The wiki’s “On this day” feature

Since June, the OSM Wiki’s OpenHistoricalMap portal has featured an “On this day” section that highlights “selected establishments and disestablishments” that OHM has mapped and dated to the current day of the year. Compiling these daily features has given me a firsthand glimpse at the sheer amount of historical mapping taking place in this project. There’s a lot going on that most first-time visitors don’t know about; all they see is a vast expanse of blankness when they zoom into their hometown.

Unfortunately, I’ve repeatedly fallen behind, leaving a big redlink that scars the page for weeks on end. It can take a long time to find interesting features to highlight and write good hooks for them, and I get distracted too easily. :sweat_smile: Fortunately, a couple others have begun contributing to the “On this day” section of the page, which gives me hope that we’ll be able to complete the full calendar year soon. The portal’s German translation has finally been updated, leading to a discussion about making the rest of the portal translatable. But before we settle on an approach for translating “On this day”, I wanted to see if the community is satisfied with the section in its current form, or if we should approach it differently.

Originally, I conceived of this section, along with the “Then and now” section, as a way to surface the diversity of content in OHM, to counter the misperception that OHM is completely blank after all these years and a failure as a project. People can already turn to Wikipedia’s homepage for a summary of the most notable events on this day in history, but OHM has a special ability to track geographical history, not only the big changes but also the little changes. The quirky or boring stuff doesn’t belong in any textbook, but it fills out the map and keeps it from looking so blank when you zoom in.

To that end, I include a healthy smattering of statues unveiled, restaurants closed, theatres renovated, trees felled, and telephone booths knocked over, along with the usual countries established and cities founded. If nothing else, it expands mappers’ notions of what’s eligible for inclusion on our map. I also try to include some rail and road history, to lure the abandoned railfans and roadfans away from OSM to OHM, where they have more to contribute. Unfortunately, some of the European countries with the densest rail coverage have lots of “arbitrary” dates or haven’t identified any of the lines by name yet.

Lots of history has happened on any given day of the year, but so far we’re heavily biased toward Europe and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. Unavoidably, an American like me holds a stereotype of historical notability that differs from someone in a different part of the world. To spotlight underrepresented regions and time periods, I tend to include some of the oldest and newest changes on a given day and also try to include changes from each continent as much as possible. I get excited whenever there’s something in Brazil or West Africa to link to.

So far, I’ve only mentioned establishments, disestablishments, and anything else that results in us having to map something in OHM. But I noticed that some of the newer templates have also mentioned events that took place at a building we’ve mapped, even if OHM has no reason to refer to that event in the database. I’ve avoided mentioning such events, because a user would follow the link to the OHM feature and see nothing about the event that was mentioned, sort of a dead end. I also didn’t want to essentially copy a hook from Wikipedia rather than from OHM.

On the other hand, the approach I took has led to some quite contrived entries. For example, the 9/11 entry almost makes it sound like the destroyed building matters more than anything else. That’s not the best way to teach history. Should we aim to include geolocated events as well as establishments and disestablishments? Should it be part of this section, or maybe a new section? And going back to the discussion about localization, should we allow each translation of the portal to highlight different content that might be more relevant for speakers of that language (or easier to translate into that language)?

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I agree with not including events that don’t change the map in the “On this day” section, as they are better suited to a project like Wikipedia.