a consequence of the display engine of Adobe Reader. I export to high resolution 100% vector PDF, but Adobe Reader's conversion to the actual display on screen and the anti-aliasing necessary for that, from which the screenshots of course were derived, is sometimes sub-optimal. I can assure you there are no shifted halos when viewing the same stuff on a high dpi device. This was just captured from a 125ppi screen though. Unlabelled roads is just a consequence of my personal cartographic choice for labeling thresh holds. More labels are shown on higher zoom.

Comment from mikelmaron on 13 May 2018 at 23:49

Finally, I came to despise the "do it yourself or gtfo" attitude, common to open projects, that Mikel's expressing in his latest comment.

That's not what I'm expressing at all.

It's important to think critically -- as I said, I agree with some of the source issues you raise. OSM does get plenty of critique, from all directions. But what's even more important is what you do with those insights. How do you express yourself and what to what directions do you point? Express a vision of where things need to go, that can motivate people to make the changes you want to see.

I'll admit, I'm having a difficult time showing you respect right now, after you let your frustration with OSM get the best of you. Maybe at best, I can empathize. Yes, you have made a lot of contributions to OSM. And I also know the frustration of things not working out they way you want. There are times I've certainly felt like throwing it all away, and writing a post like this. But I cool down, and try to see where I can put energy -- hands on or vision -- that takes things in the direction I want.

At least, you chose to post on the OSM diaries, and not score points across the Internet by aiming for the top of reddit. So I do appreciate you keeping this within the OSM community.

Comment from kocio on 14 May 2018 at 02:05

I still don't see anything in the OSM data model that is "incompatible" with good cartography. Sometimes there are just shortcomings of the tools we use, sometimes tags are too vague and lack some details, and it can be quite irritating, but the data model is sane for me. Maybe it's just the language you used in this entry, which is emotional (it's fine for me, it's your diary after all, I just wanted to make things clear).

I also understand why it's easy to get something personal - in some cases there are just a few people involved. For example: if I would say "half of the osm-carto developers thinks that...", it means exactly 4 persons in our team and I could name them easily. :-)

Comment from wille on 15 May 2018 at 13:34

I mostly agree with you.

I don't consider that OSM has a free tagging system. If I tag the main road of my town as highway=my-prefered-road, probably someone would complain that it should be a highway=primary. Although we can input any value we want, it doesn't make it a free tagging system. We need to use the established values to make it useful for other people (it's totally different from free tagging flickr photos or blog posts). Paradoxically, we can propose to deprecate a tag and replace it by another, but we can't do a mechanical edit to update all the objects mapped with the deprecated tag. It makes most tag changes impossible. The tag proposals voting system is very strange as well... but in the end who decides which tags will be widely used are the software editors developers, and OSMF has not control over it too.

The Latin American community is very open to contributions, so if you have data from franchises and want to import it, you can do a proposal in our mailing lists or telegram groups.

Comment from Zverik on 16 May 2018 at 07:52

Mikel,

That's not what I'm expressing at all.

Really?

Get over it and help create the environment there you would like to see. Do the hard work of working through feedback. TomH does hard work reviewing all code. Help there too.

Do some work or put up money.

Create tools that help us manage the process of designing and integrating tags better.

There's a ton to do here. Andy's work is a great start.

Putting that aside, critique is what keeps communities / companies / governments going. That's why we got media. As I said, I've been doing this since 2011. I see a list of problems and I know there is a lot to do in OpenStreetMap, that everyone can contribute to solving. It's just the problems have grown from "we've got empty places on the map" to "we've got structural issues" in the recent years. Nevertheless, having something to look forward to is what keeps me going. But...

I'll admit, I'm having a difficult time showing you respect right now, after you let your frustration with OSM get the best of you.

THIS is what makes people leave OpenStreetMap in frustration. No matter how much you've mapped, how much tools you've developed, how many people have you gathered at mapping parties and conferences, the moment you express anything but positivity and loyalty, you stop being respected. Even by members of The Board. You did well, but words are what matters: you said the wrong words, we don't respect you any more, please leave.

It's like in Russia since 1917 till now (sorry for the metaphor): experience does not matter, loyalty does. That's why we in Russia has got strong aversion to any forced positivity masking issues, to shutting up the media and asking "Why couldn't you express instead positivity and thanks?" That's why this article was received well in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and met with perplexed irritation by US and Western Europe people.

Comment from siberiano on 16 May 2018 at 08:17

I second the last thought: the debate in the comments here turned into (a) contradiction, "no, everything is fine" (b) debate of the debate itself. I've not seen a simple invitation to suggest a better solution.

@mboeringa: I drew entire towns around, filled them with names of landmarks and important places, and still people there put OSM on their websites for a few months, and then switched to Google or Yandex maps. Yes, people prefer other things, like easy JS API, for example, address search and geocoder.

Comment from mboeringa on 16 May 2018 at 09:06

@Zverik,

I do slightly object to your usage of "we've got structural issues" and posing this as an indisputable given. A structural problem in my opinion would be if the current (database) infrastructure wasn't scalable or totally unmaintained. Neither of these seems true. The PostgreSQL setup seems to handle the data volume fine, and the rendering processes still keep up (although sometimes with a little delay, occasionally due to some small technical hiccup). And there a dedicated people who invest there time to keep it all running, however small that group is (and thanks to all of them!)

