Motivation for Contributing to OSM

Posted by emacsen on 6 December 2013 in English (English)

The issue of motivation of mappers has come up a lot lately in different contexts, be it commercial interests and imports, adding specific POIs because they share a common payment form, adding notes that advertise a business, etc.

Ideally, we wouldn’t care about why someone is motivated to contribute to OSM- if the data is good, we accept it, and if the data is not good, we don’t. Unfortunately the reality is more nuanced than this. The reason that someone wants to add data to OSM can significantly influence the way that they enter the data.

Let’s take the extreme example first about notes that are meant to advertise a product, this note here:

That note simply says:

We are proud to present our new Search engine

Now, I don’t think the motivation of this person is very good, and in the meantime the account has been deleted for spam.

But we have more subtle examples of adding businesses to OSM, as shown by our discussion about addresses of offices vs mailboxes.

In regards to imports, there have been concerns that importers may be responding to commercial pressure to get a certain dataset into OSM. So far those concerns have not been validated by facts, but the concerns are real.

I think this question of motivation is at the heart of many of the recent disagreements. Two mappers may have a disupute and that’s acceptable. It’s also acceptable for a new mapper to come in and make mistakes (I certainly made plenty in my first few months in OSM). But where our community is less tolerant of error is where they feel the motivation of the mapper is poor.

The other reason this is important is that poorly motivated efforts shift the work back to the community. The community is build on improving others work, but when the work is done without caring about the end result, the burden on the OSM community is shifted and the community has to “take up the slack”, which moves us from being contributors to cleaning up others’ messes.

What can be done about bad user motivation? Or is there anything that can be done? Do we need to raise the bar on new user contributions, or is this just a cost of being a successful project?

Comment from mgehling on 6 December 2013 at 17:05


Comment from pnorman on 6 December 2013 at 20:37

Comment from mgehling on 6 December 2013 at 17:05 > SPAM

Pardon? Please assume good faith and be careful before sending a message accusing a mapper of spam. Particularly in a case like this where the message isn’t spam.

Comment from dcp on 7 December 2013 at 05:23

Yes, I do think that we should raise the bar on newbies’ contributions.

Yes, we all make mistakes and most of the newbies learn through their own. We don’t want to hinder them in their initial endeavours, or do we?

I have had most of my work changed/improved, most of it good but sometimes not so good. It is usually newbies making erroneous edits because they cannot always see the geometry behind the geographical data.

Relations/Multipolygons/turning instructions, etc. are usually not easily understood by newbies but they can change/mutilate them at will.

When it happens I contact the newbie and it about 50% of the cases I received a positive response, the other 50% just don’t answer; reason unknown but I can guess why!

As OSM progresses it is even going to get more cluttered/complicated so IMHO I would expect the OSMF to rethink their present open ended philosophy. I have my ideas but I consider the OSMF to be more competent to debate this issue. Surely that is part of their mandate anyway!

Comment from mgehling on 7 December 2013 at 12:59

was too fast. Example is SPAM, the blog post is obviously not spam

Comment from Vincent de Phily on 8 December 2013 at 10:29

We’ll only get more spamers as osm gets more popular. We just need to keep improving the tools to fight it, such as new contributor tracking, changeset analyzers, and reverting tools. Otherwise it’ll burn through spamfighters’ energy.

I may be wrong here, but I assume the contributor base will grow faster than the spamer base. We’ve seen a recent spurt of spam, but give the community some time to react.

Obligatory xkcd quote

There are different levels of unwanted contributions in osm:

  1. Outright spam like that search engine example.
  2. Spam within a proper contribution, like adding a shop’s sales pitch in the note tag.
  3. Grey areas, like a buisiness on the map where at most a letterbox is to be found.
  4. Newbee mistakes and accidental vandalism, like deleting stuff to fit a one-time use
  5. Normal errors, like bad tagging
  6. Actual vandalism, like doodling on the map or puting a joke name on an actual feature
  7. Edit wars on politically-disputed land

Each of those should be handled a bit differently, but the tools to handle them are probably the same (except perhaps 5 and 7).

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