How to deal with "Lone Ranger Mappers"?

In recent years, I’ve come across a type of mapper that I could use some advice on how to handle.

I call them “Lone Ranger Mappers” - enthusiastic beginners who make lots of changes in a short time, sometimes all over the world. However, they don’t seem to respond to communication attempts from other mappers and may not always follow established mapping practices.

While their edits may not be intentionally harmful, their lack of communication can lead to potential issues like lack of coordination, duplication of efforts, and inconsistencies in mapping.

They often pause contributing after receiving a few comments, but it seems they’re not interested in engaging with the community at all. I’ve always wondered if it’s a language barrier or if they believe they have the right to make edits on their own.

If any of you have encountered similar situations, I’m curious to know what strategies or approaches you’ve found effective in engaging with “Lone Ranger Mappers” and promoting community participation in mapping activities.


Firstly maybe English is not their first language. It is possible they might not be comfortable communicating in English? Maybe you might send them a translated message if they are seemingly based in a country that does not fall within the anglosphere. Additionally, I do not think this type of behavior is strictly limited to newer contributors. I know of long-time contributors (by reputation) who are loathe to respond until you either revise their work or have touched a feature they are possessive towards. If they are causing damage, and you have repeatedly reached out to them, I think you can lobby the DWG to put a block on their account.


In the past, after multiple failed attempts to communicate initiated by me, I simply revised what I thought needed correction. The few times I have had issues with mass-scale changes (I encountered a contributor who removed the gates and access tags from the Libyan embassy in the Republic of Cyprus among other things) they had already deleted their account before I needed to do anything due to pressure from a bunch of proactive mappers in Europe.


I thin most of the OSM Mappers are Lone Range Mappers without contact to “Community” or maybe this forum. They use ID and Wiki and that’s it.

Maybe because there is a too weak welcome culture. We have tools for that but they aren’t used well. We have check my changeset, also not used well.
So the first message arriving a new user is very often: “hey **** what the **** are you doing here”.
OSM has a partly toxic community and some say: "Gatekeepers“.

On the other side most new users are insecure about guidelines some “old” OSM user’s have set:

  • Anytag you like, but only widely accepted by myself.
  • Better nothing than half mapped.
  • Better wrong than corrected and updated without contributing.
  • Only locals allowed.
  • etc.

So how to improve:

  • Say hello, welcome to OSM. Here you’ll find help, you may contact me. No errors, no know-it-all.
  • Say hi, thanks, good edit, I found sth on your edit, maybe look here for explanation.
  • Don’t expect an answer, they will come, after building some acquaintances. Even if month are gone in between.
  • At least OSM can be very complex and it can take years to understand some areas. Accept errors by others and understand, that most new users want to contribute positive to OSM, even if the results are negative in first moment.

Just my experience. Cheers…


I wish it was possible to determine one’s language on the profile page.
Having said that, on-line translators have gotten very good and not knowing they exist is a sign of digital illiteracy.


Unfortunately people can get overzealous, and as a result they can be rude. Other times people may have good reason to not reach out. I think overall people are less restrained and can be far too direct for comfort when they are in the safety of their own home typing from a computer versus discussing things in person. Lastly, people like to complain or talk endlessly about negative interactions they have had in the past. Positive interactions happen too, but unfortunately they do not stick in one’s memory like bad experiences.

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Most active mappers in the UK are “lone rangers” and always have been. I don’t think that’s a problem.

The problem is more that people are often a bit trigger-happy to change things. Sometimes this is based on a misunderstanding (e.g. assuming that highway=trunk directly equates to UK trunk roads. Spoiler: it doesn’t). Often it comes from reading the wiki and assuming it actually means anything.

We don’t do a good job of communicating “if something substantial has been mapped like this for 10 years, chances are that it’s right… not that you are uniquely clever and have noticed something which the last 100 mappers have somehow missed”.

(We do a lousy job of documentation full stop, but that’s another issue and one that’s been discussed elsewhere on this site.)


This seems like it should be a bullet point in iD’s initial welcome bits if it isn’t already.

Then again not sure how visible the age of the status quo is to new mappers. Looking at the history is generally an extra step and you have to know it’s available. The more preamble before you’re allowed to map the more friction for new useful contributions.

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Fun fact: I welcome an average of 100 users every month via the Welcome Tool. I have been doing this for exactly one year now. Out of at least 1000 messages sent, I have received exactly three replies so far.


Is that with messages grounded in the context of what they have just mapped, or automatically generated?

If the latter, I can understand why you might not get a reply.

If you’re providing useful links, those might still be read of course.


Each message is personally addressed and sent manually. It contains a nice greeting, gives some tips with links and invites to exchange in the community.


