We don't need anonymous notes

More than once we have come across useless and/or harmful anonymous notes that have to be deleted (for example, try searching the forum)

To begin with,

Why anonymous notes should be left:

  1. They are very easy to create. Went to osm.org , pressed the button — note on the map
  2. Can be used on other sites without registration, such as onosm.org .
  3. No need to change some applications.
  4. Privacy. By definition.

Why is it bad:

  1. They are not used for their intended purpose. Every now and then there are notes from tourists marking routes or from people leaving personal notes on the map.
  2. It is impossible to contact the author of the note. What if there is not enough information in the note to change the map? An anonymous user is most likely not familiar with OSM and does not know what information cartographers need.
  3. They are easy to abuse. The author of the note does not risk anything. We even hide the IP address from everyone. Even Wikimedia doesn’t allow this. We see offensive notes every now and then, especially after the recent waves of vandalism. For example, I have met (and still meet) a bunch of identical notes that contained incorrect information about demolished buildings. Smoothly move on to the next point.
  4. The data source is unclear. And what if the data is taken from a prohibited source? If we don’t trust such notes by default, then why do we need them? Just for someone to take the time to check on the ground?
    4.1. The context is unclear. This is partly a consequence of (2). Through which application did the user leave a note? Through a mobile editor while being nearby? And how up-to-date was his data in the cards? Or sitting at a computer hundreds of kilometers away looking at outdated photos from the Internet? There will be no connection with him.
  5. We can’t even handle non-anonymous notes https://resultmaps.neis-one.org/osm-notes

Arguments against my arguments for leaving notes.

1-3. If we have a simple registration, and this is easy to do with the help of social networks, then it will be easy to leave notes
2. If notes are used to add information to OSM (especially on the strict POI information form) then why not enter POIs directly into the database?
4. And why? If someone gives us dangerous information, can someone put it on the map at all?

There is another idea that will make it a little easier to detect harmful notes from one user: use the user’s IP address as the author of the note.

I’ll note that I’m not calling for the anonymous notes to be removed right now, but I want to get the community’s opinion. What do you think about it?

  • I’m resolving the notes. I’m against anonymous notes.
  • I’m resolving the notes. I don’t mind anonymous notes.
  • I don’t mind anonymous notes.
  • I use anonymous notes.
  • I don’t resolve and I don’t leave notes.
  • Another opinion in the comments.
0 voters

I look at the note and if it doesn’t help the OSM map I close it with the reason.
If it does help but I can’t map it, I leave it open, sometimes with a question.
If I can map it I will map and close with comment.
If it’s not OSM-related, but e.g. looks like a meeting point to start a run, I close without a comment.

I don’t know which option represents this.


It’s difficult to deal with this issue. On the one hand, I’m confronted with annoying anonymous notes on a regular basis for almost 3 years, ranging from personal notes to spam to massive personal insults (there are more abusive anonymous notes around here than meaningful ones). One of the most active mappers in my city left OSM because he wasn’t able to suffer the regular insults anymore - and I can’t blame a volunteer mapper for not having to be constantly insulted in his spare time. I’ve been in contact with the DWG about this, which has very limited options against it. But it’s clear that very few trolls produce most of all abusive notes.

On the other hand, there are very helpful anonymous notes permanently, and I feel it is a great value for an open project to be able to offer such a low-threshold opportunity for contributions. I’m sure many of these helpful notes wouldn’t exist otherwise.

I hope we can find a way against abuse and trolling without giving up the easiest to use participation option. For example, by expanding moderation options of anonymous notes so that they can be hidden from non-registered users by marking them as abusive (with every/a lot of registered users can participate in moderation). There is nothing more frustrating for trolls and idiots than to feel that no one is listening to them.

When creating notes, it should also be made clearer that they are not for “personal” use.


I agree that it’s valuable to maintain some mechanism to collect information about shops from shopkeepers. You’d think it would be easy enough to create an account, but there’s a psychological barrier to creating new accounts on random websites for one-time use. Spammers and SEO specialists clearly have no problem creating throwaway accounts as it is, but actual shopkeepers may not be so savvy.

My local community has a lot of experience dealing with contributions from shopkeepers. Our POI import relies on a database of contact information that the government required shopkeepers to provide in order to reopen during the pandemic. As you can imagine, a shopkeeper had every incentive to get this right. Yet we have encountered a litany of errors: shopkeepers routinely misclassified their businesses, mistyped their address, even got their own personal name wrong! The problem wasn’t so much that shopkeepers were unknowledgeable about their business, but rather that the government form was poorly designed. Even so, we’ve found this data to be much more usable than Overture’s POI layer, because at least we could be confident that there was something real there.

