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A year ago we started a program were new mappers - after they did their first edit in The Netherlands - received a welcome message with links to various sources of information on the mapping process, the do’s and don’t’s, the editors and other useful stuff.
I was the initiator of that program and also the one responsible for finding the new mappers ([Pascal Neis provided the necessary RSS feed) and sending the messages. As such it was a one-man job.

After one year and sending more than 1500 individual messages to those new mappers, I will no longer continue with this program.


  1. In my earlier diary-entry on this program some (statistical) conclusions were drawn about the number of mappers and the amount of mapping activity over time. There seems to be no change to this statistical data since that report. But I did not expect to happen that either. Research from others points in the same direction as can be learned from the reactions to that first article.

  2. About 75 persons (0.4%) replied to my welcome-message, mostly with a simple “thank you”, sometimes asking for more information. A very small number of people joined (and stayed in) the active mapper group, but most of the new mappers are “one-time-only” mappers. [1]◊

  3. After [2]◊ became available as a simpe data editor for OSM, a great number of people entered the OSM mappers world [3]◊, but most of them are not aware of the underlying principles and goals of OSM, nor are they aware of the communicating chanels we have (mailing list and forum). Hence, sending a message to those mappers is rather useless because they are not aware of the fact that there is such a thing as a private mail-box in their account. This became the more problematic as a lot of tourists are now acting as “mappers”, but given their limited knowledge of mapping and the limited possibilities of, those edits very often need the hand of an experienced mapper to fix. [4]◊

During the past year that I have run this program, I learned a lot about the way new mappers behave and what they expect from OSM, and it is my opinion that my welcome message (including links to a number of wikipages in Dutch) did only help in a minority of cases. And in those cases where the help realy was needed (, I couldn’t reach the mappers…

There are maybe other/better ways needed to instruct new mappers on how to do the job, and this might be a topic for future research by others.

[1] A “one-time-only” mapper might of course return to mapping, years later, as history shows. But it does not happen very often.
[2] is a great app that I use as my on-the-road tool to consult the OSM map and as a routing aid. I would never use it as a serious mapping tool.
[3] An increase of about 20%
[4] Other OSM communities experienced more or less the same problems with, as can be read here, here and here.


Comment from SimonPoole on 31 July 2016 at 15:12

Marc I think it is a bit of a shame that you are stopping with sending the messages (as you know I’ve been running something similar since late 2014 for a similar number of new mappers per year in Switzerland).

While I’m the first one to agree that there is not much feedback or noticeable behavioural change, it does give the 10% or whatever that map a bit more a fighting chance of finding national/regional/local resources that otherwise would be very difficult to find (I have over the last two years put some effort in to improving the relevant parts of the general signup process, but as it is currently, it is difficult to provide region specific messages).

Off to message the six new mappers from today….


Comment from Glassman on 31 July 2016 at 15:25

I’ve been sending welcome messages for sometime. Late last year I modified it after the Belgium communities welcome message and included all new mappers in Washington State. Prior to that it was focused on the Seattle area and the message was to invite them to join our Meetup group.

The response rate is around 7%. I haven’t looked to see how many continue to map. My guess is that number is very low.

Your assessment of is right on target. I usually don’t bother even sending them a message nor a changeset comment for the less than stellar edits. I’m not blaming the person, but in the hands of a newbie is dangerous. I only hope as the app matures, it also improves. Check out Millions that Don’t Care presented by Ilya Zverev,, at the 2016 SOTM-US conference. While I attended the conference, I didn’t get to his talk.

I think a better approach than for each of us to send out welcome messages, would be to have a script that automatically sends a message to new uses based on their language and the location of their first edit.


Comment from SOSM on 31 July 2016 at 15:44

@Glassman historically the signup confirmation message used to be localized and contain pointers to regional resouces, at least at a rough language level, During the website redesign this was dropped with the argument that unified messaging via the website is better. Not that I completely disagree with that statement, but it did drop a useful feature without providing a replacement (you could naturally still simply ignore the english original text and put something completely different in the message, but likely that would be frowned upon).

I do typically give the changesets of new mappers with a larger number of changes in the first day or two a quick glance ( has thrown a bit of a spanner in to that), but nearly always they are perfectly fine, typically if something if something is problematic or even if it is simply a mapper in an area with some special issues, I’ll follow up with a custom message.

Comment from BushmanK on 31 July 2016 at 20:13

Unfortunately, this valuable observation is still far from being scientific. I mean, now, we have some information about what happens if you do contact new mappers, but we still have no idea what happens if nobody contacts them.

