A unique OpenStreetMap project

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Every Quarter (3 months) the OpenStreetMap UK embarks on a community project to improve the map and,  whilst working together, to build our community. The final quarter of 2019 saw us trying to fix some of the FIXME and  fixme tags in our data. Pretty obvious  OK?  Something needs fixing so let’s go fix it.

For the first time in the history of our Quarterly Projects on first sight it looked like we actually managed to make the map worse. The number of fixmes after 3 months of effort was higher. So what went on?

First the data: FIXME is an older tag generally no longer in use, having been replaced by fixme. FIXMEs did decrease in number from 10186 to 9718; a total of  468 less(4.6%).But fixmes increased by 1,007 from 62,287 to 63,294 ( 1% increase)

Both variations have a huge variety of values: 2,724 for FIXME and 17,104 for fixme. There are large number associated with highways , mostly footpaths, that need to be continued to completion; with missing.incomplete addresses; and  noting approximations that require either better aerial imagery or a resurvey. But mostly they’re free text ranging from the verbose to the terse; often quirky and sometimes humorous. There are a few fiery ones that indicate an anger management requirement.

Some of the more noteworthy examples:

“used this takeaway but can’t remember what it’s called” – obviously the fare was such it evacuated not only the bowels but the memory bank as well!

“despite name not much of a park”- you can feel the sense of disappointment from here

“bunkum” – wins first prize for terseness

“steps WERE here but now probably impassable”

“this  section of riverbank is unstable making the path dangerous” – glad you survived!

“can’t remember which bits road and which footpath”

“this really is the edge of a defensive ditch but it is a brick wall more curvy than this”

“if this street has a name we want to know about it” – probably been reading too many cheap detective thrillers.

“I hope to come back sometime and improve the tagging. Feel free to do so in the meantime”

Anyone feel like a challenge? Try this one: “Houseowner was insistent there was no right of way along this route  past their house. OS map suggests otherwise. Possible case of obstruction given the owners attitude and NOT PATH sign.”

There are so many stories behind FIXMEs and fixmes . There are tales of frustration whilst out surveying: lost notes, faulty memory, unfocussed photos, not enough time to explore further. And all the good intentions to return and actually apply the fix but being thwarted by lack of time or inclination.

And  there they languish, plaintively beckoning to data travellers to pay them some attention. And there they will accumulate;  testimony to human frailty, flavouring the data with tales of mapping adventures  long forgotten, often by the authors themselves. The quarterly project has demonstrated it’s just too difficult to make much of a dent in  cleaning them up.

So finally, rather than see them as something to be eradicated ( although there are many that deserve such a fate), I’ve come to the conclusion that it is precisely this kind of social geology laid down by human curation that sets OpenStreetMap data apart . Long may it continue!

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