OSM can't find locations that I KNOW are there. Why?

I got a Garmin device recently that uses OSM for its maps. I discovered that my local area was totally empty except for roads, so I’ve put a lot of work into updating OSM for my local area in the past couple of weeks.

That got me wondering whether I should start using OSM instead of Google Maps to search for things, but OSM can’t find things that I KNOW are there… because I put them there! For example, if I search for “Target near Gig Harbor, WA”, or “Chevron near Gig Harbor”, I get nothing. If I search for “Target” or “Chevron”, I get lots of locations, but they’re hundreds or thousands of miles away. Not terribly useful.

Does anybody know why this happens? I like the idea of OSM, but certainly can’t use it in place of Google Maps as a general purpose map unless this kind of feature works reliably.

If by OSM you mean “the website at OpenStreetmap.org”, as you’ve discovered that’s not really designed as an end-user mapping portal. There are others - Mapquest is one example, but I suspect they’re still using non-OSM data in the US for maps, and the data I suspect is their own worldwide.

I suspect that the specific reason why “Chevron near Gig Harbor” fails on osm.org is that “Nominatim”, OSM’s search engine, doesn’t know what a “Chevron” is. If you search for “Fuel near Gig Harbor” it will find it.

openstreetmap.org’s and its Nomatim’s seach abilities are limited. You would find Chevron, though, by searching for “Chevron Gig Harbor”. Don’t use keywords like near. I believe Nomatim then just looks for map objects that contain Chevron, Gig and Harbor in any of their tags or in nearby location objects.

@TZorn Nominatim does understand “near” for some things - try “post office near Gig Harbor”.

Thanks for the hint SomeoneElse. I now figured out there is a list with special phrases where the ‘near’ actually has a meaning, but apparently only when being used in the defined phrases.

Thank you all for the information. The Nominatum search engine is really hit or miss, as you’ve suggested. For example:

chevron gig harbor → works fine, but only gives you one location unless you click “more” (didn’t work at all yesterday)
chevron, gig harbor → works fine, but only gives you one location unless you click “more” (but didn’t work yesterday)
chevron near gig harbor → nothing, zip, nada
fuel near gig harbor → works even better than searching by name; lists all locations right away
chevron → lists stuff from 30 miles away to 5000 miles away, but not the two locations right next to me

target gig harbor → nothing
target, gig harbor → nothing
target near gig harbor → nothing
department store near gig harbor → works!
target → lists stuff from hundreds to thousands of miles away, but not the one right next to me

So, the answer to my question seems to be that the OSM search engine isn’t very reliable at the moment. Searching by name is more miss than hit, and things that are supposed to work don’t. Searching by category seems pretty reliable, but you have to know what tags were used (for example, I listed Target as a “department store” because it was the closest category I could find, but I would never have searched for it like that, if I hadn’t been the one to enter it).