Foundation/AGM21/Election to Board/Answers and manifestos/Q11 How to increase mapper retention

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How to increase mapper retention?

The most important part of our project are the individuals that volunteer their time to contribute to the project: mapping, software development, participation in various OSM community forums and more. However, new contributors often leave the project shortly after creating an account and making a few edits. What do you feel are the biggest factors that cause new contributors to quit, and what will you do to increase new mapper retention as an OSMF board member?

Guillaume Rischard

This is a difficult question to answer, because we don’t know why these people leave. Once they’ve left, they tend not to answer surveys. I’m curious to see if my fellow candidates have any ideas.

I’ve seen friends who were very active just decide to move on to other things, as is typical in such volunteer activities. Others try a few edits, decide that they’re not that interested after all, and forget about OSM.

While some people will always leave the project, the number of contributors active on a given day has increased, which maybe makes the problem less visible.

Community involvement is one of the things that keeps OSM fun for me. I wish we could make it obvious how you can “meet the neighbours” and interact with other local mappers. I moved a few weeks ago, and have no idea who the most active editors in my neighbourhood are.

The tools that we have to interact with each other are often ancient. Again, I’m excited to see work progressing on hosting a Discourse server to eventually merge forums, OSQA and mailing lists.

I also wish that we had a better view of what is happening in the OSM world on the main website. Integrating a 'News' tab sounds easy, until you realise that it can’t break the layout for the many screen sizes and translation. A bit of design work and a couple of mock-ups would be necessary.

Finally, this board has worked hard on making OSM a welcoming, friendly place. We have adopted a diversity statement, are working on updating the etiquette guidelines, and are hoping to have better moderation on the mailing lists soon.

Michal Migurski

From last year’s Call To Action we learned that the OSM community has an opportunity to expand its reach by improving its approach to equity and diversity. Almost 50 organizations and more than 300 individuals signed the open letter, and many voiced their frustration with current community conversation channels and governance. OpenStreetMap’s bad reputation keeps the mapping community small with unbalanced participation between OSM’s historical Northern European core and its massive, global periphery.

Amanda McCann

I don't know what the biggest factors that cause new contributors to stop contributing. And I don't think anyone has done any research on this, so I think think anyone has more than hunches. Maybe OSMF should pay someone to do some real scientific statistical analysis into this? I think the OSM is “flying blind”. It's hard to see how many daily mappers we have, how many mappers have mapped X times etc.

Thankfully OSM edit contributions are all public so someone could do some anaylsis. I recall some research on Wikipedia contributions, where peopel who were thanked were more likely to continue contributing. Perhaps such randomized split testing should be done on OSMers.

I think we could learn a lot from how big tech optimizes their software & services. They measuring analytics of their users, and optimize their software to increase usage. But we should have better goals, rather than optimizing raw “engagement”.

Mikel Maron

The fact that we don't have much data on this is a good indication of the problem itself. We should be both looking at what people do on the map and site after registering, and develop more detailed retention metrics; as well should find ways to talk directly with a sample of new users to understand their experience. We then need to act on what is learned, and improve the new contributor experience.

That said, I don't think what's needed are a mystery. This recent write up of a new mappers impressions provided a lot of insights:

This is a tall order to address. There are at least two places for the OSMF to start helping. First is to explicitly provide support for improvements to the OSM website, so that it is more engaging for newcomers. Second is for the LCCWG to help more communities to develop projects to welcome new mappers.

Roland Olbricht

An important thing that you learn as a software developers is to never rely on your intution. There is no obvious answer, otherwise we would discuss how to improve the weak points instead of searching for those. It is likely that there are different answers for different groups of people.

For example, or editing software cannot be that bad because there are literally a million people using it. On the other hand, there are legit mapping tasks where inputting the data with these tools is painful. Thus the user experience depends on the mapping task to perform.

Similar thing with communications channels. I have seen few to no messages to newbies that were rude. Nonetheless, many communication channels have enough topics driven by experts that may let shy away beginners.

We should not even rule out that external factors like the availabity of spare time, equipment or interesting objects to map may govern the mapping intensity of many mappers.

Bryan Housel

We frequently see examples where a user making their first few edits receives rude feedback over a small issue and they never return. It makes me sad when this happens:

There have been several studies on user retention in OpenStreetMap, see below [1], [2], [3]. The studies all show that new users are often just evaluating whether our project is something they want to dedicate their time to, and that their initial exposure to this project needs to be positive. New users need a reason to stick with mapping, and incentives like seeing small projects completed, earning rewards or higher tiers of membership to look forward to, and receiving welcoming messages from others in the community can improve their early experience a lot.

As a board member, I would lend my support to ideas recently proposed by the Local Chapters and Communities Working Group (LCCWG).

Some of these ideas include:

  • Software to assist in welcoming new users -
  • A team of people tasked with welcoming new users and monitoring all changeset discussions (with coverage across time zones and languages). The recently announced LCCWG Moderation Subcommittee may fill some or all of this role.
  • Adoption of a code of conduct, initially at least for changeset discussions
  • Training for all volunteers on diversity, equity, and inclusion, implicit bias, and code of conduct response.
  • An OSMF board that shares and supports the work of local chapters through its public communications

These papers are great reading, and some of them influenced my work on iD and the OSM Community Index:

[1] Daniel Bégin, Rodolphe Devillers & Stéphane Roche, The life cycle of contributors in collaborative online communities - the case of OpenStreetMap (2018-16-18),
[2] Daniel Bégin, Rodolphe Devillers & Stéphane Roche, Contributors’ Withdrawal from Online Collaborative Communities: The Case of OpenStreetMap. (2017-11-04),
[3] Urrea, Gloria and Yoo, Eunae, The Role of Volunteer Experience on Performance on Online Volunteering Platforms (2021-02-06).

OSM Foundation's board election 2021: official questions

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OSM Foundation's board election 2021 - OSM Foundation's Annual General Meeting 2021: information and agenda