I wonder how our turnaround time for anonymous notes compares to our turnaround time for non-anonymous notes. Personally, I’ve been satisfied with notes I’ve seen coming from onosm.org, but I’ve also heard from other mappers who have had less positive experiences. Access to street-level imagery makes it much, much easier to corroborate the leads in notes.

This is true, though the same is true about a note from a throwaway account or an active mapper who never checks their e-mail notifications. These are also very common scenarios.

OSM’s notes feature is a big text box with hardly any instructions. It’s no wonder that people put all kinds of unusable information in there. A more guided form could passively weed out irrelevant notes and improve the quality of remaining notes. For example, we could have a dropdown menu of common types of problems (with an “Other” option); choosing one could display some more tips about information we need from them. What’s the address of the missing POI? For how long is the road closed? What application are you using? Basically, onosm.org would be so much more effective if it could be integrated into osm.org.

Something similar at the API level could help improve the notes that come in from mobile applications, which have a lot of context that can be shared. Metadata would also make it possible to query notes for more efficient triage.

Unfortunately, Wikimedia may not be a great model to follow. Wikimedia projects have historically logged IP addresses publicly as a form of accountability and a countermeasure against abuse. However, the GDPR and other legal changes are forcing Wikimedia to replace raw IP addresses with a system of temporary account names (not unlike the IDs that OSM assigns to deleted users) for public display. Certain user groups responsible for countervandalism can opt into accessing raw IP addresses going forward, which would be less restrictive than the group of OSM sysadmins who currently have access to server logs.


in my experience this is rather negative - notes about missing shops are

  • either OK in quality but pointless: our limitation on POI data is collection, not being aware of missing POIs. I could easily map 20 POIs or more by taking one hour walk. Or crawling through recent street-level imagery on compatible license (Bing Streetside/Mapillary/Kartaview, I think). Notes about POIs are not helping with that.
  • or misleading and confused - so not only it is about what we know to be missing, but it is also wasting time as note is misplaced or about online only shop so time is wasted on handling useless note
  • in extreme cases like Iran someone basically killed note feature by producing massive volume of them (see area around Note: 3933081 | OpenStreetMap or other cities in Iran ) blotting out all other notes

But as

mentions other people had much better experience with onosm.org notes.

Could we design better instruction text, that could replace current one without any other coding?

(some smart wizard would be nice, but better instruction text would help much and would risk far less from first “someone™ needs to code it” and then “someone™ needs to review this PR” with further rounds of code review)


I think that just single case of “One of the most active mappers in my city left OSM because he wasn’t able to suffer the regular insults anymore” outweighs nearly all benefit from anonymous notes. We are not limited by notes, we are not even close to running out of them and having less notes will not really change how much we map.

Bottleneck is, I think, on number of actively mapping community. So decisions/effort should focus on making them happier and more productive.

I admit that dropping anonymous notes would reduce productivity in some areas, but I think that at this point it stops being worth it.

Quite recently I had a different opinion, but after some time dealing with troll using anonymous notes in my city and observing what happened with notes in Iran (see OpenStreetMap (OSM) notes ("add a note"-feature) for Iran @ ResultMaps.neis-one.org ) I changed my mind.

Note: I know that some people claimed that onosm.org in Iran are valuable and useful. Though it appears that local community (or at least someone from it) decided to mass close 60 000 notes (it was not me, though I close notes like for example Note: 3957297 | OpenStreetMap and blatantly misplaced notes like 700+ notes placed at Iran country node, with more being added).

@TrickyFoxy have you notified people relying on anonymous notes about this thread? For example maintainers/developers of onosm.org?


I think sometimes they can be really useful.
I’m probably making things complicated BUT would it be possible to have them be disabled by default and depending on what the Local Chapter in that area wants, enabled. (and thus assuming they will moderate them if they want it enabled in their area)

1 Like

At the same time, there needs to be more prominence and guidance to Browsing - OpenStreetMap Wiki to direct users sharing locations to the more proper solution here (as much as how limited the functionality is). The pin could be made default enabled.
Obligatory bumping, this is further related to Top Ten Tasks - OpenStreetMap Wiki cf how Google Maps or others share PoI, regardless of the website’s purpose of usage. It will be more convenient to check the data too.
For reason 4 and 4.1 against, a specific improvement could be including the zoom level, viewport, and some precision of user’s position or location at least for the anonymous. This gives clue to accuracy, context, and intent.