The two "structural issues" that I actually see are of a totally different nature:

  • People and developers are just unwilling to accept the reality that there are two ways to model our (geographic) world: 1) * The one chosen in OSM and using a point/line based approach, similar, but not entirely equivalent, to how classic CAD systems and e.g. the historic Arc/Info "coverage" format used to work, where lines and points can be shared between objects. This approach always requires some kind of "build" process to model and create area / polygon features. 2) * The "Simple Features" type approach, where each object is fully self contained, and polygon features are just another geometry type, but point and line segments inbetween two bordering features cannot be shared by them.

The problem is, that advocates for either approach, typically do not accept arguments in favor of the other. They do not realize that neither approach is perfect, and that both approaches have good and bad sides.

  • The other structural problem is the disconnect between, and at the same time interwove-ness of our "user" and "developer" community, where people apparently arguing for the same thing, actually want something completely different: the "user" generally just wants to see some tagged object being rendered and often does not have any clue as to the (sometime) heavy technical consequences of his request, while the "developer" may have a purely technical reason to argue against or for the same thing.

I think this disconnect is also well illustrated by siberiano's remark...

@siberiano:

No, that is not "generic people preferring other things", that is developers(!) preferring those things. I haven't heard of a single ordinary person ever asking for a "JS API". Does your grandmother and -father of 70 ask for that when on holiday and needing a map?

Comment from siberiano on 16 May 2018 at 09:13

@mboeringa: true, that's developers. But it's them who decide what others see on their websites. OSM offers them less features:

  • no good address base
  • no out-of-the-box geocoding

OSM was better in terms of level-of-detail, but at least in Russia, by 2015 this gap was mostly covered by Google and Yandex maps.

Comment from Zverik on 16 May 2018 at 09:40

Hey, technically OSM is okay. We've got great skilled admins, we've got a data model to last, and a vast ecosystem of open code, from Leaflet to PostGIS and Nominatim, to support any kind of usage. It's just we don't progress in any way. The general community seems to be turning inward, dismissing any external developments with "OSM is open and eternal, they will be dead in 50 years anyway".

Comment from Dalkeith on 16 May 2018 at 09:50

Zverik I would argue that you are equating your understandable slight tiredness with the project with a wider inherent problem - It probably relates to you being more knowledgeable than when you first started out and not having that heady rush of learning new things so quickly as in the early days.

I see a lot of developers get that way - it is often a cue for them to start learning a new language / undertaking a new project. It seems to be the natural flow of learning. Understanding of something can lead to less interest in it.

I am a natural optimist and I do think I annoy some people by being generally satisfied with life.

Comment from mikelmaron on 16 May 2018 at 10:16

the moment you express anything but positivity and loyalty, you stop being respected. Even by members of The Board. You did well, but words are what matters: you said the wrong words, we don't respect you any more, please leave.

Oh man, this is getting tiring. You are starting to imagine things -- who told you to leave? Are you ok? I said "It's important to think critically -- as I said, I agree with some of the source issues you raise." I don't think everything is fine, and I don't demand loyalty. Get a grip dude.

Zverik you wrote "Since around 2012 OpenStreetMap is headed directly into abyss." If you want respect and to help OSM grow, maybe try to use some metaphors that inspire people, rather than spreading your personal frustration far and wide.

Comment from imagico on 16 May 2018 at 12:04

@Mikel - you need to be more tolerant towards people you disagree with. Ilya is expressing his feelings about certain things here. There is nothing wrong with that no matter how baseless and insane you consider these feelings to be. If you disagree go ahead and argue on the point, write a piece on your own expressing how you think OSM is on a good path. And let people decide which arguments they find more convincing. But what you do here, trying to discredit Ilya's impressions and feelings with personal insults and without any arguments on the matter is neither productive nor appropriate.

Fortunately you are not representative for the OSM community but if you were i would probably agree with Ilya's assessment of the situation much more. Your reaction represents exactly the points of critique Ilya seems to refer to in his recent remarks.

If you don't give much on my opinion here take a cue from Andy or Blake who did the appropriate thing and expressed their views and feelings in a respectful form.

Comment from R0bst3r on 22 May 2018 at 19:20

I agree with a lot of things Ilya said in this discussion. OSM is in long term very frustrating, if you are not willing to just contribute building shapes.

It would need a lot of improvement, and there are people trying to contribute, but their work is not accepted neither respected by veteran gatekeepers. Even if it is not proper work, the community should encourage them, they will improve. But most of the time they get blamed for their good will.

Global changes are not possible IMHO, but even local changes are very hard because even there were you know what you are talking about, a glorious gatekeeper knows it better, while he was never on the ground, seeing the problem. Because "we" (they are very long part of osm and see them as osm) are doing it that way! (What about any tags you like? Doing it in your free time? What about the data users view? ...)

I contributed to a lot of open source and community projects over the last 20 years. OSM was definitively the most difficult one.

Just my five cents, I will not join the discussions any further (sth I learned also in this project: do-ocracy).

Some weeks ago I read again a very old but good article about successful community projects: "Cathedral and Bazaar". Maybe someone knows it ... it may maybe also give us a hint why osm is dying ... or why osm has a future.

Link: http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/

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