There shouldn’t need to be an OpenStreetMap

April 9, 2009 | 5 comments

OpenStreetMap is a project whose aim is to make a free map of the world. It’s extremely impressive: as well as searching the map in a normal way, the data is exportable via XML, PNG, JPEG, SVG and more, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

But it shouldn’t need to exist.

In the US, federal government-created maps (and other data) are considered to be public information, and released freely. In the UK, such maps are subject to Crown Copyright, and the Ordnance Survey has been set up as a trading organisation that legally must make money from its efforts.

This was an archaic idea at its inception, but makes even less sense now. The economy is in dire straits, and what it should be doing is providing taxpayer-funded data for use by companies; this kind of data in particular could give British businesses a flying start. Instead, it chooses to make money from them instead, and web services are left to projects like OpenStreetMap, as well as US businesses like Google, in order to source information.

The Guardian’s Data Store is one British attempt to rectify the situation, but ideally all data in the public interest should be released in a format that is easily consumable by third-party applications. As well as helping entrepreneurs and small businesses, it’ll allow for a deeper understanding of, and participation in, how our country is run. Which can’t be a bad thing – can it?

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5 Comments

  1. Agreed, but there’s a lot of things the government should be doing but isn’t.

    If you excuse the shameless plug, but a lot of this sort of thing will likely be discussed in detail at Barcamp Transparency this summer – http://barcamptransparency.pbwiki.com/FrontPage!

    @mapkyca on twitter for details :)

    Marcus Povey April 9, 2009 (3:03 pm)
  2. Hi Ben

    I’ve been following you on twitter for a while, but thought this better than a twitter reply to your last one:

    Have you heard of the Sustainable Communities Bill? It was set up by a group of charities (http://localworks.org) and was put together by lib dems, conservatives and labour (at least) together, so quite novel in that respect.

    The idea is some kind of watered down direct democracy attempt: you suggest things to your council, and your council can then request info it needs from central government, and if they (council and gov) then think it’ll save them money or make your community more sustainable, they’ll change whatever laws required to make that suggestion happen. Our council in Bristol has opted in to this, and are collecting suggestions until 1st May as a trial for this year. Not sure where you live, but if your council has opted in, we have a small window of opportunity to make these suggestions, and what you are talking about here is a great example of old stupid laws hampering things now and forcing us, and city councils too, to waste money.

    Hope that helps,

    Ale

    Ale Fernandez April 9, 2009 (3:07 pm)
  3. Ale, that’s really interesting – I’ll check it out and see if Oxford is participating. Thanks for passing it along; I definitely have a few things I’d like to suggest.

    Ben Werdmuller April 9, 2009 (3:09 pm)
  4. Hi, Ben-

    I totally agree with your point about survey data being freely available. As far as I know, government-collected data is only freely available in the US and (recently) Japan. I’m glad to see there’s a movement for opening this up.

    But even if the data were all free and open, OpenStreetMap (or something like it) would still be needed.

    For one, just having free data doesn’t provide the presentation service. The data is just numbers, the map is not the territory.

    Another thing OpenStreetMap provides is a way for people to add their own data on top of official data. This is a much more interesting prospect than simple maps.

    Google Maps, meanwhile, has a great model of building on top of the basic data. Locations of houses and businesses and community buildings, directions, walking paths, biking routes… all of these things add value to the geographic information. I’d love to see OpenStreetMap grow in this direction.

    Regards
    -Doug

    Shepazu April 10, 2009 (10:04 pm)
  5. Have you seen the quality of the US MAPS? If you compare them to the UK you will see why they are FREE !

    ROBIN April 11, 2009 (9:37 pm)

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