Foundation/AGM21/Election to Board/Answers and manifestos/Q12 Role of OSMF in large-scale data tagging disputes

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Role of OSMF in large-scale data tagging disputes

There is currently an active dispute over the tagging of river areas (WikiProject_Waterways/River_modernization vs. WikiProject_Cartography/Waterways) that has been highly active for a couple years, with proponents arguing for and against the merits of two tagging schemes. What do you consider to be the OSMF's role in large-scale disputes like these, if any?

Guillaume Rischard

The OSMF fundamentally does not tell people how or where to map. That doesn’t mean that it can’t mediate and assist.

DWG deals with tagging disputes every day. EWG will be able to support the creation of software that makes some of these disputes moot. The Software dispute resolution panel, which the board created in 2020, acts as a fuse against the maintainers of iD unilaterally imposing tagging decision that appear controversial or lack support by the community, as happened repeatedly in the past.

Michal Migurski

Conflict is a consistent theme in the OpenStreetMap project and community. Disagreements over tagging are one of the places where that conflict appears most frequently. I don’t think it’s important for the foundation to have a viewpoint on particular tagging disputes, but it should promote active resolution to prevent conflict spillover into neighboring areas. For example, we have found it difficult to attract and retain long-term maintainers for the iD editor. Former maintainers commonly cite the intensity of tagging disputes and the board’s inaction in response to them as a cause. These disputes directly hurt the community’s number top board priority, infrastructure stability and the core mapping process. The role of the OSMF should be to contain tagging disputes to ensure that they do not harm other areas of the project.

Amanda McCann

What's OSMF's role? Nothing. :) The OSM Foundation “supports, but does not control” the OpenStreetMap project. I like Allan's formulation of “We don't tell people how to map”. So the OSMF is not allowed to get involved in disputes on tagging & mapping like this.

I have taken part in this mapping project, and I support the river moderization approach. It's not a mechanical edit, merely a targetting mapping campaign by people who want to map rivers & waterbodies well in OSM. I've made some simple scripts to help. We need more of this kind of project in OSM. But that's the duty of OSMers to self-organise. A motion from the OSMF isn't going to change much.

Mikel Maron

The OSMF instituted a software dispute resolution panel last year, specifically to address issues arising in the iD editor. So far it has not been called to assess anything in particular. I think it's worth considering a similar kind of body for tagging disputes, as a judge of last resort. It might also make sense for a new kind of decision making structure and tooling outside the wiki that better encapsulates the practices of tagging proposals and debate.

In any case, I don't see a role for the OSMF in this kind of thing at present. It's not a priority for the OSMF to address it as the starting point.

Roland Olbricht

The OSMF's role is to support but not control the community. Taking sides does look from the disfavoured side clearly as a control attempt, thus the OSMF and the board in particular shall refrain from that.

Bryan Housel

For answering this question, I’m referring to the project pages here:

This is a good question, but I think framing it as a “large-scale dispute” is not entirely fair. One group wants to see the water tagged according to the (newer) 2011 proposal, and has reasons for wanting all the ‘water’ tags to work consistently. They follow a process, document their work, and engage with the local community before modifying the tags, and avoid editing in places where the local community doesn’t want their help. The other group might just be one person in Lithuania who hates the new tags and has been rude to anyone who tries to use them.

When issues like this escalate up to the board or our working groups, we need people involved who are able to read the situation and know the difference between a real issue that limits our project’s ability to make maps versus someone disgruntled making noise.

I think the OSMF board should avoid taking positions on tagging disputes like this. The scope of the board even includes language like “does not decide what to map or how to map”, and “has no role in setting tags.”

However, the board is responsible for ensuring that the conditions exist where decisions on tagging can actually be made. I think it’s time to be honest with ourselves that the process by which we choose, document, upgrade or replace tags is not working. When the community was small and everyone who worked on the software could sit around a table at a pub and decide how to tag water, things were much simpler.

In the weeks since announcing my candidacy, I’ve had several private conversations with people from the community, and one of the most surprising issues that keeps coming up is a wish to overhaul the process by which we define the tags. I’d like to explore the idea of setting up a dedicated Tagging Working Group made up of mappers and developers who are able to think critically and impartially about tagging issues, and are empowered to make decisions.

Again, this is less about deciding what tags are the right ones, and more about creating the conditions where consensus can be reached. If people are today arguing over a 10 year old ‘water’ tag versus a 15 year old ‘water’ tag, we clearly lack those conditions - and the problem isn’t the ‘water’ tag.

It is worth mentioning that the board did last year establish a Software Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP), and staffed it with people who I respect a lot! I feel that the SDRP might be a good first step towards addressing the issues with tagging. But from what I can tell this group has never met, nor produced any output. Moreover, the OSM tagging system is more than just a “software dispute” but involves issues of community management and inclusion.

I’d also like to call out the good work of the Data Working Group (DWG), currently bearing the brunt of many of these tagging issues. The DWG’s job is primarily to remove data which doesn’t belong on the map, not to decide who’s ‘water’ tag is the best one. Frederik is doing a good job on threads like these and others, even though it isn’t really what the DWG is for and likely distracts them from their main work:

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