Public perception and predjudice...

Posted by ca_hoot on 22 September 2012 in English (English)

After the failure of Apple to produce a usable map within the latest iOS 6 upgrade, there has been a lot of chatter about mapping on the main tech blogs and websites, I have been using the opportunity to try and spread the word about OSM, but I have been running up against the same argument against it repeatedly:

OpenStreetMap is too cluttered they say, too many colours too much going on...

I have responded with the usual answer to such questions, i.e the map on is not what OSM is about, it is about the data, how that data is displayed is up to the people involved.

But the public perception seems to be that OSM IS the slippy map on the main website, and that map is severely lacking in both the clarity, beauty and usability that people desire.

They have a point. The main slippy map is good as displaying everything, to the detriment of the above mentioned. I firmly believe OSM is getting to a stage where is it on a par, and even superior to what Navteq and Tele Atlas can provide, but I cant help but feel OSM is shooting itself in the foot with what is provided on the main website, which is what people seem to identify as what OpenStreetMap is... however wrong that may be.

Are there any plans to update the main map to be more user friendly? I recognise the need for a map that displays everything for contributors, but maybe the time has come for a map that is both appealing and usable for the general public and a separate layer for OSM contributors? There has been excellent work done by the likes of Skobbler and we have all seen what can be done with the data to make visually appealing maps... but I cannot help but feel the main Mapnik map is losing us both general users and contributors.

Lastly I mean no offence to any of the hard working people that have worked on the Mapnik renderer or the style sheets for this website.

Comment from Opk on 22 September 2012 at 20:42

I very much agree with this. The default should concentrate on streets as that's what most people want.

Comment from Richard on 22 September 2012 at 22:06

Switch to 'MapQuest Open' using the layer switcher in the top right and all your motorist-centric needs will be satisfied. :)

Comment from Rovastar on 22 September 2012 at 22:43

I often find "OpenStreetMap is too cluttered", etc really means "its not the same as Google maps" Most people want to see exactly the same as Google. Really do they complain that Google maps is too cluttered in areas it has buildings, footpaths compared to those they don't. Therefore I don't take too cluttered to seriously.

Personally I like seeing the detail. In fact I would like to see more things rendered, lets make multiple lane roads bigger, deeper zoom layers, etc on the main/Mapnik map. It discourages people from mapping in detail. Why should anyone map for example, a skateboarding park if it never appears? We need a full detailed map for these things. And like has been sated openstreetmap is the map for 99% of people.

Maybe just make the options to change the map style more visible - Maybe even first time visitors get a option screen for map style. Get new kids on the block have the map options on the homepage. Some of great terrain Mapbox style maps. Or beautiful Stamen (great example of showing different options to maps on their homepage. We could do something like this...)

We do need to make more of this fact. Gary Gale from Nokia maps thinks we need to do more with OSM styles too. (about 25 mins in)

And make it so you can save you settings you you always have your mapstyle.

Comment from ca_hoot on 23 September 2012 at 04:08


I do agree that the Mapquest layer does provide more what what people seem to want, but that is not the default layer, but this should not detract from the fact the Mapnik layer that everyone see's when they first encounter OSM is massively flawed in both usability and beauty, the later really cannot be discounted. Fields as brown? Really? I get you point about motorist centric maps, but I'm sure that the maps that we display to the world can be made more visually appealing at least.

The fact of the matter is I don't think what OSM contributors want in a map, and what the general public want is the same... and as it's 'face' to the world i think it needs to change.

Comment from Aury88 on 23 September 2012 at 07:34

I agree with Rovastar: the default map, imo, needs to display more detail. I know that the render and the routing services are not OSM objectives, but a good render and an integrate routing service could attract more users and also can help visualize missing/incorrect elements in the map. if OSM don't want to give this service (routing) I think there should be at least a link, in the main page, to a website with it

Comment from dcp on 23 September 2012 at 08:33

I agree with all the above statements but one in particular is worth a double mention.

"Lastly I mean no offence to any of the hard working people that have worked on the Mapnik renderer or the style sheets for this website". Posted by ca_hoot

Obviously a debate is needed on how to present OSM to newcomers who want to use the data for the own purposes. We who contribute to the DataBank are not relevant when it come to the introductory page.

The thing is, I don't think that this Blog-Page is the right place to discuss/debate this issue, but I don't know where to go to start a debate!

