Communication channels analysis

From OpenStreetMap Foundation

As part of the early scoping work for the Communication Working Group, this group needs to summarise the different communications channels in and around OpenStreetMap, the difficulties and problems with each of them, and early ideas for tackling problems. The primary intention is to inform decisions around scope. This document can also be regarded as a published output of the working group however....

Status: Some ongoing work

Mailing lists

talk / dev / license etc We have lots of them. 95 different lists shown on the system.

The "talk" mailing list and to a lesser extent the "dev" mailing list, have always functioned as the "main" communication channel of OpenStreetMap. This is for both two way conversational communication and for announcements.

An often cited problem is that announcements made this way can easily get lost in the noise, and indeed the noise prevents many people attempting to keep up with the talk and dev main mailing lists (Harry sympathises with this viewpoint, and has never attempted to follow any mailing lists, with the result that he misses out on some announcements) Many of the other communication channels are attempts to tackle this problem.

A small minority of users have been known to post far too often, in breach of normal mailing list etiquette. This can be seen within user posting stats (Question: user stats link?) These users contribute significantly to the noise factor, although all conversational postings add up to a net-squared effect of ever increasing chatter as more new joiners sign up to the mailing list.

The mailing list is also blighted by argumentative postings which is perhaps inevitable. Sadly it puts out a negative impression to any newcomers. Newbies were encouraged to move to the newbies mailing list, partly to decrease noise, but partly to attempt to present a more friendly face to these people. Sadly the newbies list is not without its arguments either.

The label of "trolling" is bandied around very easily, but in some cases there are accusations of deliberate and malicious attempts to undermine the effectiveness of the mailing list. It may be in some people's nature to needlessly start arguments, but clear-cut cases of malicious mailing list abuse could be tackled with use of blocking privileges. So far this has rarely been necessary, but a blocks were used in some cases more recently. Steve's "poisonous people" post describes these problems. Sometimes there are calls for a more detailed "code of conduct" for mailing list use.

Email addresses of posters are revealed. The system also requires to register with your 'from' address, which can be more difficult to set up as a throw-away address. The email addresses gets published on the web archive with some anti-scraping obfuscation. This doesn't seem to bother many people, so presumably sp@mmers haven't figured it out yet (or don't tend to find the archives)

There is no integration with OSM user accounts, e.g. a way to post to mailing lists on the web via that.

announce list A mailing list just for announcements. Clearly for this to be effective, it should not involve any discussion, and postings should be important project announcements, for some definition of "important". This means that unimportant things should not appear there, but also important things MUST appear there. So far people seem to be using it fairly sensibly. Maybe a little too many merkaartor point release announcements, but important announcements don't always make it onto there. Question: Is public posting allowed?


There is also osmf-announce for separate foundation related announcements. Not clear if this separation is needed really.

osmf-talk Chit chat about the foundation.


Documentation and help information. Publicly editable. The WikiProject cleanup page lays out some of the broad brushstroke information on the various objectives of the wiki, and goes on to provide guidelines. There is more work to do on wiki guidelines. It can be a sensible place to start, in the hope that the community of editors can then gradually shift things to conform with the guidelines. This is a better approach than attempting any silver-bullet rapid cleanup initiatives.

There is a need to tread carefully (discuss changes first) around some areas of content to avoid getting embroiled in disputes, but there is also a massive amount of clean-up work which can be carried out without encountering much controversy. This is true throughout the whole wiki and even within the (often controversial) tagging documentation.

Harry has admin status on the wiki along with 14 other people Special:ListUsers/sysop. We can block people. So far nobody has misbehaved to that extent apart from spammers. However some people have come close, through pushing their own point of view or overriding attempts to follow a process. These difficulties are mostly around disputed tagging documentation.

There is no integration with OSM user accounts. Further investigation and documentation is now needed (should go here: ) now that OSM account info can be accessed via OAuth.

