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So how generous is Ordnance Survey OpenData?

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At the beginning of this month (apologies, we’re a bit late) the Government announced that much of the mapping data held by the Ordnance Survey would be released free to the public.It was largely heralded as a major success for Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Nigel Shadbolt, both of data.gov.uk and the open data movement and seen as a huge opportunity for developers and businesses to feast on the newly released information and deliver new, innovative and very profitable products.

Indeed, one study conducted for the government concluded that opening OS data would cost £12m and bring a net gain of £156m – through increased tax revenues that would result from the booming new industry that would be created.


A mixed verdict
But, as the dust settles, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of the release and its implications – as you can see by looking at this story on the Guardian’s Data Blog. While it gives a fairly encouraging view of the government’s announcement, there were many reader comments that were far less flattering.

In particular, many people feel that the OS hasn’t been forced to give up licensing rights on its most valuable and useful product Master Map – a single, large digital map of the UK that contains the most accurate and detailed mapping information for the UK. Others – particularly ramblers – are annoyed that the 1:50,000 Explorer and 1:25,000 Landranger maps are not available under the release.

And the Postcode Address File (PAF) dataset, owned by Royal Mail, has not been made available – another thing that will rankle with many in the open data movement.

Recently, Simon Whitehouse held a talk at Moseley Exchange, in Moseley, Birmingham, about the implications of OS OpenData, as the new release is being called, and some of its limitations. And there are, no doubt, many other people who will begin to shed more light on the real value – or lack thereof – that this development brings.

Stay positive

We should probably bear in mind that this is a halfway house. It seems there was a fierce debate between those who wanted to open up the data and those who felt it would compromise the OS’s ability to raise the funds needed to continue providing the accurate maps for which it is known.

So it might be that, if people begin to use the information creatively, we’ll begin to see a change in attitude and further opening up of OS data.

As one commenter, Jon Reades, on the Guardian Data blog story notes, it does offer people the opportunity to ‘play’ with the data – which itself may be where the real value from this opening up comes. Already there are those within the OpenStreetMap movement – for example, Chris Hill – who are using the newly available information to augment its map and, if it helps this brilliant project to continue its development, then that is a very good thing. If this and other new uses offer not just increased tax revenues, but genuinely useful and socially beneficial applications, then it’ll be up to the Government and Ordnance Survey to respond.

And, at least for some users, there’ll be the frisson of excitement offered by nothing more than embedding an OS map. Something that – until very recently – seemed a long way off.

One Response to “So how generous is Ordnance Survey OpenData?”

  1. […] So how generous is Ordnance Survey open data? | Be Vocal RT @Andbwell: I just blogged: #OS open #data. Is it enough? http://bit.ly/c1QBEf (tags: OS data via:packrati.us) […]

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