Notes from anonymous users

Posted by maxolasersquad on 18 November 2013 in English (English)

Two days ago an anonymous user added a bunch of notes surrounding the Orlando area that denote the location of Aldi convenience stores. I added a few but then go to thinking about how odd it would be for someone to just drive around to all the Aldis in such a large area and opening notes for them. I also noticed that the addresses listed in the notes where the identical text to the addresses listed at the Aldi website’s store finder, including identical abbreviations.

It looks to me like someone just used their website to get the addresses and probably something like Google maps to get the location, and then opened anonymous notes. I am considering removing the data I had added and closing the existing notes as having sources with questionable licenses.

However, this opens up another question. When should we trust anonymous notes? I was an opponent from the beginning of anonymous notes for various reasons, including this issue. I have no way of getting back to the person that reported these notes, and so I cannot ask for clarity. It is possible that by closing out all of these notes that someone just wasted their time /trying/ to contribute useful data.

I am also left to ask myself how I should handle future anonymous notes. Should I just close them all out if it is not clear that the data they are reporting is likely original source and not copied from another source? The notes themselves state “This note includes comments from anonymous users which should be independently verified.”, but there are no guidelines on the wiki about what further verification would entail. Since leaving them open would make it difficult to find notes worth looking at they do need to be closed out if there is no reasonable hope for resolution.

Comment from Vincent de Phily on 18 November 2013 at 18:19

Concerning those particular Aldi notes, even if the text was taken from the Aldi website, there’s no reason to think that a Google map (or other copyrighted source) wa used to place the notes (unless the osm map is really bare in the area ?). If you could place those notes yourself by reading the text on the Aldi website, then those notes are fair game.

That last sentence is, in effect, independant verification. You might wonder what the advantage of such notes are if you need to redo all the detective work by yourself, but they actually provide 1) a hint of what to look for and what users are interested in 2) a feedback link to users who aren’t full contributors but will see that OSM contributors are areactive, and spread the word.

Comment from maxolasersquad on 18 November 2013 at 18:30

Either the anonymous user really drove hundreds of miles to each location, but did all that work and only cared about the Aldi locations, or they used another source to find the location. It is not possible to know the address of a location alone based on the OSM data. For example, South Semoran Boulevard is many miles long. You can’t just look at the map and know where “1900 S. Semoran Blvd.” is.

While I do not know the reporter used a copyrighted source, the idea that the person found all of these locations independently seems very unlikely. Many people do not understand the rules behind mapping. I have even seen notes from registered users (with no edits) stating that one can look at Google Maps to discover the issue being reported.

Independent verification simply isn’t going to happen. There are not enough people working the notes in Florida to independently verify anything. I live in Tallahassee and as far as I know, am the only person actively squashing the bugs in this state. Bugs that I don’t squash stick around. If I let enough notes pile up in Florida it will be impossible for me to know when a new Note is created (you can’t do an RSS feed for the whole state) as I cannot possibly remember which notes I have looked at before, nor can I click on hundred of notes daily. I give registered users ample time to get back if I have any questions, but if they don’t back in a reasonable amount of time, or an unclear anonymous Note is added, it is getting marked as Resolved. It is the only way to stay on top of these things with sanity.

Comment from maxolasersquad on 18 November 2013 at 18:33

I should add that OSM user grouper has also been working the Florida notes. I didn’t intend to exclude him in my above post as a helpful contributor.

Comment from Pieren on 19 November 2013 at 12:16

all ‘notes’ have to be independently verified, anonymous or not.

Comment from maxolasersquad on 19 November 2013 at 13:15

@Pieren, the wiki article on notes is absent on details about the protocol for resolving notes. Is there some documentation that I am not aware of?

Comment from Pieren on 19 November 2013 at 13:50

Yeah, probably the wiki has to be improved. The “protocol” should be the same as every contribution. it is common sens to verify, even when signed, from a second source (legal for OSM) what is requested for a change or addition.

Comment from Harry Wood on 19 November 2013 at 16:28

You raise some interesting questions, and I certainly don’t have answers for all of them.

I’d say the default assumption for an anonymous note would hopefully be that somebody local is reporting a problem or supplying some information to add. But clearly we’ll need to apply some common sense here. So obviously in this case you’re suspicious about the source of the information, and this takes us into a legal grey area. Taken collectively, it starts to look like copying from a potentially copyrighted source. This is made less severe by the consideration that Aldi would probably quite like to have their store locations on OpenStreetMap (if they ever thought about it) but made more severe by the possibility that google geocoding has been involved. We can bring in more sources. Use bing imagery to look for big things which look like Aldi stores. Maybe we can even use google streetview to double check some stuff. Legal grey areas aplenty!

Normally I would say this is not an approach for adding data to OpenStreetMap, but since you’re working to resolve notes from somebody else… maybe that changes things. I’m not sure really.

A couple of other things I would note about notes: I’ve seen a few people getting up tight about how they can resolve certain notes, as if they need to do so, and they’ll just die of frustration if they can’t resolve it one way or another, but maybe sometimes we need to just chill out and leave them dangling for a while. After all, to my mind there are two perfectly valid categories of notes. (1) People supplying information, which any mapper can then add to the map using nothing more than bing imagery, but also (2) People raising a question which will require survey on the ground. This second type of note cannot be resolved by sitting at your computer, so either you’ll have to head out there, or just put up with that annoying note left dangling. In the context of that, might it be useful to leave these Aldi notes on the map so that next time you or anyone else are in the area, you can check for an Aldi on the ground?

Also you can reply to anonymous notes. Obviously the original user won’t be emailed about this, but it’s not impossible that they will swing by again to see this. Again this requires us to be a bit patient and leave the note dangling for long enough for that to happen.

We’re forging new ground with the “netiquette” around how we process notes. There’s certainly more we can add to the wiki offering guidance around this stuff, but they’re still quite new. Personally I don’t have that much experience of dealing with them, but it’s clear we need to direct more attention to them (e.g. get more people roaming with apps to try resolving on-the-ground type queries) I do wonder whether we should have some sort of layer of classification for the 1’s and 2’s mentioned above.

Comment from Harry Wood on 19 November 2013 at 16:39

p.s. I’ve added this here: let’s start thinking about what the guidelines should look like.

Comment from maxolasersquad on 19 November 2013 at 16:52

Thank you for your thoughts Harry.

I have no problem leaving legitimate notes out there. It does make finding new Notes a pain, but ignoring useful problem reports just because I can’t resolve it is not helpful to the project. It would be nice if there was a better way to browse notes, something that works like a traditional bug-tracking platform.

It is frustrating as a user to find a problem, notify the project of the issue, and then be told your issue is going to be ignored.

Comment from Wynndale on 19 November 2013 at 20:05

I don’t know if it applies here and I certainly don’t want to start any witchhunts but what happens if you think problem mappers are leaving notes?

Comment from JBacc1 on 19 November 2013 at 20:26

Harry Wood:

Coming back to improving the notes system: Several people are asking for the addition of an additional field to the note system, something like « survey needed/armchair resolution/heavy duty work » for filtering (today I’m going there, is there any note that needs a survey/I have a few minutes, are there armchair resolvable notes somewhere).

You can find info and encourage there:

This issue has been discussed several time with different people, conclusions of this kind seems to always be raised.

Login to leave a comment