Mapzen: First Thoughts

CloudMade have tonight launched their Mapzen flash based editor for OpenStreetMap. It’s officially described as a beta, but as they’ve made it publicly available and it is working against the live API and editing real data I assume that is more of a “Google beta” than anything else.

The basic editing of roads and such doesn’t seem to be much improved from the (fairly dire) interface we saw in the previous alpha builds – trying to move nodes in a way is still way harder than it should be, working out how to start a new way is even harder, and it still seems to be impossible to end a way unless you remember that you want to do so before you add the last node. As to extending a way well I’d forget it if I were you as I’ve never found a way to do it, or to join a new way onto an existing one (which would be a workaround for not being able to extend a way).

Presumably there is some help somewhere, but there is no effort to promote it as far as I can see – no “you might want to read this before you start” type prompts. There is a “help” link but it just goes to a CloudMade wiki page showing how to connect Mapzen to your OpenStreetMap account.

One word of caution by the way – there doesn’t seem to be any indication whether or not you have any outstanding edits that need to be saved, and the “Close and Exit” button does exactly that, without any sort of warning if you have unsaved edits which will be lost.

Perhaps the most worrying thing however is the so called “Mapzen Dashboard” which provides the entry point to the editor. That isn’t the problem however – the problem is that it provides it’s own, CloudMade hosted, social environment with “friending”, “messaging” and “home locations”. Anybody familiar with OpenStreetMap will know that the core site already provides all those things (though not as slickly) so the obvious question is what exactly CloudMade are doing duplicating this? Is this an attempt to create some sort of parallel community to the main OpenStreetMap community?

Overall I think we have to class the editor as a fail for now, and the dashboard as something that needs more explanation.


  1. Thanks a lot for such a thorough feedback!

    This release is more of a real beta than “google” one, and though architecture, data manipulation and server communication are stable enough to run it against the live API, the UI is certainly not complete. Many of the problems you mention are already on our fix list for the final release (better editing, more hints, interactive tutorials, etc.).

  2. Glad I’m not the only one giving up on what has been an uphill struggle to get to grips with Mapzen. Apart from being prettier, I haven’t found anything that I can do quicker or more easily in Mapzen than I can in Potlatch, and like you I’ve found plenty of things that I want to do and I simply can’t.

    I’m afraid I’ve even struggled to get any use out of the accompanying iPhone app. It *should* make it loads easier to add POIs while out and about; as it is, every time I try it I spend five minutes or so poking at the interface wondering what’s going on, then just open MotionX GPS instead and record waypoints instead. Even though I then have to transcribe them onto OSM later, it’s still a net time saving. :o(

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