OpenStreetMap usability revisited

At the end of September I took a half-day off from the day job and visited UCL. They were again running an Introduction to OpenStreetMap Mapping Workshop for their new masters students. I went along last year and created some great notes on usability for OSM newbies and did the same again this year. It’s rare for me to be able to watch (and help) so many newbies at the same time.

The main difference between last year and this have been the move to Potlatch 2 as the main editor, so I was especially looking forward to seeing how this performed. Also the students were this year focussing on wheelchair accessibility mapping, which had implications mainly for the detail of our presets compared to this highly-detailed (and relatively unusual) mapping focus.

So here’s the list of notes that I made, in the order that I made them

  1. We need a deselect button. When you have a feature selected it’s not obvious that to deselect you just click somewhere else on the map
  2. The wiki page on wheelchair mapping is unclear about tagging accessibility of toilets when they are in another amenity (e.g. pub) rather standalone toilets (amenity=toilets)
  3. One person triggered EntityUI exceptions when zooming in and out. I was surprised to see the exception showing - normally these only show on debug flash plugins
  4. Still confusion on how to add features that aren’t in the grid of icons (Current solution is to double-click to create a POI, suggestion is to have an “other” poi to drag/drop)
  5. The conflict dialog, which you see when two people edit the same road, isn’t particularly helpful. It only gives the id of the feature, which doesn’t help. There’s no method to reconcile the differences (or even see what they are). Yes/No labels on the buttons are bad.
  6. The backgrounds dialog needs better labels. e.g. “Bing Aerial Imagery” since “Bing” is meaningless
  7. Need to drag/drop “new point” (as above - shows you how often it came up!)
  8. Maybe need a “More…” button on the presets to provide some way to reassure people they aren’t definitive and show them how to figure things out
  9. Click-again (that is, clicking twice slowly) should also create a POI
  10. It’s hard to read the road names, especially when they are at an angle
  11. Duplicate nodes, when shown, aren’t easily figured out what they mean
  12. One person made the advanced tag panel go haywire by having multiple new tag entries - and managed it repeatedly
  13. Wiki documentation on bookmakers still sucks. We ran into this last year - there’s a lot of bookmakers in London, and especially if you know a different term for it (gambling shop etc) the documentation is hard to find
  14. Would be great to highlight mistakes, e.g. tagging building=yes on a node. This happened a couple of times when people had a node of an area selected when they started adding tags
  15. Copying tags from nodes to ways (see above)
  16. Newbies shouldn’t be exposed to the footway vs path controversy on the wiki.
  17. Nobody ever finds the search box on the wiki, especially when they are using browser-based find on the Map Features page.
  18. People accidentally mousewheel out too far repeatedly when editing. Maybe we should prevent it at low zooms
  19. barrier = entrance vs building = entrance is unclear
  20. Nobody reads past the first paragraph of the Key pages on the wiki before just skim-reading the read. Which means sentences like “Some people use the tag ‘foo = bar’ when they should instead use ‘baz = bar’ becomes “….. ‘foo = bar’ ….” and that gets used.
  21. The public transport pages on the wiki are dreadful, and newbies shouldn’t be exposed to two alternative tagging schemes. I have my own views on the whole new pointlessly-incompatible schema in any case.
  22. You can end up with both the rails_port search panel and potlatch 2 open at the same time. If you try closing the search panel you get the “leaving the page” warning, when you aren’t actually leaving the page.
  23. The “loading….” label isn’t obvious
  24. Areas of the map that haven’t yet had the data downloaded could be highlighted (or disabled) so that you don’t think it’s just empty.
  25. We need some way of saying “Zoom in!” when you have too much data showing at the given time and flash is crawling to a halt
  26. The data loading could be improved by having a tile-based map call instead of the current wms-like map call.

Some of these things are familiar from previous user testing, some are new, and some will need a bit of discussion to tackle. This is a good opportunity to plug the upcoming Hack Weekend!

Thanks to Dr Patrick Weber for inviting me along.

This post was posted on 25 October 2011 and tagged General