Saturday, 13 October 2012

Basic mapping

Talking today to our local parish council chairman, Geoff, while we both tidied our allotments, I discovered that he has been using OpenStreetMap map of the village to look up where planning applications in the village apply to. Adding all of the buildings and addresses in the village certainly helps him, which is great.

There has been some talk about changing the style of the OSM home page and the map that gets presented there. I'm not sure the home page should be filled with a map - I think it sends the wrong message. We should provide renders certainly, but maybe a few shown with thumbnails rather than the drop-down menu on the home page. That menu, and the other changes to the style, are better than the plain OpenLayers style that was there before. Thanks, I think, to Tom MacWright for those changes. The problem is that maps mean different things to different people. Some people see the house address numbers and names as clutter, whereas Geoff clearly finds them useful. Some people want to see more points of interest, others see too many shops, postboxes, businesses and so on as clutter. Too many points of interest mean there is not enough room to write all of their names so detail is not shown. Some people want to see routes, such as bus routes, or cycle routes others want to see clearly named roads, not covered by routes they don't use. Some people like boundaries to be drawn, others are confused by these lines appearing that they don't understand. Some people would like contours or hill shading, others think it gets in the way.

I'm up for a change - it seems overdue to me. It is clear that a single map can't be useful to everyone, and that many maps will still fall short for many people. There will continue to be specialist maps and specialist overlays, but it seems that a map to provide most power for OSM should be simple, with little detail beyond features like waterways, roads, railways and place outlines. This can then be used with a series of overlays that can be selected to supply the user with what is required. A simple base map would also be very useful for other people's specialist overlays too. I'd like to see thumbnail maps of various types on the OSM landing page so a detailed map is never more than a click away which can then be bookmarked for later use.

If the base map is changed, people like Geoff need to find their overlay ('Buildings with Addresses' for example) as easily as possible and it needs to be easy to bookmark so he can find it again next time.

I don't know if this is possible - the simple base map sounds possible, until you think of the email threads that will ensue about  what should or should not be included. The overlays will each need to either be created on the fly or re-rendered as the objects they show get changed, in much the same way as map tiles get rendered now when something changes. Does OSM have the resources to deliver this?

I'm really interested to see what happens, I just hope the debate can be positive, productive and open.


Anonymous said...

I like the idea of the homepage including a large thumbnail view (of the different map renders available) as an pop-up type overlay. This will give more visibility to them than the current drop down menu, which should be replaced by a button that brings this thumbnail view back into focus.

Tom Chance said...

I really like the ITO map. It's not perfect, and it's obviously offering renders that are primarily aimed at showing off data and pointing mappers to gaps rather than making useful maps for end users. But the sheer spread of maps and data is fantastic.