Holiday reflections on OpenStreetMap

Posted by mikelmaron on 21 December 2017 in English (English)

I’m starting to reflect on OpenStreetMap over the holiday. The last several months have personally been simultaneously trying and inspiring. Here’s a few thoughts…

We are all the community Do you contribute and participate in OpenStreetMap in any way? Map, organize, code, discuss, etc? Then you are in the OSM community.

We need to move away from talking about the "OSM community" as being either the people we agree with or the people we disagree with. It’s a pattern I see too much. There are plenty of people and groups that are 100% part of the community, but don't fully realize it.

Community looks different in different places The kind of people, background and settings hosting our community look very different in every city, every country.

This is one of the most amazing things about OpenStreetMap — we’re all working together! University students, open source coders, slum dwellers, professional teams, ambassador(s), geographers. Keeping this in mind is super challenging and necessary for a global project. Trying to understand where others are coming from is something everyone can learn to do, and do better.

We agree far more than we disagree The things we agree on our huge — mapping the entire world openly is still a radical idea.

But the things we argue about might seem like insurmountable gulfs. Yet even on the “polarizing” topics of the past months — organized editing, code of conduct, quality etc — from my seat there’s a huge amount of agreement. Lot of the gulf seems to be about particulars of language and how to get there, rather than essential meanings.

Most of us are quiet The overwhelming vast majority of people on mailing lists and in the OSM community as a whole are not saying anything.

So far in December, there were 411 posts by 94 unique posters. The top 20% of those posters by volume contributed 58% of the posts. I don’t know the exact number of subscribers, but there are about 700-800 OpenStreetMap Foundation Members. There are tens of thousands more active mappers. This is extreme long tail participation.

We don’t know if these people are enjoying or recoiling from these discussions, or totally ignoring them. Every time I post, I do try to keep in mind that my words are going out to hundreds of people.

There are very few barriers to action I have seen very few ideas which are not actionable in OpenStreetMap, there is extraordinary freedom.

That doesn’t make it easy, but it’s much easier than building the map alone. Winning arguments with work is more effective than with words only. You need to listen to and work with others. But there are no absolute blockers. Follow and understand our basic community practices, and big or small things can happen.

Comment from SimonPoole on 21 December 2017 at 20:12

There is no question that

a) essentially only the people on read it (given that the link is semi hidden, there is likely no accidental stumbling on it at all), that is roughly half a tenth of a percent of the people that have actually contributed to the map (irl it is naturally less).

b) just from a numbers pov it is obvious that nothing on has even the slightest bit of influence on mapper attraction and retention,

c) even adding up all mailing lists and forums the total number of participants is likely to be less than 1% of mappers that have actively contributed (in numbers roughly 2'500 forum users and a couple of 1'000 of mailing list subscribers), again the above applies

d) most mappers on OSM never interact with anybody else except via editing the same data set, and seem to be quite happy with this.

Summa summarum, even the notion that the mailing lists or the forum in total could have any noticeable influence on the number of new mappers or retention of them is simply absurd, and the fairy tale attributing that to osmf-talk should simply be seen as trying to gain political leverage and nothing else.

Comment from mikelmaron on 21 December 2017 at 20:25

If you feel there's things that could be improved on the mailing list or to improve new mapper retention, let's do them! I have a list of a few things I might explore in another post on my priorities for 2018.

(Yea I think I disagree with point d and your "summa summarum" ("all in all" in Latin, I had to look it up :) since I think there's a second order affect on how and what people in the core of the project do based on the their perceptions and experience of the mailing list, and I do think people talking about this are sincere just as you are but that's beside my point).

Comment from SimonPoole on 21 December 2017 at 20:40

Broken record mode: what would help is if we simply could get news out to mappers regardless of if they have signed up to a forum, mailing list, etc etc etc That could improve participation in local events and so on without having to scourge the wiki or whatever..

Comment from mikelmaron on 21 December 2017 at 20:49

Excellent point @SimonPoole, agree a "news" feature directly in could be great. Going to ruminate on all the ways we could approach that, and make it a core part of the experience of Also note, @joost schouppe had and generated a tremendous set of ideas here

(also noting that @-username doesn't notify anyone presently, there's another feature :)

Comment from SimonPoole on 21 December 2017 at 20:56

The idea was already at least half a decade old when I posted

Comment from DaCor on 22 December 2017 at 18:34

"We don’t know if these people are enjoying or recoiling from these discussions, or totally ignoring them."

recoiling/ignoring would be my guess

I gave up keeping up with the mailing lists a year ago but stayed subscribed. One day recently I went back and started reading. I got through 2 months worth before I gave up.

The high volume lists are, by and large, toxic

As a result, I've unsubscribed from every single one, bar my local one

Comment from DaCor on 22 December 2017 at 18:35

Ah, forgot one, the weekly news one, I now use that for keeping up to date with OSM and ignore everything else

Login to leave a comment