Informal is now a tag, no longer a key

What do you think, is this correct, key informal got move to tag informal=yes - not really visible in the changelog

I recently tagged some paths informal=no, that are obviously managed, but no sign tells, by whom.

@maro21 apparently renamed the article because its preexisting contents were describing informal=yes, not informal=* in general. The redirect could be turned into a second article that describes both possible values of informal=* and the distinction between them.


I am not fluent enough with this wiki stuff. It was the American trail working group that pointed me at informal=no, the reasoning appeared sound to me; My footnote pointing there still resides on informal=yes article. In my region, maintainers are usually mentioned on guideposts, yet there are lots way obviously maintained and either no guideposts or guideposts not mentioning maintainers.

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informal=no is a rather awkward tag due to the double negative. However, we do need some way for mappers to indicate that a trail has an operator even if they don’t know the name to put in the operator tag. Some people have wanted to use operator=yes for this, but this is not a good idea since this will inevitably lead to some data consumer labeling a trail as being operated by “Yes”. So, although awkward, informal=no does provide a fallback option to explicitly tag that the trail is not informal (and therefore has an operator) without knowing the name of that operator. In the US trails working group this came up as an option, but one that should be avoided if at all possible, with an operator tag being preferable. I don’t think we were hoping to promote widespread usage of this tag. If this is a very common need, though, perhaps it is fine. Or perhaps a less awkward tag that says “this object has an operator but I don’t know the name” can be developed.

For the wiki, do we need an informal key page, an informal=yes tag page, and an informal=no tag page? Or would a single informal key page explaining both values be fine?


I would say that informal=yes and informal=no tag pages would be the clearest form


I feel that, for the reasons documented in Wiki guidelines#Duplication, there should not be more than a single wiki page for this concept. That is, there should be either a page for the key informal=* or for the tag informal=yes, but not both. (And there definitely should not be a page for informal=no.)

In general, when a value is straightforward enough to be documented with a single paragraph or table row on the key page, the wiki would be improved by not creating a page for the tag (or turning it into a redirect if it already exists).


First time used the tag today after a survey… someone had cut a hole in their fence laid said planks across part but not all of the bordering grass patch leading to another sand path leading to the future trolley bus route stop.

The idea of a “non-informal trail” having exactly one operator might fit in parts of the US**, but it doesn’t really work everywhere.

Where I am right now, the OSM way has an operator that doesn’t necessarily match the owner of the land. Several walking route relations run over it - these may share operators but it’s not guaranteed

** and I’m sure people have talked about edge cases in the US too.

I don’t think anyone is assuming that informal=no necessarily implies only one operator.

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Note that judging by this thread it apparently does not happen here as more can be said about either value.

Also, if Wiki page would be redirected or deleted them the same should happen with data item

That is definitely not an assumption one can make in the US either. I participated in a number of discussions about this in the US trails working group and there are certainly a variety of possibilities. The land may be owned by one entity but the trail operated by a different one. In that case: owner=Name One + operator=Name Two. The land and trail may be owned and operated by one entity, but maintenance may be handled by another. In that case operator=Name One + maintainer=Name Two. The exact distinction between operating vs maintaining a trail may be quite fuzzy, but this seems to work when a land management agency owns the land, designates the trail, publishes maps, and manages the trailhead, but a separate volunteer organization takes care of yearly trail clearing and other routine maintenance. Or there may be multiple co-equal operators. In that case: operator=Name One; Name Two; Name Three (etc). If the local trail has one operator, and each of the longer routes following the local trail has a different operator, that is adequately modeled with a different operator tag on the way and each of the route relations.

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I agree. Not sure about this though:

How to read it? If smoothness had only one pre-eminent value and some less so, should the pre-eminent tag be the only one documented? Or does it say, it is enough to create a page for the key and mention its pre-eminent use prominently and other uses less so?

Laying planks across something (mud, water) turns this into informal=no. At least, thats what I’d say, I’d hope, that its not only me reading the documentation that way.

I also never read anybody saying that; Just that operator is unknown. One of the reasons though to start tagging informal=no was the way how American renderers treat informal=yes - They sometimes hide subject completely, which might affect directions (take the second path leading north) quite negatively.

