For my final post on airport authoring, a few comments on the sharing process and moderation process. This is where we’ve gotten the most questions about procedure, etc.
A New Website
Traditionally, airports have gone to Robin Peel – he maintains a private SQL database where submissions are tracked.
We have a developer working now on a new portal website for the global airports – the website will support upload of new airports, tracking of airports by administrators, and downloading of pre-release airports before they are brought into X-Plane.
The site provides back-end tracking for us so that we can see what has been submitted and changed, etc.
To upload data on the site you’ll need a free account – this way we will have contact information for anyone sharing airports. (Very often we want to email the author and say “could you please fix the one PAPI that is facing in the wrong direction.”)
The big question is: what about quality? How will we fix problems in the shared airports, and what will the quality bar be?
My current thinking is: quality should be like a ratchet: no user submission should ever make things worse than they were before. Over time, this will allow us to continually improve the airports.
This means a few things:
- If you upload a newer version of an airport, and your work is worse than what was there before in some way, your upload will probably not be used as the new official airport version. For example, if you add buildings but accidentally delete a runway, the upload is worse and won’t be used.
- This also means that you have to include every type of data present before-hand. If the previous airport has buildings, you need to include these buildings in your version even if you are only editing ATC data. You can’t upload just one kind of data.*
- If you upload new data (E.g. new buildings) they don’t have to be perfect. We should not reject uploads because they aren’t as perfect as possible – over time we’ll ratchet up quality. Let’s walk before we run.
- On the other hand, if your upload just looks totally broken, expect it to not be used. If there are no buildings at the airport and you put a hangar on the runway itself, we can’t use it.
One reason that we want you to include all data in every upload is that it’s important to check that the data is all synchronized. If users submit apt.dat and ATC data separately, the taxi routes could be misaligned from the pavement and the authors would not see this. By having everything in your package you can see that alignment is correct between all data sources before uploading.
Moderators and Collaboration
The system is being designed to support multiple moderators; one thing that seems clear so far is that the work of keeping an eye on this data has gone way up now that we have buildings too.
If there is a conflict between two legitimate layouts, both very good but different, we have the emails of the authors – we can email both and say “you guys work out a compromise for the location”.
One final thought: I have seen a lot of postings on forums, email to me, and blog comments, all expressing concern about what to do about bad data and how to stomp it out.
I think it’s important to take a step back and not get too carried away here. The goal of the global airports is to share data, with the moderators spotting bugs. No author that I have spoken to has ever said “I really want to post bad data to your database!” The moderators will be more like editors of a book than police catching criminals.
I bring this up because I have participated in other crowd-sourced projects, some that presume the authors are innocent until proven guilty (e.g. they assume authors know what they’re doing) and some that are guilty until proven innocent (e.g. no contribution goes up without a super-thorough review).
Invariably, the more relaxed projects end up with significantly more contributions, and in the long term end up with higher quality data, driven by a larger and more motivated authoring community. By comparison, the projects that put a huge emphasis on stopping contributors from erring as a primary goal end up deterring user contributions, and end up with worse data as a whole due to a lack of man-power.
One thing Robin has done right for quite a long time with X-Plane’s airport (which might not be obvious – sometimes when you do soemthing correctly its invisible) is to not alienate contributors who have had data quality issues. I want to make sure that we preserve a positive attitude toward contributors as we grow the global airport process.