Today in our interview series with members of the OpenStreetMap community we speak with Ilya Zverev (@ilyazver on twitter), maker of the OpenStreetMap editor Level0. It is a real pleasure to be able to share Ilya’s work because it is a tool I use frequently, and a great example of building one simple tool for a specific task, exactly the strategy we follow here at OpenCage.


1. Who are you and what do you do? What got you into OpenStreetMap?

I am an OpenStreetMap enthusiast, doing all things I can in the project. Found OSM when I was looking for a free map for cycling in Finland, stayed because I saw some errors on the way. Currently I work for MAPS.ME, helping make the data useful to millions of its users.

2. Among many other things you are the maker of OSM editor Level0. Why did you make this tool? Who is the target audience? How does it differ from the many other editors?

I use Vim editor daily, so I naturally like RawEditor’s approach: it showed you raw XML of an object and uploaded changes. But XML is too verbose, so I invented a more compact alternative, Level0L, losing almost no important metadata: much like YAML was created as a readable XML. From that format, the editor was born.

Level0 is good for search-and-replace kind of edits, as well as adding tags or moving nodes (there is a small map). While being a low-level editor (hence its name), it is more understandable than RawEditor. For example, tags are represented as “key=value” pairs, so you immediately see how to change or remove values.

You don’t need to install it, unlike JOSM. Your browser does not need to support JavaScript, unlike iD. Anyone can understand it and edit multiple objects with it, unlike RawEditor. So the target audience is any mapper who knows how OSM works and which tags to use. Just paste an URL to an object and make your edit.

3. What have you learned in developing Level0 and the various other OSM tools you’ve worked on?

That the OpenStreetMap community is small. Any tool you write would be a niche tool. Except anything that’s features on the OSM website, obviously. Level0 is used by ~200 mappers a year, which is a hundred times less than JOSM and thousand times less than iD.

Another thing has been obvious since the first year I’m here: OpenStreetMap needs everything. More editors, more tutorials, more rendering styles, more mappers, more software. Anyone has something to contribute, although most don’t know what to do. After having published many plugins and web services, I still see a long way ahead. We in OSM need all the help we can get.

4. Any advice to anyone looking to develop an editor or OSM tools in general?

Just do it. Even if it’s something that’s been done before, you’ll definitely do something new in the process. And you will learn a lot.

Ask for help, but not for advice. The community is eager to offer both, but the latter might get you stuck in the planning phase. Start small and start now.

5. Any further plans for Level0? What is the best way for people to contribute to the project?

Frankly, I did not touch it since 2016, and do not plan to. It asks to be rewritten either as a stand-alone JavaScript page, or a console tool. I’d be glad to see the format, Level0L, live on in new tools.

Regarding the editor, it is quite slow (my code is bad) and the design leaves much to be desired. There are 12 buttons when you open it — could be simpler. And I really miss a regexp-powered search-and-replace tool sometimes.

6. What steps could the global OpenStreetMap community take to help support editor / tool development?

Be positive, I guess. I have seen a lot of negativity towards new and old software. “Ban Potlatch”, “Nominatim is awful”, “MAPS.ME calls for an autoreverter”. We say the community is our greatest strength, but the retention is abysmal. Because every time when somebody finishes a big project, they face silence. If they are lucky, there will be a line in WeeklyOSM.

You see a new tool published or a big mapping project completed? Say thanks. It doesn’t take much time, but helps an author feel it was not for nothing.

7. As a long time member of the OpenStreetMap community, where do you think OSM will be in 10 years time?

I hope not where it is now. There must be a budget for development, and many paid stuff, and strong public relations. The map should go off the main page. There will be vector tiles — but not the way we think they’d be. The web editor will be new. And the community… I hope the whole world will be our community.

Thanks you Ilya! For the interview, for your tool, and also for your advice to others to dive in. This is exactly the spirit we need, and I hope others are inspired by your example. I could not agree more that what we need in the OSM community is more praise and less criticism. We have come along way, but there is so much more still to do.



Please let us know if your community would like to be part of our interview series here on our blog. If you are or know of someone we should interview, please get in touch, we’re always looking to promote people doing interesting things with open geo data.