Template:News A wiki template which was added to the wiki main page, giving very short headline news items. This probably gets noticed by quite a few people, but is not maintained by many people. One problem with this is that important news items can get missed off from this (It's not quite a reliable news channel) The wiki allows more people to join in, which is good on the one hand, but we are already encountering problems with the subjective choice of what is important news. It seems like only a matter of time before this attracts some debates/wiki edit wars, but we seem to be managing OK so far.

See also [ Is everybody allowed to post news items in the OpenStreetMap wiki?]

'Community Updates' page The "Community Updates" page was an initiative to post rolling news items on the wiki, including summaries of recent mailing list discussion (which was a good idea) There were a couple of keen contributors, neither of whom can write good English. The fact that errors were not corrected quickly suggested low readership. As with Template:News, the wiki allows more people to join in, which is good on the one hand, but we may encounter problems with the subjective choice of what is important news, and the stylistic/literary choices involved in summarising. However enthusiasm dried up and no further updates happened since 2011


A conventional web forum/message-board system which has been running for some time now. Run by Lambertus. It works fine as a place for discussion, and people who dislike mailing lists tend to wish that more people would move over to using it instead. Lambertus has done some technical tweaks to add RSS functionality. Integrated pretty nicely with OSM accounts. It uses it's own avatars where it could use OpenStreetMap ones (minor technical gripe) There's a feedback forum for suggesting technical improvements.

The main use of the forum these days is by the russian community, with a fair bit of use by various other languages. Not much english.

It has functioned fairly well as a newbies/technical/tagging question & answer site, although this use case is now being usurped by

Q&A site (

Question and answer site. It uses the Stack Overflow system, which resembles sites like "Yahoo! answers", with votable answers, but also blending in aspects of forums, wikis, and point-based badge games. Launched by Tom Hughes during SOTM 2010, and it seems to be working really well. People new to this format may struggle to understand it.

Integrated pretty nicely with OSM accounts, although it uses avatars from rather than OpenStreetMap ones (minor technical gripe)

IRC - Chat rooms. There's quite a lot of possible chat rooms listed. You can actually spawn a new chat room just by entering a different name, so there's nothing to stop new ones being added to the list, but #osm, #osm-dev, #osm-de are the ones with some traffic. They function reasonably well as a place for newbies to ask questions, but whether newbies feel invited to do so is another question. The IRC channel seems to alternate between too much conversation traffic, and nothing at all. Some similar problems with other channels with individual users talking too much.

Several years ago there were some coordinated meetings held on the IRC channel, as a sort of live Q&A session to help newbies. Not sure how well they worked but they seemed to stop happening.,_Tips_and_Tricks

opengeodata blog - Works well as a regularly updated news blog (around one or two posts per week) General announcements aimed as OSMers and positive PR pieces. Some opinion pieces, but mostly quite official looking. Occasional rants from Steve might be regarded as an exception to this, and might on occasions be in conflict with "the opinions of the foundation". This creates confusion, and awkward questions around who is in charge of this, and whether it's an official news channel. Also this domain name is still owned by Steve Coast.

foundation blog - For foundation related news. Reviving this and keeping it up-to-date has been a focus of CWG activities & user diaries Is a feed aggregation pulling in various blogs, and also user diaries.

foundation wiki Used as a CMS for the foundation website, alongside some bits which are in wordpress. Harry developed a mediawiki skin to make it match the wordpress theme on the site. The wordpress powered pages have the advantage of being translatable via the translations wordpress plugin.

We don't want to confusingly duplicate content of the main wiki, but we also don't want to aim to grow content in the same way. We don't really want a wiki-style sprawling knowledgebase on the foundation site. It's more of a CMS situation, than a knowledgebase situation.

The wiki is not openly editable. Editing access is granted to people on the foundation and working groups. The limited access can mean that updates are not as forthcoming as they could be, but it does mean we stand more of a chance of keeping the content tidy & focussed. We can also have a positive spin on everything. Content doesn't need to drift towards a neutral point of view so much.