In my area, informal=no makes sense. I see no better way. I do not think its awful, studied philosopher, double negation no problem with :wink:

In some cases it might, but this is highly dependent on who put the planks there and why. Lets say an informal path exists on city property but then the city adopts and formalizes the path, putting down some planks over a muddy spot. In this case, yes I would say the path has changed from informal=yes to informal=no because the city has become the operator. Now lets say a different informal path exists and someone who walks on it often is tired of getting muddy feet so they put down some planks. In this case no administrative body has adopted the path. One person just decided to take matters into their own hands. So I’d say this would still be informal=yes as the path still has no operator.


Off the top of my head, there’s an easterly section of Sierra National Forest that is administered by the neighboring Inyo National Forest.

Operators also get very complicated in wilderness near the Arizona / Utah border. There are areas that iirc are a mix of BLM and some other agency/agencies around Escalante.

Informal paths in some cases can have some stonework or other improvements done by individuals that don’t actually maintain or are responsible for the trail.

I do agree this wording is imprecise and worrysome: “this attribute indicates that a feature has not been established on purpose.” People can purposefully create an informal trail (mountain bikers and climbers come to mind as groups that have impacted a feature / informal trail on purpose).

There are a number of trails around here on Forest Service land which are not authorized by the FS, but which have bridges, have had rocks and roots removed, have had overhanging branches trimmed, and have had the tread leveled side to side. Some even have rather nice homemade signs.

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A UK example was recently in the national press.

I’ve been watching the informal key article for quite some time. One thing I noticed, quite some people confuse informal with inofficial. Maybe in the US adoption can only be done from registered bodies. In my country, the rambling community/civil society is by law entitled to maintain their established paths - e.g. cut branches hanging in, remove debris, &c. No need for a governmentally approved agency - To the opposite: The agencies in fact have less power. They only can adopt paths, that have a history of use and maintenance.

PS: I want to invite @maro21 to here.

That doesn’t sound too different from the US. A path could be “operated” (managed, adopted, maintained) by all sorts of different organizations. Could be anything from a government agency, to an outdoors club, to a loosely organized community group. The key is that it’s not just some random people deciding to put a path on some land where they have no legal authority to do so. Obviously who has legal authority to create and maintain paths on which land is going to vary around the world.

This nuance exists in the US too, but the relationship is (usually) the reverse: various government agencies manage our public lands, and only they have the authority to create new trails. But (as @ezekielf described) it’s very common for the land manager to delegate the upkeep of existing trails to other groups (such as volunteer groups).

Construction of new trails without the land manager’s approval is almost always illegal. However, new trails may still arise organically if many people follow the same route again and again. “Off-trail” foot travel is legal in most US public lands, so in these scenarios no individual person has done anything illegal, but nonetheless an unplanned and unofficial trail has come to exist.

It is these types of trails, sometimes called “social trails”, that are most often tagged informal=yes in the US. Many renderers choose to de-emphasize these trails and emphasize the other, official trails, because overuse of social trails can have negative ecological impacts or risk people’s safety (hazards on these social trails are unmarked).

As a result, in the US “informal” and “unofficial” have roughly the same meaning when applied to trails. A trail which is tagged informal=yes is one that hasn’t been approved by the authority that manages the land. That doesn’t necessarily imply access=no — whether or not you’re allowed to travel on these social trails depends on local rules. But it’s helpful for end users to be able to distinguish these social trails from the “official” trails on maps, so that they can make educated choices about where to go.

Sidenote: This definition is also extended to camp pitches (tourism=camp_pitch) in the US. In wilderness areas, some camp pitches are created by the land managers and are marked with signs. But others exist naturally or have arisen because people repeatedly camp in the same spot. It’s preferable to use these sites rather than making new ones, to minimize ecological impact. The unofficial sites are often tagged informal=yes.

I agree too. I don’t find the phrase “not established on purpose” to be a very good explanation of the meaning of this tag. It seems to me that the meaning would be better described as “created by accident, or without the approval of a relevant authority” (which could be a land owner, government agency, etc). Interested to hear other suggestions.

I agree. For what it’s worth I created the Tag:informal=no page yesterday, because I saw that a page for informal=yes had been created and it seemed from this thread like there were questions about when informal=no would ever be useful. But on the whole I think this tag (which only seems to have these two boolean values in use) would be better as a single Key:informal page which combined all the information in one place. I’m happy to help merge the pages back together if there’s no objection.


Something along the lines of:

“Created without the approval of land owners or operators, often from impacts of repeated use but can include unauthorized construction”?

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