You know what? I have a plan. I currently maintain a minutely updated changeset metadata database. From it it’s possible to create a list containing:

  • users that have the highest non-response rate for changeset discussions (will exclude comments from bots like *_repair accounts)
  • percentage of unique changeset comments (this is available at - seems to be a good indicator for writing proper comments; single digits is quite bad; would possibly need to take into account only full-featured editors like iD, JOSM, Vespucci, Potlatch and their derivatives)

Maybe some people could be shamed into compliance?


It would definitely be interesting to see which specific users have the lowest response rates. It would also be interesting to see what the general spectrum of communication behavior is for ‘organized’ editors aka paid editors.

As far as shaming is concerned, I would personally be extremely careful. To be honest, I would reserve any communication intended to shame others for invalid data in areas that I myself am very familiar with (having lived or visited in the flesh), or edits involving incompatible datasources or botched imports that are an uncontroversial mess.


Well, I would word that page neutrally. Maybe instead of shaming, “reverse social proof” would be a better name. This is essentially flipping some poeple’s obsession with rankings on its head. :wink:

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Honestly, as a new user, I thought the greeting was auto-generated so I didn’t respond. I just thought it was a particularly well written auto-message.


Maybe it helps to describe my experience as a former Lone Range Mapper…

I made my first edits in 2016 after sent us on the Transcindrel tertiary road in Romania (photo of a better part of it), which turned out to be a dirt track through the mountains. We met some lumberjacks that managed to make it clear that this road is impassible for our “robust wheels” Nissan Primera, so we turned back (loosing the rear bumper while turning, and having to tye it to the car with string that the lumberjacks gave us). Since then I’ve been very interested in tagging tracks with smoothness :grinning:

I’ve been adding hiking paths and tracks, using the guidance that the wiki pages offer. These are easily accessible through iD. iD also linked to the Bulgarian community forum, but this has never been very active since 2016 so didn’t lead me to the worldwide community. I think that moving to the new Community Forum has been a very good move because now all forums are visible to the user, which I think will lead to much more involvement from new mappers. It was only 2 months ago I found out about it because it was linked to by @Mateusz_Konieczny :pray: in one of his posts on the StreetComplete Github. I’ve been much more active posting there since I started using SC when corona came. My doctor recommended me to walk a lot every day, and SC gives me the destinations to walk to.
My main surprise when getting to know this community is how much it values their freedom of expression to “enter anything they wish” to the map. I think a major quality criterion for a map is reliability, and for this consistency of mapping is crucial. I think much more emphasis should be given to consistency of mapping, so every mapper should feel it is their duty to follow the consensus as documented in the wiki. The wiki should not describe mapping practices, but prescribe them after consensus is reached about it. If there is no consensus on how to map something, this means that some mappers will consider the activities of other mappers as “wrong”, leading to wrong data (in their eyes). I think we all agree that wrong data is worse than no data, so we should stop mapping until we have consensus about how to map, and then all of us should follow that consensus.


(while I’m quite approving of your personal and inspiring story, here is why I think the second part of your post has many unaddressed problems)

Some would argue that this ATYL policy is the primary (if not only) reason why OSM succeeded, while countless others have failed. If one has to wait for some bureaucracy to approve a tag for use, it is bound to create horrible friction (and probably destroy much of the community in process).

Have you ever seen how it works in practice? e.g. look at RfC: Highway=Scramble - even after a months of discussions, no consensus have been reached. This is not isolated example by any means, just one of the more recent examples. And it is unlikely to be solved in this year either. How long do you think should be expected to wait until the thing that they want to mapped is “approved” and thus become possible to use (in such “prescribed-tags only” scenario), before they give up and move elsewhere?

I think a major quality criterion for a map is reliability, and for this consistency of mapping is crucial.

This I would agree with. (that is why I am vehement opponent of proposals attempting changing wiki definition once a tag is in widespread use; unless extremely well laid plain with strong understanding of enormity of the task is laid out first and followed methodically)

It does not however imply that the only possible solution is to have some authority approve what tags may be used, and what does may not be used. I would argue that such a “cure” would in fact be much worse than the original “poison”.

I think much more emphasis should be given to consistency of mapping, so every mapper should feel it is their duty to follow the consensus as documented in the wiki.

That would IMHO only be possible if wiki is forbidden to ever be changed once it was created (i.e. if it stopped being a wiki). Otherwise, you’d always have situations where some mappers use one definition, and some another (as they never heard of updated definition) - it is (again IMHO) impossible education problem to solve (finding all mappers and re-educating them, as well all old versions of tools using previous definition, all online and offline tutorials, videos, etc, and re-writing them to avoid new users being taught obsolete facts etc.)

The wiki should not describe mapping practices, but prescribe them

That is eternal “prescription or description” disagreement. It seems to be no easy consensus about it in any other part of human activities, so I see little hope consensus would be reached about it here.

