Ideas on tagging discussion for SotM session

Posted by imagico on 31 August 2019 in English (English)

This post is an answer to Roland’s call for input on his planned SotM session on New processes to agree on tagging suggestions and their interaction with the editing software available on

I have no specific suggestion for an overall solution to the problem but a few observations on the matter that i would like to share on the level of problem analysis so to speak.

  • First i think a big part of the problem of tagging development and tagging discussion can be summarized by saying that unfortunately these days discussions on tagging are too often dominated by interests rather than arguments. I think this is a long term development that has its main origin in the increased importance of OpenStreetMap overall. As a result the ability to affect how mappers in OSM map and tag certain things has gained significant value - economic and otherwise - and as a result there are a lot of different interests trying to influence tagging and most of these are just special interests without substantial arguments why these ideas are of benefit for the project as a whole.

  • My second observation is that tagging discussion seems often dominated by a relatively small number of people who have the ability to express themselves in the English language well enough and who are able and willing to invest a much larger amount of time into such discussions than the vast majority of mappers and data users. By the latter such discussions are often perceived to be pointlessly elaborate, non-productive and detached from reality. The principle of do-ocracy is widely accepted and valued in the domain of mapping in OpenStreetMap but it it questionable if tagging discussion and tag documentation form a separate do-ocratic domain within the project that is largely disconnected from actual mapping.

  • Another disadvantageous tendency in tagging discussion that is connected to the previous point is that technical knowledge and competence is too often put above knowledge on the subject, i.e. geographic competence. This is because OpenStreetMap is largely seen as a technology project where software developers are often in a natural position of power even though they often don’t realize the limitations of their own ability to properly assess the complexity of the geographic reality - which is the actual core challenge of mapping and tagging in OSM. Outside the technological domain the ability of the OpenStreetMap community to recognize and support competence and good judgement as important and necessary skills for making good decisions and giving people with those skills the power and influence to make decisions is severely underdeveloped.

  • We know quite a lot of things about what constitutes a good and a bad tagging idea. The most significant being verifiability. Other criteria can for example be found in How to invent tags. One point in particular that is known to be significant for the success of tags is what i would call mappability - that is if in practical mapping mappers can readily and without too much effort or specific knowledge or training determine if to apply or not to apply a certain tag. Unfortunately this principal knowledge we have as a community often has relatively little impact and does not prevent clearly bad tags being invented or pushed to be used.

  • Tagging development and discussion is unfortunately still very much dominated by English language discourse and accordingly colored by the corresponding cultural views and priorities. Good processes for communication on tagging would need to try reducing this bias and give local communities with different languages better options to put forward their own tagging ideas and coordinate them with other local communities.

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