All I Want for OpenStreetMap is … Social and Attention

Kate posted her wishlist for OpenStreetMap and I second everything she wrote … OSM can be fine tuned to be even easier. In my wishlist post, I want to cover improving connections between mappers, and focusing mappers attention.

In short, OSM should be more like Facebook. Seriously. A news feed should show you the most relevant activity and news for you personally, and the profile page should show what you’re about in OSM in a more approachable way.

State of the Map Group Photo

The sociality of OSM is its biggest strength. The intricacies of maps, tags, places are discussed in minute detail, and are ultimately the result of conversation, not top down dictate. The result are maps that are more expressive for more situations than any other platform. And we even meet in person! At the pub, the hack weekend, the LogCluster meeting. Anyone who’s ever been to a State of the Map conference can attest, it’s a vibrant, fun, exciting movement.

OSM has hundreds of thousands of users, and hundreds of millions of map features. Yet the tools to connect to mappers and monitor an area are still the same as 5 years ago. Changing this is my wishlist … and yes, I know that most all of OSM features are coded voluntarily, and its something I could do myself rather than list out … I appreciate all the time and energy that goes into OSM coding, this is my *wish* list.

Finding the Local Community

If I’m travelling some place new for an event, I want to connect to the local OSM community, and the process is complicated and not obvious. First, browse to the area in OSM and click the “History” tab, which should show recent edits in the area. Problem is, this often includes large, global edits which overlap this local area and aren’t relevant. And if you page through in a somewhat mind-numbing fashion, the OSM rails app starts to have performance problems past page 5. OWL is potentially a solution to this, but it has already been a priority development item for years.

And what the history tab won’t do in either form is tell you who the most active, prominent mappers in the community are. For that, I usually jump over to ITO’s excellent OSM Mapper, which present and visualizes summary statistics for an arbitrary area. Excellent, but you have to know it’s there, and it takes a separate authentication, and is a little counter intuitive to use. But from there, I have a list of 5-10 top mappers, with links to the OSM profile pages, from which I can send them a message. And wait, and hope they respond.

Next, I’ll jump into the wiki, and look through the relevant Wiki Projects. Sometimes this will have listing of Users in an area, or links to their website, or mailing lists. The User profile pages sometimes have a way to contact that user, but just as often not. If there’s a mailing list, then it’s about subscribing to yet another mailing list, perhaps one in a foreign language, and posting. If there’s a project website, that’s usually golden and a sign of an active local community that will be responsive.

Focusing Attention

And that’s just for a one time connection. Most mappers have been involved in mapping many areas. How do you keep informed? You basically need to have a ton of RSS feeds, poke around the monitoring tools, read a lot of lists.

A lot of activity, most of the time, you only need to be dimly aware of. If a user with a good reputation is editing in a familiar area, there’s little need to check into it further. If a new user has just signed up and is editing, it would be good to take a close look at their edits, and reach out and welcome them to OSM and offer to support their work. Reputation needs to be calculated, and used to filter.

And not just edits. There’s so much going on in the community. The Weekly OSM Summary is super useful, but is only the cream of the global activity. There are OSM events all the time, but it seems mostly German mappers are adding their events to the wiki. Expand User Diaries so these posts are accessible in all sorts of ways, for all kinds of notifications.

Being Social Should Be Simpler

Maybe the general concept is around “Interest”. There are places you might be interested in. There are particular mappers and communities you might be interested in … either because they’re active in an area, or perhaps because they make suspicious edits. Directly in the OSM website, you should be able to manually indicate this interest (by friending a user, set a list of locations); or it can be automatically calculated through analysis and stats of where you’ve been active before.

I started on this idea by adding friend and home location filtering to Diary Entries and Changesets. An ok start, but not everyone uses Diary entries to communicate, and the changesets still include everything … it’s both too much information and not enough. A lot is happening in OSM at any time, and you have limited attention.

There’s definitely a need for some system to do processing and analysis, from the planet diffs. Make these stats visually intriguing, and directly a part of a user or groups activity streams. There’s great experiments visualizing group stats with rankings on altogetherlost, and overall stats. And the personal statistics on neis-one, and heat map are excellent. Bring this directly into

Social Design

Currently the user profile page on OSM has two functions … one to view other people, and another as a dashboard for yourself. I think these should start to diverge into two different pages. The User Profile should be grown to give a better idea of what a mapper is up to. The Dashboard would be a focus point for a mapper to stay on top of everything they care about in OSM. So in one page, give a summary of what friends and nearby users are up to, but also what’s happening in places you care about. For many users, myself included, there are many areas you’ve mapped, and would like to keep track of. Right now, you explicitly express interest by declaring your home location. This could be expanded to multiple, manually specified locations (my top 10 areas); or by analysis, a list of your top areas for editing could be automatically compiled.

It’s not only a design challenge, but it’s going to be an architected challenge as well. More social takes a lot more servers.

And don’t require mappers to visit to get this. Yes, send emails out with weekly summaries of activity.

Some summary ideas for an activity stream:

* Recent mapping activity in multiple areas you’re interested in. Should be higher level than individual changesets (SteveCoast has made 12 edits over the last week in Seattle), but allow you to dig in further if you want.
* Some visual distinction between trusted vs non-trusted
* Also deal better with “big” edits, bots, etc. Filter these, or make them visually distinct.
* New mappers in these areas, and their activity. Highlight these, it’s a good opportunity to reach out.
* Highly trusted or experienced mappers in these areas, and their activity. Again, sometimes highlight, sometimes filter, depending on the need.
* Non-mapping activity in the area … upcoming mapping parties, other local news.


  1. Andrew Turner said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

    This was the focus of experimentation at the OSM Hack weekend here in DC.

    Here is what it looks like so far on my code branch:

    There is definitely a lot more to do, so welcome to the discussion on how to build the user experience for more interaction.

  2. mikel said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

    Andrew Turner mentioned some great work on the User profile front, from the last DC hack weekend. It’s in github, with pull request to osm core, but waiting for implementation and fixes based on TomH’s feedback.

  3. Andrew Turner said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

  4. Minh Nguyễn said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

    At the top of my wishlist would be the ability to view changesets as heat maps. Bounding boxes are incredibly inconvenient in regions where the population is strung out along diagonally.

  5. edbice said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

    mikel, this is a great vision. while i know the goal of OSM is data – lines, points, polygons, and names – this sort of geo-driven messaging within a network might extend nicely to other projects that care about the place part of reputation and place driven queries. 🙂

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