The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'ordnance survey'
The Ordnance Survey, long the dog in the manger of taxpayer-funded geodata, is setting its data free. From tomorrow, data including 1:10,000-scale maps and the coordinates of UK postcodes will be free for both personal and commercial use. (Some maps, such as the Explorer and Landranger maps, will remain commercial.)
OS is government-owned but self-funding through the sale of licences to use its maps. It had revenues of about £117m in 2009, of which roughly half came from the public sector, and provided a dividend of about £5m to the Treasury. The new arrangements are expected to cost about £20m in forgone revenues – which the government anticipates will be made up through increased tax revenues. The Treasury has agreed to fund the difference.The Ordnance Survey's Open Data site is here; may a million mashups bloom.
Some good news on the free data front: the New Labour government, in its desperate attempts to claw back the status of lesser evil, has vowed to make all Ordnance Survey maps freely available, ending the OS's practice of licensing said data for exorbitant fees and under restrictive terms, and bringing Britain into line with the US (where US Geological Survey data is statutorily in the public domain):
The government has been inspired by the success of crime mapping where "data openness" is helping citizens assess the safety of geographical areas.
In the new year Brown intends to publish 2,000 sets of data, possibly including all legislation, as well as road-traffic counts over the past eight years, property prices listed with the stamp-duty yield, motoring offences with types of offence and the numbers, by county, for the top six offences.It is thought that among the data to be freed will be railway and bus timetables, currently being licensed under monopoly rents by privatised companies. (For example, those wanting National Rail timetables on the iPhone, and not wishing to reload the web page and zoom in on form fields every time, have to buy a £4.99 application. There was a free app, written by a user, but its access to the data was blocked by the rightsholders. The National Rail Enquiries application is currently the 10th highest grossing application in the UK App Store, undoubtedly making the publisher, Agant Inc., a mint out of the public.)
The Ordnance Survey are of course keen to protect their revenue streams, and argue that freeing their data would cost the government vast sums; an independent study at Cambridge University, however, showed that the costs of freeing the data (£12m) would be overwhelmingly outweighed by a net gain of £156m. A significant proportion of this would undoubtedly come from the slices of council tax and other funds currently being paid to the Ordnance Survey to license this data:
Local authorities also spend a lot of money getting access to Ordnance Survey. Swindon recently had to pay the OS £38,000 a year to use its addresses and geographical data, even though it had collected much of the data.Of course, the devil is in the details. For all we know, the plan to free the data could be a purely cosmetic gesture comprised of little more than hot air and New Labour spin, offering the "freed" data under such onerous terms as to make it unusable. Though if it does live up to the promise, it will be a bold step in the right direction.
Britain's local councils and government departments have started to embrace web-based mapping technology, and using systems like Google Maps to display geographical information, from the locations of public toilets and recycling facilities to crime statistics. Of course, the Ordnance Survey, that troll under the bridge of UK geodata, doesn't like this one bit, and has started making threatening noises at local councils, warning them that they are prohibited from putting any data that has ever touched Ordnance Survey data on Google Maps. Of course, they might be willing to take a more agreeable line if the councils (and consequently, the taxpayers) paid them more to license the data (which was gathered using taxpayers' money, and subsequently privatised in line with Thatcherite-Blairite ideology) for web-based maps; in the meantime, they have offered the councils their own Google Maps substitute, which comes with its own poisonous licensing conditions:
The move also seems to block most of the winners of Cabinet Office's recently completed £80,000 Show Us A Better Way competition to find innovative ways to use government-held data. The winner of that competition, a site called Can I Recycle It?, would rely on locating local recycling centres - which OS could argue has been derived from its maps if a council keeps them with any sort of geographical referencing. The same would be true of another winner, Loofinder, which aims to make locations of public toilets available in a map online, just as described above.
Although OS issued a press release congratulating the competition winners and offering them "full access" to its Google Maps-like OpenSpace system - which has similar programmability - the OpenSpace licence limits the number of viewings allowed per day, and bans any use by business, central or local government. Furthermore, OS claims ownership of any data plotted on an OpenSpace-derived map. And the use of derived data would break its licence with authorities.However, this time this may have consequences the OS weren't anticipating; some councils are now making noises about buying a few GPS units and paying people to go around, collect coordinates of boundaries and facilities, and plug them into OpenStreetMap, essentially telling the Ordnance Survey to go jump.
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.
(via Boing Boing)