Status quo in OSM seems to be descriptive approach - that way (at least) things can be documented, and data consumers can chose to avoid using tags that are too vague/ambiguous/problematic.
The onus is thus on proponent of the new method to convince others why status quo should be changed (and be forewarned that it is likely no easy task at all!)

after consensus is reached about it

And here we come to the crux of the problem, reaching consensus. I don’t have hard numbers, but it seems to me that number of wiki editors (even if combined with number of active tagging ML and forum users) is orders of magnitude less than number of map editors. So, even if that small minority were to agree on something, that would not represent the consensus of mapper (which are the only thing that matters, one might argue). And very often, even that small minority disagrees. Quote heavily, in many cases.

How would that be handled? Depending of all mappers to follow tagging proposals/suggestions? Ain’t gonna happen judging by the history, and assuming “well its their problem then” would just be enforcing current state when anyone can (and does! as most wiki editors will inform you) rewrite the wiki according to their will without any consultation with other wiki editors (much less this community forum, or, gods forbid, the majority of mappers - we don’t even have a way to attempt to do the latter!). So doing that would not help with decreasing (much less getting rid of!) that ambiguity that troubles you (and all of us).

Sure, there might be technical measures to try to enforce it and solve “low participation problem” - system might be set up which would for example disable editing capabilities of all mappers who did not read and vote on all tag proposals. That would be even more horrible and lead to massive loss of users who lack the time and will to be involved in such infinite time-sink with low reward-ratio. (especially take into account that with disabling ATYL policy, the number of proposals would rise exponentially)

If there is no consensus on how to map something, this means that some mappers will consider the activities of other mappers as “wrong”, leading to wrong data (in their eyes). I think we all agree that wrong data is worse than no data

Not really. If there are e.g. two ways how tag is being used, it creates ambiguity, and not “make data gwrong”. Depending on the specifics of that ambiguity, that tag might still have some (reduced) use (e.g. sport=hockey). Only in cases when the ambiguity is extreme (much rarer), then that tag can only be considered “burned” (and documented as deprecated for such reason).

Another more common thing that happens in ATYL (i.e. without someone “prescribed allowed tags”) it that there are multiple tags to describe the same (or very similar) thing. That is much less of a problem (just a minor one-time annoyance for data consumers to set up aliases).

Also note that even if only well-documented tags were allowed to be used, it would not solve the problem. Many are are least somewhat subjective (like the smoothness tag you mention, and have dedicated a lot of - appreciated! - time on), and so people can still mistag things (i.e. tag in a way that mismatches current wiki definition). The fact that meanings changed across the time practically guarantees that - some people will still use older definitions (as mappers don’t usually go read a wiki every day - they will usually read it just the first time until they understand it, and afterwards use if “from head” without re-referencing it again)

so we should stop mapping until we have consensus about how to map, and then all of us should follow that consensus

So, basically, you suggest that we should make OSM read-only immediately, and leave it in that state for indefinite future (I’m trying hard to avoid saying “forever” here)? :smiley:

TL;DR – It is extremely hard problem. Yes, I (obviously) agree that everybody agreeing on exact meaning on tags is best outcome. I however disagree that either having “central committee” prescribe the meanings of tags, or allowing few hundreds of wiki editor to mold a world in their image is a good idea. (even if they could all agree, which I find doubtful).
IMHO, the best we could hope to do is to is to document how things are used, and suggest better ways if current usage is problematic, and try to convince users to use more complicated and tiresome proposal process so unclear definition could be caught early enough so they can be fixed, before they become problems. But I’d dare not outright forbid ATYL, as it would lead to loss of much of community, I’m afraid, which would be much worse than the original problem (ambiguity of some tags).


As this world is one of variety and imperfection, there can be many little variations in mapping practices between countries and not uncommonly between regions. One set of users may very likely view the practices of the other as ‘wrong’. These disputes are sometimes only settled after a long while of vigorous debate, which is not unhealthy. Therefore, people may as well enter some data in the meanwhile which might be corrected via bot or by hand later after a standard is firmly established.


Ahhh that is an, extremely, good feedback ratio. The expected value is 0 (zero).


PS: 12’000 welcome messages
PPS: this part of the discussion is not new, see for example SimonPoole's Diary | 3 years of welcome messages, more than 3400 of them | OpenStreetMap, SimonPoole's Diary | Better late than never ... welcome mail #10'000 | OpenStreetMap and various related discussions, for example SimonPoole's Diary | OpenStreetMap Community Statistics Revisited | OpenStreetMap


I think this regionalism is part of the strength of OSM and the ability for regions to apply tags appropriate for their use makes the data feel more like their own.

I also don’t think there are a large number of lone ranger mappers so, if they are having a small impact, we can just put up with them. Sorta like sand in your sandal while you are at the beach. You ignore the minor annoyance to enjoy the entire beach.

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