Dear OSM project,
I often wonder if anybody has had the idea that OSM could be way more popular if we used a better default renderer on the openstreetmap.org web site?
In my mind the Mapnik rendering as it is used by default falls significantly short of the quality and detail OSM maps can easily produce today, and hence to the novice user the web page output mostly looks inferior to other (mostly commercial) online (and also printed) maps, particularly at small zoom levels (for overview maps).
The main deficiency of the openstreetmap.org view is not-displayed or badly-visble map detail at certain zoom levels, so that in some areas openstreetmap.org delivers “rather empty tiles” with many smaller roads, hiking paths etc. missing or badly visible. This makes using these maps as a hiking/biking/travel overview very tedious. Worse, drive-by and novice users of openstreetmap.org may get the impression that OSM has “crappy maps”, although we have much more detail-richness in our data than most other maps, but do not show it clearly … !
I am a co-developer of OsmAnd, a map viewing and navigation app for android devices (http://osmand.,net), based on OSM maop data, and mostly designed the renderers we use there. If interested, you may want to have a look at the screenshot section on http://osmand.net/en/screenshots-menu.html.
In detail, my Mapnik criticism in mostly about 2 points:
(1) The amount of detail shown on any given zoom level is in some cases too little, omitting minor roads (or painting them very thinly).
To improve this, I suggest a new concept enriching the map view on openstreetmap.org to the current state-of-the art:
About 2 years ago I designed a concept of what detail should be shown at what zoom level, distinguishing from overview maps down to street-corner-detail neighborhood maps. The details are published here: http://code.google.com/p/osmand/wiki/VectorMapLegend .The article pretty much says it all.
(2) I also think that some of the coloring of roads in Mapnik is sub-optimum, like the green used for trunk roads, or the very thin grey line for unclassified roads. Both do not stand out well in forest/meadow etc. areas, which is a major nuisance e.g. in the US National forests (where particularly smaller roads are essential for travel).
For illustration, let me post the following 2 pairs of screenshots, taken for the same geo-position each, at zoom 12, one each from openstreetmap.org on a PC screen, and in OsmAnd on a 480x800 resolution mobile device. Please note the difference in usability (e.g. for travelling or hike planning). This effect is independent of whether we enhance the map with hillshade and countour line data (which OsmAnd supports, see first case) or not (second case).
If there is anybody catching on to the idea of improving the appearance on openstreetmap.org accordingly, I am would be very happy to assist.