WMDE Technical Wishes/Geoinformation
„How can the representation of geoinformation be improved?“ was chosen as the winner in the Survey Technical Wishes 2020. This means the Technical Wishes team will spend two years on this topic and tackle various problems within it.
Many encyclopedic topics have a geographic reference, which is represented in articles using maps or coordinates. However, the handling of Geoinformation is currently often cumbersome, and the information is also not displayed satisfactorily - for example, because the content is not updated or the maps lack functionality.
Comment Team Technical Wishes: Improving maps was already the number 1 wish in the international survey (Community Wishlist 2017). As a result, the MediaWiki extension Kartographer has been greatly improved.
Summary of the problems and wishes reported
From January to mid of February 2021, we invited everyone to explain their problems, wishes and ideas in the field of geoinformation. At the same time, we also looked through previous surveys (Technical Wishes on Meta and German Wikipedia) for older wishes that fit into the topic. This page describes the most frequent suggestions and contains a list of all further suggestions. If you think something important is missing feel free to ping us on the talk page.
Better input options for coordinates needed
Adding coordinates in Wikimedia projects can be tricky and annoying: Since there are a few different formats for coordinates, you have to know what format is needed and probably convert your coordinates accordingly. For these reasons you cannot easily copy/paste coordinates. This was most often reported as an issue for the Upload wizard & on Wikidata, but also for working in Visual Editor, Wikitext editors and others. The intelligent input field for dates in Wikidata was often praised as a blueprint.
Furthermore, some community members wished for a way to determine coordinates by clicking on a map (Coordinate picker). It was mentioned that this might also help when selecting the camera orientation for images on Commons.
Others wished for further visualizations, like a compass, to help make the use of coordinates more intuitive and avoid mistakes. A related wish was that these tools could also check coordinates for plausibility. Another wish was that in some cases, coordinates can also be imported automatically, for example from metadata of pictures.
This class of problems was by far the most mentioned.
Data quality issues
Several problems with the quality of geographic coordinates were mentioned. This includes issues with incorrectly rounded or converted coordinates or coordinates that have more digits than their precision would allow. One result of this is that objects get shown multiple times on maps.
Better interactive maps for articles (Osm.js, WikiMiniAtlas and further gadgets)
Most Wikipedias show an icon at the top right/left corner of articles, which opens an interactive map displaying the item and other points of interest. These are usually built with gadgets and have some limitations and missing features. The team technical wishes does not work on community built gadgets. If the gadgets were migrated to be based on Kartographer, they could profit from the features and potential future improvements of Kartographer.
Interactive maps directly in articles (Kartographer)
Users want the possibility to embed and use interactive maps in articles. This can be done with Kartographer, but this feature is not available on some wikis. There are also several features that Kartographer was reported to be missing:
- Easy way to switch from the map to Geohack
- Allow linking to regional external maps
- Add a link to corresponding OSM objects
- More and/or better icons
- Freely definable icons
- More flexible data sources by the “groups” feature or similar
- Images are sometimes blurry
- Allow displaying more than 100 objects
- Add filter options, and different layers that can be toggled on and off
- Allow displaying more types of objects
- Improve UX for editing
Reliably display geoshapes and lines
Most geographic entities are not just a point but have an area (“Berlin”) or line (“route”), so users would like to display these in maps. The data for this is saved in OSM and the OSM data links to Wikipedia or Wikidata. To use them in maps, there needs to be a backend system that imports the geoshapes data from OSM into a form that can be used to display them on maps. The community-developed tool WIWOSM did this, but users reported that it has problems. For this reason shapes are not always displayed on maps added with the current gadgets. The MediaWiki extension Kartographer has its own analogous backend, but is currently not used on dewiki.
Display articles, objects or pictures on a map
Users want to browse and explore articles, Wikidata items or pictures in an interactive map. Currently, this is possible in the iOS app, and there are several other tools which work similarly. But these would need improvements and a better integration into Mediawiki.
