The Null Device

Freeing the Isle of Wight

In Britain, there is little free map data. There is an excellent map of the whole of Britain, assembled by the government's Ordnance Survey, but, in line with Thatcherite-Blairite ideology, which holds that not extracting the maximum profit is a grievious dereliction of duty, this is commercial and expensive. (In contrast, the United States Geographical Survey's maps are in the public domain, the reasoning being that, as they were assembled with public funds, they belong to the public.) A group of mapping geeks and free-culture activists under the banner of OpenStreetMap are working to reverse this by creating their own maps; they have a wiki-like system to which volunteers with GPS units can upload traces of streets they have walked down and such. This weekend, they are having a working bee of sorts, intensively mapping the Isle of Wight. More than 30 volunteers will descend on the island, walking its many paths with GPS units and uploading their traces to the wiki; of course, the more the merrier, so if you have a GPS unit and a belief that information wants to be free.

It is hoped that this project, and the OpenStreetMap project in general, will force a sea change in the ownership of geographical data in the UK, much in the way that the Sanger Institute's human-genome sequencing effort in Cambridge made it unfeasible for Celera Genomics to exercise proprietary control over the human genome.

There are 3 comments on "Freeing the Isle of Wight":

Posted by: El Bizarro Thu May 4 15:25:32 2006

Of course, we did the same thing here in Ozlandia with all our GIS data over a decade ago, flogging it off on the cheap to a private company and then having to license it back to use it again. I remember creating one map one week and then having to order the rights to use it even though the shape files were still sitting on our server. Of course, the money the company paid us (the Australian people) was a pittance of what it cost to produce them, much the same as selling off Telstra was a bargain for the media moguls who were only ever really interested in all that tasty infrastructure that for some reason no theoretically more efficient private enterprise was able to create.

Posted by: acb Thu May 4 15:29:50 2006

And Australia would be a lot more work to map using volunteers and GPS units. (Hmm.. perhaps you could use British backpackers to do the job, in between picking grapes?)

Posted by: acb Thu May 4 15:30:43 2006

Unless, of course, doing so would violate some kind of national-security law. Which wouldn't surprise me.