Proposed features/Multiline Notes and Descriptions

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Multiline Notes and Descriptions
Status: Draft (under way)
Proposed by: grungelborz
Tagging: description,note=long string with linebreaks
Applies to: all
Definition: Support of texts of moderate length for note and description keys.
Rendered as: as before
Drafted on: 2009-04-05
RFC start: -
Vote start: -
Vote end: -


The proposal suggests that all tags that are notes and descriptions should support texts of moderate length, e.g. up to 1000 characters or 5 sentences. It should be allowed that these texts contain line breaks. Editors should provide convenient support.


Describing a feature using natural language is preferable over a tag based system in certain situations:

  1. It's easier to be verbose.
  2. Features that do not have tags can be described with no addional work. (Designing new tags etc...)
  3. It's quicker as it does not require browsing the features page.
  4. A natural sentence is more trustworthy as there's no risk that the user just misunderstood the meaning of some tags.

In OSM there exists the 'description' and 'notes' tag for this purpose. However the OSM editors JOSM and Potlatch use the same single-line editor for them. This makes using this field very inconvenient. A consequence is that the description tags is used very rarely. E.g. in Germany the description tag is used twice per city (around 5000 usages). This is less than there are geolocated Wikipedia articles.

It is very likely that a lot of users do not enter all relevant information they would like to because of this and thus OSM is not as verbose as it could be.


All tags that start with 'description' or 'note' are treated special. I.e. the following tags will be affected:

  • description
  • description:en
  • description:mtb:en
  • note
  • note:en

Tags like description_en will not be affected.

For these tags there will be a separate editor that provides a multi-line edit control. A separate command to invoke the editor might be added so that new users easily find it. More details are omitted as they are specific to the individual editors.


Hiking tour descriptions in the internet usually contain verbose descriptions of ways with difficulties or special properties. These descriptions are usually very helpful in planning a tour and deciding which way to take. Look e.g. at (in German).