What I think may be a better approach would be to have something like this:

What would you like to see?

and using ICONS

Street map Routing Cycle map Rambling map Addresses POIs Public Transport Terrain Contribute to OSM DataBank etc.

The ICONS would then link to the best website providing this service.

Comment from Richard on 23 September 2012 at 10:19

@ca_hoot: Sure. But that's not going to happen unless someone actually makes the change. As ever in OSM, there's lots of people saying "I would like this" and precious few actually doing it. Personally I'd love to get more involved with the default cartography, but sadly P2 et al take up all of my the time.

So... how about it? If you think it could be done better, set up a Mapnik instance and start playing with the stylesheets. Build something. It won't improve unless someone makes the effort!

Comment from robert on 23 September 2012 at 10:21

If did provide map tiles that the general public loved, we wouldn't be able to stump up the infrastructure to be able to serve it to all the people who wanted to use it anyway.

So my view is it's probably a helpful force to encourage the sort of farming-out-to-commercial-organizations that has to happen with tile serving.

Comment from Skippern on 23 September 2012 at 13:15

If somebody can help me with hosting, I have plans and inside knowledge to make a map based on INT-1 symbols. For most OSM'ers that will be a maximum stripped down map. INT-1 is a IHO agreed rendering of maritime maps, stripping land symbols and colours to a minimum in order to avoid turning the mariners attention to details that have no significance for safe navigation at sea. I know the people of OpenSeaMap uses the mapnik layer as background and lay navigation marks on top, but I am sure they will use a generic INT-1 background.

I have both the knowhow of INT-1 and most of their symbols as .svg soall I am missing is a place to host it.

Comment from ca_hoot on 23 September 2012 at 15:42

There seem to be a few people that want these kinds of changes (and that would be willing to work on it), but don't know how to go about it. I have to say I'm in the same boat. Maybe it is something that needs to be put to the community in a wider way, but again I don't know how to go about it. Some kind of proposal? I'm willing to put a bit of work in, I have a background in graphic design... but I'm far from an expert in cartography or the technical aspect of design and implementation for Mapnik.

@Robert there is an issue in that regard agreed, but I'm not sure it is an entirely positive way to go about it. As I said in my post that map is what most people first encounter with OSM (knowingly at least) and I think it would serve us well to not drive people away at first sight. There are mechanisms in place to restrict tile server traffic and usage restrictions already. Would that not be enough to stop any huge influx of load?

Comment from Richard on 23 September 2012 at 19:37

@ca_hoot: I'd say as a first step, look at TileMill. At present it's the easiest Mapnik-based solution for playing around with stylesheets, and it uses a CSS-based language which is easier to get to grips with than the complex old Mapnik XML format.

Something that would be hugely useful would be to start to reverse-engineer the current Mapnik stylesheet into TileMill's CartoCSS. As I understand it a one-to-one mapping isn't possible (CartoCSS doesn't do quite everything), but there may be things that we can lose in the cause of making the stylesheet more maintainable. If you had the time to work on this, that'd be the first big step towards moving the stylesheet on for the future.

Comment from ca_hoot on 24 September 2012 at 15:38

@richard Thanks for the advice and I will certainly look into TileMill, as you suggest the reverse engineering into a easier maintain format seems a logical first step to take. Are there any people and/or groups I should contact with regard to this effort? I haven't been involved in the community side of things much - so I don't want to be stepping on anyone's toes.

Comment from c2r on 27 September 2012 at 07:11

Personally I love the default rendering... The biggest issue with it I suspect for people just turning up and wanting to use it to navigate is the lack of clarity between trunk roads and forest:

In the above example, notice the E9 from Baga to Bellver in the top left corner...

Comment from compdude on 29 September 2012 at 05:07

I think it would be better if all roads were the same color shade. Motorways could remain blue, but all other roads could be a shade of red-orange to yellow. I agree that using green for trunk makes it blend in with forests and this can be quite annoying sometimes. If all roads were the same color shade or whatever there would be less of a problem.

Another thing that would help is to make the roads not look so "fat." This can be a problem, especially in densely-populated areas, where the roads just look like one big blob. For example, the secondary roads in Downtown Seattle look like a big orange blob. That just looks bad. If the roads weren't so fat, this wouldn't happen.

Login to leave a comment