Prompt moderation (triage) is key. If a local chapters (or active and organised community) can assure a quick moderation workflow, notes can become valuable.
Improvements to the notes functionality would be a great help. This would IMO require the backend and api to handle content tags and metadata. Frontend designers could then design forms and wizards for the end users, maybe with an incentive of sorts to create an OSM account.
Based on the tags and metadata tooling for moderation teams could be developed.

? Can overpass access notes?

Personally, I do look at them regularly, but mainly for closing irrelevant ones quickly. Quality and suitability require more thought to determine. Working on them is yet more effort. Maybe MapRoulette style is acceptable.

  1. Certainly making it a proper ticket system would be nice. Ideally, both them and changesets should be able to be processed on the website, not relying on external tools viz OSMCha.
  2. No. Again same for changesets.

In my city, POI notes are helpful, because most POIs are mapped. There is also an active group of people going through and resolving notes. I don’t see an issue with anonymous notes here.

I have seen a high density of old unresolved anonymous notes mostly in regions with few mappers on the ground.

Therefore I am wondering: if there are enough local mappers, maybe the issue solves itself? Therefore, recruiting more mappers might be more important than trying to come up with software solutions to the notes issue?

1 Like

A very annoying type of note we regularly see is when someone throws some incomplete information (they vaguely remember something here, or they read stuff in a local newspaper about planned changes) and urges other mappers to survey the place. Local mappers rarely have an unlimited amount of free time to survey every area repeatedly. Such notes will often clutter the note layer for months or years…


my problem is exactly with that

I closed thousands of utterly pointless notes so far, and that is becoming more and more irritating and common.


just for ones that I closed within last 24 hours.

I close such notes in my area, for planned changes I comment that note should be opened when changes become real rather than just plans, as plans should not be mapped in OSM, for incomplete ones I request opening clear note

EDIT: more credible ones about future may be worth leaving as pointed out below (but not for example notes about promises made just before elections or speculation from newspapers)

1 Like

I have occasionally left notes of this nature before: such-and-such shop has announced that they’re closing in exactly six months, or such-and-such tram line is undergoing testing for the next six months before going into service. An alternative would be to tag the feature with start_date or end_date or some will_be:* lifecycle tag, but mappers would be unlikely to notice when the date rolls around and the feature needs to be retagged. Then again, once in a while someone replies to one of my years-old notes, confirming whether the shop really did open, and I have to bear the bad news that not only did it open, but it already went out of business too.

Another alternative would be… technically it’s possible to map predictions of the future in OpenHistoricalMap… :smirk:


I don’t see much problem with anonymus notes. I personally find them helpful as it’s diffucult to keep track of every change in your area. There were some times that there was a note that eg. the shop is closed, so I checked and it was. I probably would never realise it otherwise.
The problem I can see is with the form of the notes. Oftentime they either just nonsense or too general (like “There is something here” - How can I know I added the “thing”?) and they start “covering” the acutal helpful notes.
I don’t think we should delete anonymus notes, but I do think we should change the process of adding them. Adding some prompts you need to chose from would be helpful. So eg. if I want to add a note about missing bar I would need to pick “What do you report?” Missing POI “What type of POI?” Bar and so on. With minumum free text possible.
That way there should be less nonsensical notes as you will need put some effort to make them, but it will be also helpful for people that want to make a real note, but either don’t understand what they are doing or struggle to word it correctly.

1 Like

Another thought came to mind after the night.

Why do sites adding POIs need an intermediate stage in the form of notes? (registration, but I suggest solving it by logging in via social networks).

To resolve a note, for example, from onosm.org, you will have to manually transfer all the tags filled in by the user. If there is a strict form when adding information, why not add the object to OSM right away? MAPS.ME 2.0 :jack_o_lantern:

1 Like


Thanks for this interesting consideration!

By principle I am in favour to get rid off anonymous notes.
But not right now.

For that I think that the registration process should be simplified, and this is indeed easy to do with the help of social networks (Mastodon-account, Wikipedia-account or other (open source/fediverse) accounts, OSM BE corporate members like RouteYou etc)

1 Like

This poll is not representative: The option “I use anonymous notes” has 0 votes, which is not surprising considering that you also need an account to vote in the poll, so if you make notes anonymously due to lack of an account, you will also not be able to vote here.


Well, it is question whether mappers need anonymous notes and overall benefit from them, not whether general world population wants them.

And in theory you can open some anonymous notes despite having account (log out for note creation).

But this poll is a bit confused: for example you have option “I don’t mind anonymous notes” (presumably for people not processing notes).
But there is no option “I’m against anonymous notes, I am not processing notes” (maybe because in given area there are problematic/aggressive/spammy/insulting anonymous notes?).