My hypothesis (and I admit, that I’ve never tried to confirm that) is that percentage of people, who will eventually turn into a recurring mappers or active knowledgeable mappers is not only low (as we know it from statistics), but also barely depends on anything except mapper’s own will to learn.

Informative welcoming message can probably save some time, giving useful links, since even those who have certain experience sometimes have no idea about area-specific resources. However, judging by my teaching experience, not related to OSM, it is impossible to change someone’s attitude towards learning in a few words, while ability and desire to learn about OSM are still very important requirements for becoming an active mapper or another type of OSM contributor. (I probably don’t have to explain, that existing ignorance can’t be cured this way either.)

Another part of my hypothesis is that current documentation is usually enough to learn about general principles of OSM. There are certain exceptions: local resources are not necessarily presented well there; certain forms of documentation, such as brief “cheat sheets” (Map Features pages) can have negative influence, since some people never read further descriptions, while Map Features pages don’t contain any in-depth explanation of concepts. There are people with more “social” style of learning, who prefer asking over reading, but to help them, it’s usually enough to make them aware of available communication channels, such as mail lists, forum, chats, etc.

Comment from pnorman on 1 August 2016 at 00:05

Hence, sending a message to those mappers is rather useless because they are not aware of the fact that there is such a thing as a private mail-box in their account

It’s not useless since it’ll go to their email. Response rates aren’t great, but that’s not unique to

Finding no difference in retention rate between those messaged and those not backs up the analysis out of Poland which found no difference. 50% of new users were messaged based on their user id, and there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups. In fact, the percentages had those who had received messages slightly less likely to be retained as mappers.

Comment from BushmanK on 1 August 2016 at 00:46


Great information, thank you. By the way, is there any Wiki page, where links to studies like this one are collected?

Comment from CloCkWeRX on 1 August 2016 at 05:25

Roughly what timeframe was between first edit and contact?

It would be interesting to see if a welcome message several days after encouraged user stickyness.

Alternatively, one that was sent to users during working hours (just prior to lunch, say, when they are likely to get up and be mobile) pointing them at mapillary or similar.

Either way, thanks for the hard work even if the results don’t seem to have born out immediately

Comment from joost schouppe on 1 August 2016 at 10:55

Some thoughts from a fellow welcomer in Belgium.

  • No first changeset should be left unchecked. In Belgium, we have someone checking the clearly wrong changes, but often things are just “slightly wrong” or “could be better”. Pointing out how the new mapper could expand on something that was interesting enough for them to do a first edit might have more impact than just welcoming them

  • Regional messages upon joining should definitely be re-introduced. It really is a burden to send these messages manually (I don’t manage to keep it up myself). It isn’t so much about trying to teach people stuff, rather an opportunity to include them in the community. For many new people, OSM is a database (or worse, a map). It isn’t. It’s a community.

  • There is little point in improving user retention with this message. We only need a few dozen addicted mappers more for a lot of improvement. I think a welcome message might help there, but it will never be possible to prove this statistically as the numbers are so small. At the other end of the spectrum, I do believe we can expand the many slightly-interested people. is an excellent tool for that, but there are some real issues I hope get fixed soon. On the one hand, some measures are necessary to reduce nonsense edits (better explaining of what they are doing, moving more stuff to Notes in stead of POIs, etc). On the other hand, I’m convinced the majority does not get messages sent through the OSM system. Considering the volume of edits, I think that warrants integrating our messaging system into the app.

Comment from marczoutendijk on 1 August 2016 at 15:52

The timeframe was usually 1-2 days, but never more than a week.

Checking of the first edit was included, and reacted upon if necessary.

Comment from Piskvor on 1 August 2016 at 18:18

@pnorman: Since the editor in launched, I still have to receive the first response from any user. Nothing, zero, nada.

IMNSHO the app encourages personal notetaking into public data; for the record, that is not good.

Comment from marczoutendijk on 1 August 2016 at 18:51

It still is useless because they don’t read e-mail in their OSM account.

Comment from karussell on 2 August 2016 at 16:35

Thanks Marc for still doing it in the first place :) !!

Comment from Alan Bragg on 6 August 2016 at 15:43

I’m about to embark on a Welcoming Program in Massachusetts using by Pascal Neis. Thanks for all your comments.

Comment from Supaplex on 13 August 2016 at 16:21

In Taiwan, there is a similar approach to new mappers, but using changeset comment to welcome new users. We paste a piece a text, include the links to the mapping rules and main discussing place use by Taiwan community. The respond rate is near zero, and most the new users never edit again. It’s a tough job and takes a lot of times to engage new users due to OpenStreetMap decenterized nature. So sad to see you give up.

The Maps.Me app is problem due to most user don’t understand what OSM is and isn’t. It makes user too easy to upload or change items.

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