About making OSM's messaging features more efficient

I think the simplest solution is what Andy suggested on the Github issue that I created a while ago Add pop-up or other obvious notification for getting a message or changeset comment · Issue #3182 · openstreetmap/openstreetmap-website · GitHub – to automatically generate an OSM message for a changeset comment, and also to make the notification that you have a message more obvious – maybe red with a little mail icon or something so it’s clear what the number means. And perhaps just the first time so you don’t get a message each time you get a changeset comment. (Or maybe allow the user to opt out of automatic changeset messages.)

The issue, in my opinion, is that people don’t know they’re getting messages, even if you tell them, or aren’t checking their emails while they are mapping, because they are focused on mapping and not switching to another program to randomly check periodically if they got messages. I’ve been to a lot of mapathons with new people and often they ignore the little gray 1 next to their username, even if you explain it and demonstrate that you might get a message. I think either they don’t notice or think it’s some kind of not urgent thing, rather than something probably specifically related to their mapping. And they almost never notice that they got a changeset comment, because the only notification comes to their email. It’s a recognition vs. recall issue if you think about it in UI terms, rather than have to explain “you may receive messages, here is where they are, click this to see them” or explain that they need to switch to their email periodically (recall) versus make it recognizable that you got a message.

And not knowing they are getting messages or changeset comments is a problem, especially when other mappers or the DWG are trying to get a person to answer a question or be aware of something like an incorrect edit or doubt or policy problem. DWG blocks people for not responding to changeset comments, which is good, but I think making people more aware that they are getting comments would save their time, and also ultimately result in better data and a more active community too. It might even help with mapper retention, if folks get (polite) messages they might be more likely to engage and continue mapping.


I’m in favor of more integration. But I also understand it’s not always easy to make these changes. But I have only received 2 messages in the entire time I have been using OSM (since July 2020). Since there are other platforms people use for communicating, people tend to use those as opposed to messages. But maybe in other regions people use messages more.

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Incidentally, even if it’s unavoidable that he/she doesn’t check the message or reply when he/she sees it, it would be nice to at least have an indication that he/she has read it.
Would this be technically difficult?

None of this is “difficult” in any reasonable sense of the word, but it is still work and in some cases painful.

For example because of privacy concerns, you can’t simply indicate if an user has read a message or not, that functionality needs to be opt in (by the receiving user) on a per message base and all of that needs an UI.


Thanks for the feedback.
Email also has a message receipt feature, but I’m not sure if it’s against the law in some countries to just indicate that you’ve received a message.
However, the OSM Direct Message feature has a “Mark as unread” feature, which I believe means that the server can see if the other person has already read the message or not, and can make changes.

Also, I don’t know what UI you’re referring to, but I’m not sure if a single checkbox indicating that the other person has read the message is that difficult to do in the UI.
I’m wondering if there is a technical issue that I’m not aware of.

Not true - there is no way for a sender to tell if somebody has read a message.

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However, the OSM Direct Message feature has a “Mark as unread” feature, which I believe means that the server can see if the other person has already read the message or not, and can make changes.

I always thought “mark as unread” was a feature for the recipient, to mark an email for later reading…


Yup, only as signal for the maillbox owner. Remarking it as unread like a regular mail client works as a reminder to revisit.


Personally I think the sender knowing a message was read is lower priority than letting people know they received a message or changeset comment. I think the latter could really help to facilitate discussion and community as well.

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On the wiki, there’s a similar “alerts” counter in the corner of every page that’s normally grayed out like on osm.org. When you receive a new alert (such as when someone mentions you on a talk page or thanks you for an edit), the counter glows red. Clicking it reveals the alert list and reverts the counter to gray until the next time you receive an alert. You have the ability to mark alerts as read or unread too, but this “seen” status is independent of that, and of course it’s between you and the site; no one else sees a read receipt.

8 alerts, some new alerts 8 alerts, no new alerts

Compared to iD’s red-glowing Save button, the wiki’s red-glowing alert counter is more noticeable because it highlights only occasionally for most users. Also, iD’s Save button fades into red only gradually as you accrue edits. Indicators that need to grab your attention never change color gradually. (For those who drive, think of the indicator lights on the dashboard.) At the same time, it’s pretty easy to click on the alert icon to essentially dismiss it, in case you don’t need to address the notification right away.

The wiki’s Echo extension implements the “seen” status via an API call, but in principle the same thing could be implemented as a simple cookie, as long as users don’t mind seeing the red glow every time they switch browsers or computers.

I find that not a great example of alerting you to a message, because it doesn’t send an email. You have to explicitly log into the wiki to see it, and I suspect that most wiki users (even those like me with accounts) don’t bother logging in because it’s cumbersome to do so and they’re only there to quickly check a page.

There are user preferences to have all the alerts sent by e-mail (as opposed to the lower-priority “notices” that populate the menu to the right).

Anyhow, I only brought it up as an example of how a red/gray seen/unseen distinction works pretty well visually. I wasn’t advocating for wiki talk pages to replace OSM direct messages and this forum – I’d be thrilled if it were the other way around!

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(apologies for continuing the offtopic diversion, but)

For whatever reason, that isn’t working for me.

Edit: Actually, a test message just now did work, but I’m sure I’ve been “surprised” by notifications in the past.

Maybe it’s just me, but there is a blocked user that’s sending me unwanted messages every once in a while and actually I find it quite hard to ignore them. But I have to admit, besides the mail and the indicator on the website I’m also using JOSM which shows a popup every single time until I’ve set the message to read.

I agree, I’ve often noticed new mappers don’t know they are getting messages or changeset comments, even if you tell them. There is a longer discussion on Github here Add pop-up or other obvious notification for getting a message or changeset comment · Issue #3182 · openstreetmap/openstreetmap-website · GitHub

Personally I think making both messages and changeset comments more easy to see/obvious that you got them would help in a number of ways – people might talk more with the rest of the community, thus improving data and growing the community; there would be faster responses to messages about data quality or tagging problems; and since DWG relies on not responding in order to block someone, it might mean they need to block fewer people, as people are more aware that they are getting messages or comments.