One fundamental issue these maps have is that due to the large size of the Wikimedia projects, there are often more objects than what can be shown on a map. Some community members wish to have some kind of heuristic to limit to the most “important” objects in this case. For example, on a map of Berlin well known sites like Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, etc. would be shown, while thousands of less prominent objects would only be displayed if the user looks at the map in a higher zoom level.
Display of the article coordinates in mobile version and app
The desktop version of Wikipedia shows an article’s coordinates in the top right corner (or top left) – the mobile version and app don’t display it anywhere.
Location maps are created by templates that use CSS to place a marker on an image of a basic map. These maps are displayed incorrectly among others in: the app, Mediaviewer, Page Previews and some skins.
Color coded maps are usually created as SVG files. Creating and especially updating them is cumbersome manual work.
Display the labels on maps in a font that I can read.
In the past maps were displayed in the language and script of the territory mapped, rather than in the reader’s language. The map of Asia below demonstrates the issue. To understand it fully, a reader would have to know no less than seven different writing systems.
As part of the Map improvements 2018 project, the Wikimedia Foundation revamped Kartographer, so that it displays maps in virtually every script and language on the planet. This map internationalization was a significant challenge.
Like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is an open source project, which means that its map data, including name data, is created by volunteers. Which names are available in which languages varies considerably from language to language and from place to place. In general, the names of countries, states, provinces and major cities are present in many languages, while smaller towns and geographic features may or may not be available in the language you want. There is the wish to improve this further by importing data or using Wikidata as an additional source of translations.
Allow users to save their default map view
There are different map layers which show different information and have different styles – users can switch between them. But the choice is not remembered so far and there is no user setting to set the preferred map.
Further issues and wishes
The wishes above are those that were repeatedly reported from different people in the communities, but there are many more ideas, problems and wishes that were reported to us.
They are included just like the others in our investigations, however we think that a detailed description of all of them is out of scope for this summary. Therefore, we list them briefly:
- Make the displayed format of coordinates adjustable
- Sometimes multiple article coordinates are displayed above each other
- Display links to maps as a tiny icon that can be used in articles like a reference
- Display a small map on hovering a coordinate in an article
- Better georeferencing for aerial photographs
- Display the coordinates of an image in an article that uses the picture
- Import data from Exif into fileinfo and/or structured data on Commons
- Coordinates in Wikidata often lack a source
- Allow specifying the precision for a coordinate
- Wikidata contains coordinates with a ridiculous precision
- The template "All Coordinates" should allow tabular filtering
- More filters for the tool WikiShootMe
- Display an interactive map in mobile and app
- Display the “correct” amount of information in the map
- The Wikidata Query Service allows generating interactive maps, but there is no possibility to embed them into articles
- Support the conversion and / or coexistence of legacy templates / gadgets and Kartographer
- Regular and reliable updates of geodata in intermediate databases and caches
- Special:Nearby should have an input box for the used coordinate
- Special:Nearby should have an input box for an article
- A tool to half-automatically generate custom SVGs from OSM maps
- Improve the Wikimedia Foundations OSM-API to support objects beyond relations
- Web application to edit cross-wiki geodata in a user-friendly way
- Missing or bad documentation in general
Need for long-term planning and resources for geographic data
The topic of geographic data and maps is big and important for the Mediawiki project. Therefore, people would like to see someone commit to it in the long term. The wish is to have a contact person for the communities. Given the nature of the project, this is unfortunately not something that the Technical Wishes team will have the capacity to fulfil.
Status and next steps
The status of the work in this topic is always visible on this page. Important milestones are also announced.
- Done As a first step, the research for problems and needs was done in January & Febuary 2021. A summary of it's results can be found above.
- Now: For all the mentioned wishes and problems we estimate feasibility for our team, impact, effort, the profiting user groups, possible side effects and risks.