Category: Blog

In recent months I’d had the displeasure of proposing new ways of describing (“tagging”) features in OpenStreetMap. I’ve been trying to expand and improve the tags for environmental features as part of a project I’m working on. Now I’d like to provoke a bit of debate about the use of “subtags” – tags that qualify others, for example saying “this is a garden, and it’s the sort of garden that it used for allotments” rather than saying more simply “these are allotments”. The wiki-based process to agree new tags is a poor excuse for democracy. Under the noses of the hundreds of thousands of OpenStreetMap contributors who refer to the map features page, a relatively small number of people are rolling up their sleeves and debating major changes to the tagging schema on mailing lists and the wiki. Up to twenty or thirty people vote on any proposal, with no…

When I read the New Political Economy Network’s excellent pamphlet called ‘Britain’s Broken Economy’, my first thought was “that sounds just like our election manifesto, like the Green New Deal”. I span that thought out into this article for Bright Green Scotland… have a read and pass on to any Labour folk you happen to know.

I’m not really a fan of Malcolm Gladwell and his cohort of star authors who spin one vaguely interesting idea into a entire “paradigm-smashing” book. But he is spot on when he dismisses Twitter as “more of the same… not the enemy of the status quo”. His vaguely interesting idea here is basically that really big changes come about when people with strong social ties are willing to stick it out in a nasty battle to win the day. Social networks with weak ties (e.g. just following each other on Twitter) will fall apart if they try to take on power to make a really big change because in the process they will probably have to suffer a loss of income, physical injury, etc. Twitter messaging won’t motivate them to stick out the hardship. But by pitting Twitter against a political movement as momentous as American Civil Rights in the…

Aled Dilwyn Fisher and Adam Ramsay have kicked off another little debate about the recent past and possible future of “the left”, following a total failure to seize the much-vaunted opportunity created by the massive financial crisis in 2008. Why did anyone except the hard left – not known for their astute political realism – believe that we were likely to see a reshaping of international capitalism in 2008? Governments regulating and administering the major economic powers and their possible successors approaching national elections almost all lined up behind what Aled succinctly calls “deficit fetishism”. Even Obama’s green-tinged stimulus is undermined by States doing the exact opposite. Adam is interested in narratives about greedy bankers and corrupt politicians, governments running out of money and youth unemployment spirally. Me too, but his writing verges on a pointless delusion – that “we”, a small rabble of bloggers and activists on the fringes…

After packed weekends at weddings and the Green Party conference, and with my fiancee away for a week, I’ve spent a very nice weekend doing those things I always mean to do. Top of my list was to build a cold frame-come-greenhouse for overwintering my herbs. One salvaged broken chair, a trip to the DIY store and a few hours work later and I had fashioned the rather nice frame pictured opposite. It is sitting on our small balcony, the only space available to most Londoners. I’m not really sure which of the strawberry plants, rosemary, mint, coriander, broad-leafed parsley and the chives will survive the winter but at least they now have a cosy little added help. In between ironing, cleaning, sit-ups and press-ups, I’ve also caught up on some of the debate following the autumn Green Party conference. No mention online of my motion introducing policy on Community…

Coverage of “points of interest” in OpenStreetMap is a point of pride for many mappers. Our maps have much richer detail than commercial competitors, they provide endless handy data for mashups, and as a consequence have been a big focus of mapping party efforts in London. But should we really be so keen? I’m not so comfortable for two reasons. First, how up-to-date is our data? I’ve recently re-surveyed my local area in minute detail and found several takeaways, shops and banks that have closed down or changed hands. I’ve also discovered that we have very poor coverage of cycle parking in Southwark following two years of massive expansion by the council. How likely is it that these are being regularly checked and updated? I suspect “not very likely at all”, and have therefore decided to delete all my points of interest in my local area that I’m not confident…

My latest experimentation in environmental maps has been launched on the Peckham Power web site. It grabs the set of energy generators in London (updated every hour from OpenStreetMap) and plots low/zero carbon generators on the map with icons and information to tell you what sort of technology each one uses. The idea is to, eventually, impress people who didn’t realise just how much of this exists in London already. In developing the code that creates the clickable points, I realised that the OpenStreetMap tagging schema doesn’t cope with the many different types of technologies very well. So I am currently taking a detailed proposal through the wiki process to rationalise and expand the “power=generator” feature – comments welcome! It will go to a vote in a couple of weeks. As Oliver Kühn has pointed out, data contributors aren’t always aware of the needs of data consumers. The very sparse…

Rupert Read has posted some useful thoughts on how the Green Party in England & Wales can build on the historic election of our first MP, and on the rapid growth in membership in recent years. There’s much to agree with, particularly on making the internal systems and finances work. If anything, I think he has understated the importance of finances… even to stay still and retain our two London Assembly Members in 2012, our two MEPS in 2013, our MP in 2015 and over a hundred councillors in between. Here in London, a lot of thought has gone into our electoral strategy following the near-wipeout in May. I won’t digress into the London strategy here, but Rupert echoes comments from many party members I have spoken to in emphasising the need to blend realism and ambition. Rupert is also right to ask how we can tighten up our policies,…

Some lively debate flared up on the tail of my previous post on OpenStreetMap governance, where I made my criticism of the “Just Fucking Do It” philosophy that was labelled “do-ocracy”. Harry noted in his diary that there has been some bickering on Twitter on the question of what might be wrong with the otherwise-excellent OpenStreetMap. My principal objection to the “do-ocratic” model is that it excludes “those who can’t” from setting the direction of the project, and that as a consequence OpenStreetMap is unlikely to meet the needs of a great many people. Did I mean that developers are lazily or selfishly ignoring others’ needs? No, I am aware of and indebted to the efforts of many volunteers working to make OpenStreetMap more accessible and usable. Only a handful of community members refuse to engage in grown-up debate. Do I mean to whine because I am excluded? Not at…

Thea Clay made the killer point in Chris Osborne‘s “What’s wrong with OpenStreetMap” session (video here). It was even better than Mikel Maron‘s observation that people should agree with founder Steve Coast just a little bit less! Foundation Board member Henk Hoff (a very nice-sounding chap) was describing the classic technocratic argument that in a “do-ocracy”, those who get on with doing things make decisions by default. Steve must have loved it, you just get on with useful stuff and avoid getting bogged down in pointless debates. Right? Thea pointed out that in a community of tens of thousands, only a few hundred can “do” stuff like making amazing tools and creating useful maps from the tags they’ve invented. I’m in the bigger mass of people who want to contribute data, see lots of good uses and ways in which OpenStreetMap can improve, but lack the skills to “just get…