Two Important Tagging Proposals Passed, but Nobody Knows.

Browsing the German OSM forum today I noticed that the OSMAnd android routing app developers were asking the community for an opinion on which “lane” tagging proposal to implement. My first reaction was: well didn’t such a proposal pass just a while ago and why on earth don’t they know about it? But on reflecting a bit, I had to admit, that I probably really only happen to know that we have a fully functional lane tagging scheme by accident.

Our tagging proposal and voting procedure has often been belittled and is the target of many jokes. Myself being one of the larger offenders in that respect. It can be argued that for the typical “I need a value for tag X that doesn’t exist” situation it just leads to massive bike shedding instead of quick resolution. I have at times simply started documenting and using a tag completely ignoring the proposal process (see mofa).

However we have had two long ongoing disputes in areas that impact usability mainly for routing applications where a unilateral decision without community and developer buy in hasn’t worked: lane tagging and conditional restrictions.

While the effort to support the three or four different ways of tagging a cycleway in a style sheet  is small, expecting all routing applications to implement the 3 or 4 different lane tagging proposal was and is just unrealistic.The usual tiebreaker that the more sucessful in day to day use proposal wins (the voting with the feet principle) doesn’t seem to work in such situations. As we all know adoption and widespread usage of a tag in OSM is mainly driven by either being able to see it directly on a map or by it having direct effect on applications. Particularly with lane tagging this has led to a classical “hen and egg” situation were lanes have not been tagged because the tagging was not being utilized at all.

We now have resolution, as far as we can ever have resolution in OSM, in two significant areas of tagging. The missing piece of the puzzle seems to be simply to make our contributors aware of the change. A long time mapper that doesn’t follow the tagging list and has never mapped lanes is not going to magically look up the lane tagging guidelines the next time he adds a street, he will just carry on with his established way of mapping.

OSM lacks a method for actively getting this kind of news out to contributors. The closest we get right now is tweeting, but that only reaches a small percentage of the community and in the past hasn’t been used for such mundane news. I’ve done some thinking about extending the OSM API to include access to the users “inbox” and some kind of system wide message system  that could be used by editors to display such messages on start up. However until such a system is implemented and adopted by third party developers we will need to use Twitter and our blogs to get the message out.