This is a very rough translation of parts of the discussion that happened on the Shtosm Telegram channel. I’ve translated it so the upcoming vector tiles BoF section does not miss my point of view, while I’m presenting OSM Streak in another room.
Kate in her keynote mentioned the recent article by Richard about what OpenStreetMap needs:
The answer is vector tiles, he writes, but before that he makes a long intro about OSM not being a map; it’s a community and possibilities. He is right. But if we talk about tiles, you should understand one thing. Developers of OSM Carto style have been discussing switching to vector since April. They approach it as a technical task: to repeat the same thing, but with a different stack. And Richard’s point is that it would be wrong.
Style developers are fixated on quality, on cartography, on target audience. The make a product: tiles, which are featured on thousands of web sites. And this product, being showcased on our website, is overshadowing the real product that we make: the geospatial database. That is bad, since people believe OSM is tiles and mapping style, not data. They expect from the website to show traffic, to feature a ruler and satellite imagery. People feel that our product is the website, the routing feature, the mapping style.
What we need is to push the style to the sidelines, and to employ vector tiles. Though not to repeat what we already have in them, because then we’d get exactly the same: a product that overshadows the data. We should do intentionally raw tiles, which adapt to user’s needs. Roads, buildings, some POIs by default. But with a few clicks you could see bicycle routes: make a photo and go cycling. A map like a clay: very plain, but take it — and the possibilities are endless.
This change would mean a revolution in how we relate to our data, especially from admins and style developers. It would require us to relieve control to the user. We do that with the data, but we are yet to learn to relieve control for other parts of the infrastructure. The time to learn is coming.
We’re discussing the openstreetmap.org website. I’m trying to convey the (not very fresh) idea that non-mappers do not need OSM, and don’t even need to know about the OSM. They can use other wonderful websites, a magnitude better in features and mapping style than our website. And that have a ruler. For example:
If a person opened the OSM website, they came not for features and not for tiles, but to learn about OpenStreetMap. When we make a user-facing service with the website, then it’s weird that Tom closes issues about adding a ruler or improving directions. OSM website is not one of many useful tools for a user, but first of all, an instrument for mappers, and a showcase of OSM capabilities. And in that it is awful. For the price of being slightly useful for outside users — and in the end, nobody gains much.
So, the solution is to send outside people to outside websites, built with OpenStreetMap data, and starting to wreck our website into a fun place for mappers. As soon as OSM Carto is pushed back (not removed, just moved into secondary layers), and when we have a map builder on the front page, people would suddenly understand that all this times they were slaves to the single correct way of looking at OSM, and turns out they have options!
Improve the map builder tool a bit, so you can not only create, but also export maps — and you’re looking at a style database for hundreds of new styles. Then, add a style library, and we get styles for cyclists, styles with 100% POI displayed, pretty background styles for infographics, and thematic styles for those looking for a tobacco shop or a toilet, and weird coloured styles for modern art admirers. All that simply because OSM would stop building a third-tier google maps service, and will switch to pushing its unique qualities. For being simple and useful we have MapCat, and being that is not our thing. We can do better.