Why I’m out after all these years.

Normally I map on a myopic level and ignore the big picture. Well, I looked at the big picture today, and what a mess. A spider web of roads mislabeled as tracks. Or tracks correctly tagged as tracks. I can’t tell the difference. Sorry, but the Thailand map is just plain ugly now. And wrong. And useless.

The OSM Thailand community seems to have handed the Thai map to FB without a whimper. Only Russ seems to be making an effort. Good on ya’, Russ.

When I map, I fix crooked roads and rivers and sometimes huge mistakes/omissions I find in major roads. I add whatever other features the area needs. I name villages and wats and schools. FB does none of this. Their drones draw roads and nothing else.

And they don’t draw them well. It takes only moments to draw a nice road, they don’t bother. I’m sure they are paid by the node, or highway. VDL018 claims to have drawn 33,800 highways in the last two months. I say bullshit. 600 per day?? I carefully drew 5000 in the same time.

I asked DrishT about the ‘track’ tag, and she said it was the OSM community’s decision, and sent a ref https://forum.openstreetmap.org/viewtopic.php?id=57942&p=2

I read the thread, and find nothing in it to support drawing agricultural roads where normal public traffic roads exist. She herself wrote:

  1. Tracks - Earlier we were told by some community members not to use this tag, however some have found it useful. After studying local edits, we decided to keep a minimum amount of Tracks for roads that are mostly agricultural or forestry.

Also bullshit. They do not do this.

Just look at the map, and compare it to any other country. I checked those I know well from bicycle trips (US, Netherlands, Germany, France, New Zealand, W. Australia). No one else does this. This would be blocked anywhere else. Other countries use the tag ‘track’ properly. Thailand is being stigmatized for not being able to afford to pave rural roads. Well, the US is a rich country, and most of their rural roads are unpaved. None of them is tagged as a track on OSM.

I asked FB to reserve the province Amnat Charoen for me, which they did, thanks. It’s not finished, even after about 2 months of constant work. But it looks a hell of a lot better than anywhere else and is correct and useful.

For the previous two months, I worked on Yasothon. I left it incomplete when I saw that Amnat was a blank slate. Now I look back at Yasothon and barely recognize it. Another fine mess. A rat’s nest. And wrong. And useless. And ugly.

Other reasons are that it would be nice to have 5 extra hours per day. Maybe my right hand would feel normal. Or I could finish the bathroom I tore apart 2 years ago.

I have the Thailand schools database updated with the provinces I’ve done so far and have lots of suggestions about how to use it. It’s interesting and not hard to do. Please let me know if you want a copy.

Best Wishes, Tom

Tom, what do you mean when you say “I’m out”? Surely, you’re not going to quit mapping for OSM, are you?

I haven’t been working much in Thailand lately preferring to work on Alaska, which is vast and has few volunteers to do the work of adding geographical features. Maybe I could interest you in changing your focus to somewhere other than Thailand if things are so bad you’re thinking about quitting.

I hope you’ll reconsider. You are a valuable member of the Thailand team from whom I’ve sought, and obtained, good advice over the years.

Warm regards,


Tom, don’t quit. Stay with us. You are an important mapper in the Thai community.
There are terribly many issues with the map. Still, I’ll use OpenStreetMap during my next holidays in Thailand. I’ll show the edits by the Facebook team in a different style (their ways have an ‘import=yes’ tag, so I can do that). Also other regions (e.g. Taiwan) have big issues, even without FB’s imports.
Keep working together with us, and let us try to improve things.

Hi Tom,

quite sad you didn’t come up with this a bit earlier as I met the Facebook team in person three weeks ago.

Can you please be so kind to point to a hand full of the worst examples of of roads falsely tagged as track?
I remember I had some arguing with community members as well regarding how to tag unpaved roads. I follow the statement that the highway tag fist should describe the classification, based on either official classification (having a number) or following the function (unclassified/residential/service/track). The road condition like paved/unpaved is another tag.

It might be that Facebook followed some existing bad example in the area in question. I frequently come across roads touched by Facebook where I disagree with the tagging, but a look in the history shows some pre-existing bad tagging.

So still: You brought up a valid issue. And with Facebook now having switched over to OSM for their world-wide map usage, I am quite confident they have an interest in having a usable map as well. So there is hope that we can get support for having the map fixed.

Task is now to clearly point out what is broken and how it should be fixed.


Hi All,

Stephan asked for an example, but I don’t know how to post pics.
Here’s a URL https://photos.google.com/u/0/share/AF1QipM6v3ygNtV_Ik9a1g0AqHOIA3i11U-2xBJqq6GG2JrjglxC7m0wCyOiyp72YTNVhw/photo/AF1QipNBzAs0HcUsUWglJy-gJSoix1K4-PMX_IFA8rQb?key=bTlGd1cwaFRpdlF6cjRVYlZOaFlUaHNvT0JUQ0RB

Hi Tom,

can you please also mention the OSM ID of that way? Looks like at least highway=unclassified based on that small sample.

