Misconceptions about OpenStreetMap

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OSM is a large, diverse, and complex project using many human and computer languages, and loosely organised contributors. Given this, it should not be surprising that there are varying understandings of various aspects of the project. This page seeks to list and clear up some of the more common variances.

reasons for misunderstanding

  • insufficient information
  • people who don't check statements for facts (statements without proofs/links)
  • people who spread misinformation or claim their misunderstanding as true knowledge
  • outdated teaching materials -- the wiki is translated into 20 languages, but many of the translations are still out-of-date or (even worse) contain misconceptions

maintenance of this list

information at this page shouldn't be removed unless we are absolutely sure that

  • inside OSM community, everyone is sufficiently informed
  • people in charge of PR or promotion in related ventures are aware


myth: OpenStreetMap is a map

truth: OpenStreetMap is free geographic data [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] which can be used to make many different maps. Project name (and also trademark[6]) OpenStreetMap may be confusing.

Please use terms "free geographic data", "underlying data", "free map data" instead of "map" whatever possible (this one is subject to personal opinion based on how you feel about w:en:metonymy).

myth: OSM maps streets

truth: OSM maps anything geographically locatable permanently or semi-permanently on the surface of the Earth as long as it can be independently verified, including but not limited to streets. Tags exist for a wide variety of things. See how to map an arbitrary thing and also any tags you like.

myth: OSM is the same as osm.org

truth: OpenStreetMap.org (the "web front end") is just one site that gives access to and views into the database (and related ones, like account diaries and such).

myth: OSM is owned by the OSM Foundation

truth: the Foundation's mission clarifies that it is a caretaker of the map, some of the infrastructure it depends on, and the wider community, but that the data and software itself is owned by the public (in the manner provided for by the Open Database License) -- it is a commons.

myth: main style at openstreetmap.org is called "Mapnik"

Main article: Standard tile layer

truth: the mapcss style is called "openstreetmap-carto". (formerly left unclarified in JOSM labels and on this wiki) Mapnik (or Slippy map) is a technology behind it. Please refer to "Standard tile layer" as "Standard layer at openstreetmap.org" or similar.