Using OpenStreetMap on a daily basis

Posted by jremillard on 13 July 2013 in English (English)

There has been a lively thread on the talk mailing list about adding “consumer” features to the main page. This is really about adding routing, clickable points of interest, and geolocating support to the top level home page.

Some people, including our Chairman, Simon Poole, worry about several issues

  • Diluting our energy on a non-core activity
  • Diluting our web design, making the main page less functional for core mapping activities.
  • Competing with our partners and downstream data users, making them less likely to work with us.
  • Trying and failing, hurting our brand. It is a hard task.
  • Trying and succeeding, driving zillions of people to our front page. The increase in scope will require a professional organization to manage. This is also known, as let’s not look like Wikimedia Foundation, with 176 employees.

Start with first principles, our mission statement: provide free geographic data, such as street maps, to anyone, for the entire world. This is a big goal, just a tiny fraction of humanity lives in places with a good OSM map. We need more people, a lot more people. If we want the entire map to looks like our gold standard, Germany or London, we need around 35 million mappers. By that metric, we are only about 2.5% complete. Another metric is Wikimedia, which currently has 20 million named user accounts. The mission statement is not going to be fulfilled, if we don’t have enough people editing the map, period. The best way of getting those mappers, registered, and mapping is for us to provide a service to allow people to use our data for their day to day needs on our site, with the big fat “edit” button on top. Our third party data consumers will not put that “edit” button on their interfaces. There is no benefit to them to dilute their interface to help us. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that people are using our data on other services such as apple, motion gps, craigslist, 4 square, etc, however, they are not going to carry our water for us and hand over our next 34 million mapper. We have to go get them ourselves. I don’t see any way of getting 34 more million registered mappers unless our site is can be used by everybody for normal mapping activities. So sorry, the current mappers are just the first 2.5%, getting the next 97.5% onboard is more important than serving the first 2.5%. To say otherwise, is giving up on our mission statement.

Our second principle is that we are a “do-ocracy”. When somebody shows up on the lists asking for routing, clickable POI, location service, mobile support, etc the only acceptable answer should be to ask them to help do it!

  • If they can write code, do that,
  • If they are system administrators help with that.
  • Volunteer to test out new code.
  • If they are good at raising money, get some money.
  • If they can get some big servers donated, do that, hosting, donated bandwidth, do it, do it, do it!
  • or the simplest way to help is to go work on the map and be as supportable as possible of the people that are working on these features.

The reality is that getting routing, or good POI support, mobile, etc are all very tough jobs. When they launch, we should expect them to not be competitive with the commercial providers. To be blunt, we are going to suck at it for years after we launch. The probability of everybody crushing our website the day, week, or the year after we turn on routing is exactly zero. However, this is how software is developed; without shipping something crude first, it is impossible to make something great later.

Please no more “no’s” on this topic.

Comment from zimar on 15 July 2013 at 11:41

Bardzo fajny materiał. I to jeszcze avatar. Lubiłem bardzo klocki lego

Comment from russdeffner on 15 July 2013 at 15:53

I like your vision… the best basemap of the world does not equal the best map of the world. I will continue mapping and encouraging OSM in all regards, look forward to the future of OSM, and will brace myself for near disastrous attempts at these ‘advanced’ features.


Comment from Tom Chance on 15 July 2013 at 17:04

As much as I would love to see a decent routing framework plugged into our homepage, I do wonder how much it would drive up the number of contributors (excluding those who make one or two edits then never return). Clickable POIs probably have more potential.

It’s nice to say people should offer their help to people with good ideas, but we have finite energy, time and money to throw around. Which of the good ideas would have the biggest impact?

What we most need are enthusiasts, and their ‘consumer’ needs can really be quite varied. Often your average OSM mapper won’t have the first idea what another person’s needs are, what will turn them and their community of interest onto OSM. Richard Fairhurst gave a good presentation on this point at the SOTMUS conference, and I wrote some more following his talk.

I bet that even with Google Maps the number who report fixes or fire up Map Maker is less than one tenth of a per cent of all the map users. But if we made OSM genuinely useful (and easy) for ramblers, cyclists, conservationists, accessibility campaigners, local government officers, sailors and more… well then we would gain lots of enthusiastic contributors. So what do they need? Let’s find out, and then as you say, no more “no’s”!

Comment from jremillard on 16 July 2013 at 01:56

The underlying idea is that we need to transcend our core GIS/Open Source early adopters types, and get normal people editing. There are just not enough software engineers, computer admins, and GIS people to feed the project.

The Internet is really really big. Wikipedia has 500,000,000 unique visitors a month. Getting 0.1% of the visitors, is 1 million active mappers a month. We are currently around 20,000 active mappers a month. Honestly, we probably have a chance at 500 million unique users, but you get the idea.

Of coarse, we should also add all of the other kinds of maps. We had a nice talk on the lists about plugging in other tile sources. That one is not controversial, just waiting for some code.

As far as what you work on, that is easy, just do what you enjoy. This is not job!

Comment from wille on 30 July 2013 at 00:31

I agree with you! I think it’s difficult too much difficult make some use of OSM data today. However OsmAnd is a gorgeous app that give a lot of possibilities to me.

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