I pointed Drishtie from the Facebook team to this thread, so hoping to get direct feedback.


Stephan, you are master of rendering maps for the web, as in http://thaimap.osm-tools.org/
Could you try to show the Facebook edits (i.e. all ways with an “import=yes” tag) in a different style, so as to make it clear how much their impact is?
The issue with bad mapping before the FB team started does exist, and may have contributed to their quality issues. Differentiating between tracks and common roads based on aerial images can be difficult.

Good idea, Bernard.


Thanks for the plug … I too have pretty much given up on OSM. For years we all worked hard to produce a useful map of Thailand… my main reason was to use it as a valid and worthwhile tool for the GPS where the Garmin/ESRI map was not only expensive, but out of date. It also did not show tracks we used regularly.

When mapping, I used a combination of skill, judgement, local knowledge, and a desire to improve the map with a bias to making it useful for navigation. I replotted junctions where confusing, I highlighted major roads through villages to differentiate from residential, I corrected the precision where the Garmin would flash “off route, recalculate”, I straightened major highways by reducing nodes … in short, did what was necessary to improve the map…

Then came the FB team, with all the rah rah … Yes, they appeared to ask us for help but often ignored things. And when I took them to task on specific edits, never got an specific answer. It became clear they really were more interested in checking out their abilities to add roads in an automated fashion … of course, they stated all roads would be checked by a human, but in reality, this was one of the team sat at a desk in the USA… nobody from here. They pretended to ask for help… but its a bit like asking someone how to drive a car. Sure, they can tell you, but it takes a lot of experience to get it right, and as Tom stated, their aims seemed more about volume than correctness.

And then came the continual mistakes, the poor tagging, the “roads” through fields, the private drives tagged as residential … I rode these, and what a mess it got me into. Yes, Tom, the map we created with human thought, had now been rendered useless by one big automated dump.

And then I got the impression that while we had thousands of wrong tags courtesy of FB, my edits became scrutinised over some pretty minor issues. Hardly encouraging from people who should know better.

So Tom, you get my support, and like you, I’m basically out too. The DWG have an unenviable task of deciding what to do with the FB import, but unless we can direct them, nothing will change. I say we remove the tag from EVERY road they added … leave the nodes … and as Thai users, we can then put it right. But I know I’m the only one that feels that way … so I’m afraid, its goodbye OSM from me too. Take a look at http://hdyc.neis-one.org/?Russ%20McD and you can see how differently my 2018 is.


C’mon Russ! Since you create a map for your Garmin device, you could apply that trick, too: Create a different line style for “Facebook Roads”; you could also use an identifier such that it won’t be used for routing, or normally excluded (e.g. by making it a routable road with “toll=yes” and then switch on/off toll roads). And you have a useful map again. I am sure it’s less work to correct the wrong tags than tracing all again (of course, remove the “import=yes” tag afterwards, so that it will become a “normal” road also on your map).
Try it, and see the value of your contributions not-affected by FB.

That screenshot doesn’t look bad at all to me! Yeah, it’s off, but not enormously so. It takes all kinds of mappers to create a map, and I’m very thankful to similar human mapping machines in my areas who drew the lines roughly first so that I could later refine them, tag them more accurately and align them to the imagery. It takes a community to build a map.

Are you sure the imagery is even right here? They could be rightly correcting for imagery offset.

In JOSM, the “improve way accuracy” mode (Shortcut W) is fantastic for this kind of thing.

Again, trying to be fair to the FB contributors, part of the problem is that even among ourselves there is confusion and disagreement about what exactly defines a “track”. We’ve had several long discussions in this forum that really haven’t cleared things up. I took a quick look at several areas in both provinces mentioned by Tom just to assess the problem from my standpoint. What I see are many ways classified as tracks that I would tag differently. I would probably be using either unclassified or service for most of them. I also saw instances that their AI couldn’t resolve; road hidden by trees, a road near another way that obscures it e.g., a canal, and of course surfaces. Also, many ways sometimes end unexpectedly when it’s quite apparent that they continue.

Even with these errors and oversights, their contributions nevertheless result in our being able to see a highway of some sort. It’s a lot easier to promote a track to a service road than to draw the entire way ourselves. I have done this for countless ways that members of our group had originally tagged as tracks. Consequently, overall, I’d still rather have FB’s help than not have it.

One suggestion that appeared earlier in this thread that I’ll put into practice during my own armchair mapping sessions is to tag most of the ways for which the surface is hard to determine as “unpaved”. I used to leave surface untagged in those cases but now I think it’s better to err on the side of caution while mapping rural areas. Someone can always upgrade the way and/or retag its surface after doing a ground survey.

Rather than get into a pissing match with the FB team, IMO we can better spend our energy trying to clarify the use of the track tag and when to choose it over other tags. To me, it’s obvious that FB isn’t going away any time soon so we might as well get used to working with them or, on occasion, around them if it comes to that. I hate the thought of losing two mega OSM contributors during this scuffle but if you, Tom and Russ, can’t be persuaded to continue working, what else can be done?


