Posts Tagged ‘mailinglist’


What is this “Usability”, anyway?

Once again, OpenStreetMap usability is all the rage. Or rather, its lack thereof. Development Seed, a US-based software development and consulting firm, have applied for a $500k grant to help them, among other things, make OpenStreetMap editing easier. This, and also some minor web design contributions from Development Seed employees that we’ve had in the run-up to their application, has prompted discussion – on twitter, on the blogs, and elsewhere – about how bad the “OSM UX” (for user experience) really is and what needs to be improved.

Of course, this is not new.

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The Freedom to Tag

In OSM, we neither have nor want strict rules. We have got where we are now precisely because we did not waste time trying to come up with rules, especially for tagging. There’s anecdotal evidence of competing crowdsourced “geo” projects that spent precious years haggling about the correct ontology to use, while OSM boldly started out with about three types of features (the “class” tag of yore could be one of “highway”, “railway”, or “waterway”).

Not a week goes by without some discussion on a forum or mailing list ending in a lament about the lack of strict tagging rules. Data users hope to be able to find out that the feature they’re looking for will, if it exists, be tagged exactly so and so. Junior mappers want to know how exactly to tag certain objects. Experienced mappers despair at others changing their hard work according to some wiki “vote” that attracted 15 participants out of tens of thousands.

This the first of four big issues that I believe we’ll have to tackle somehow.

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The Ostrich Principle

Let me get one thing out of the way: Ostriches don’t really do this. They do not bury their heads in the sand, hoping that whatever it is that causes them unease will just go away.

Clever animals.

But in this post, I will show how in some respects the OSM project as a whole tends to do exactly that.

These thoughts were first posted on the mailing list (titled “looking forward”) on Christmas day 2011. The post was prompted largely by the publication of a list of “top ten tasks”, technical things that our admin team would like to see implemented sooner rather than later. Most of it makes perfect sense to me. But looking at that list, one thinks: If those are the biggest problems facing OSM then the project must be working quite well!

The truth is, nobody claimed that these are the biggest problems. They are just the lowest hanging fruit, those with a straightforward technical solution.

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