Hi Stereo,

My point re the screen shot is not the alignment, but the tag ‘track’. In my reading of the wiki, this is clearly a minor road. It links two villages, it’s 9.6 meters wide, seems to have a good surface, and has traffic. It is not a farm or forest access road.

Hi Dave,

My problem with FB is the industrial level they are adding roads and tracks of dubious quality. On the stats page, the top FB employees list roughly 120,000 created highways in the last two months. In the past, before good imagery, an amateur contributor would be just fine drawing less than perfect roads and I was happy to fine tune them when I find them. But these are professional mappers with lots of assets like imagery and AI etc. adding thousands of roads that will take a lifetime to improve. They just seem to place quantity far ahead of quality. If quality were even one of their goals, they would fix obvious problems that they just map around.

This may be mostly just me, but I draw roads with smooth curves. They just look better. FB and many users in the past made stop sign shaped curves that detract from the appearance. It’s much easier to draw then well than fix them later by adding nodes

There are lots of judgement calls in this. When I draw a road that disappears in some trees, then comes out the other side, it is not unreasonable to connect the sections. The use of the tag ‘track’ is just not usually a judgement call, and clarifying its use has failed after many attempts. I find this very frustrating.

If FB could be persuaded to do a better job, I would continue. If we were all in agreement on these issues, they might listen to us.

Cheers, Tom

Regarding your frustration, Tom, let’s try to decide what is a track, what is a service road and what is an unclassified road. If we do it again, maybe the confusion will lessen. Of course, given we always seek consensus, we might not resolve the issue to everyone’s satisfaction. But we must try.

Please, try to add at least some comments in their changesets pointing out specifically which way-id we have a specific issue with.

I just did here:

I don’t see the first way as a track, and certainly not unpaved. I would also have connected the other way to it.

way 604736514 is a bit more tricky. It could be a probably low quality road connecting the two villages, justifying as unclassified. Or maybe it is just used for agriculture to reach the fields, then a track. On the ground would be easier to judge than from an aerial.

@Tom, Russ, Dave: I’ll be around beginning of October. Do you want to meet in person to discuss this? I’ll invite you for a drink…

edit1: added another changeset comment link

I’m available for a meeting and always enjoy a chat session. Let me know what date and time work best for you.

Hi Tom,

My name is Jeff, I’m a QA on the Facebook team, and I want to try to address your concerns.

I understand your frustration that we can’t fix everything on the map, however our focus for this import is solely on roads. It would infinitely balloon the scope of the project if our mappers were required to add or fix everything on the map within their task bounds. OSM is a collaborative effort, we’re just trying to do one small part of it.

We do take geometry very seriously and strive to provide quality road data. However, there does not seem to be a great consensus on how detailed a feature should be digitized. We have received feedback both saying our work is too detailed or not detailed enough which makes it difficult to nail down the appropriate target.

For the example track you provided, I suspect Bing and DigitalGlobe Premium have slightly different alignment offsets. Its a very common issue between imageries unfortunately and without nearby GPS tracks it can be impossible to know which is more correct. Please feel free to share more examples, preferably with way ids, so that we can more clearly understand your concerns.

With regards to tracks, I think Stephan found a great example of the difficulty of classifying a lot of these unpaved roads with https://www.openstreetmap.org/way/604736514. This road does link two villages but it appears unpaved and may primarily be just for access to the fields in between. There is also a well paved route already connecting the two areas that is marked as unclassified and only slightly longer. Early on, we would have possibly marked this road as unclassified but after a user did some groundtruthing of a similar example, they found that the quality was much worse than satellite implied. Since then our approach has been to err on the side of caution to avoid routing mistakes.

I fully encourage everyone to add changeset comments as Stephan suggested. It really helps us to understand and address exactly what issues you have with our work and to avoid them in the future.

Hi Folks,

I have just landed in the central plains for retirement. I have mapped extensively around here, starting a few years back when everything was a blank canvas. I generally also use OSM for navigation with my Garmin.

Although I think I sit on the other side with regards to tracks (I prefer small dirt roads to be tagged as tracks), I was horrified to discover widespread appearance of small farm tracks and driveways in our neighbourhood and beyond tagged as residential roads. My thought was that the map is now polluted: you can’t rely on it for navigation any more, because I will find myself stranded in the rice paddies.

I concur with what was said above: err on the side of caution and if in doubt label something as unpaved. I think it will take me weeks to clean up our neighbourhood alone.

I think we should at least consider to mass-tag anything with import=yes as unpaved. It will take a lot less effort to reverse the few roads that are paved than the other way round.



I have seen your username often in my work in Thailand over the last 5 years. Congratulations on your retirement. I’m wishing you much happiness in the future. So, you are retiring to the “central plains” but where exactly is that?

Best regards,


Hi Dave,

Staying with my in-laws at the moment here: https://osm.org/go/4TsPJRCA Hopefully will start building a few clicks away soon.

Kind regards,