Tag: Free data

One of the killer features of OpenStreetMap, which makes it completely different to Google Maps and the rest, is that we provide totally free geodata. In fact it’s really the primary purpose of OpenStreetMap – the various maps shown on the homepage are just a tasty preview. For those of us lacking the time, money and skills enjoyed by some of the cooler data users (i.e. unable to run a dedicated server with a PostgreSQL database and all the programs and storage space needed to maintain an up-to-date clone of the OpenStreetMap database) there are two main ways to grab OpenStreetMap data. One is to simply download a defined area using the API. The “export” tab on the web site and editors like JOSM make this easy. The disadvantage is that you get everything in that area. If you wanted to get, say, all the power generators in the UK you…

Read More Growing pains & getting data out of OpenStreetMap

Two parallel worlds are starting to rub up against each other – open data enthusiasts and local activist groups. As Sam Smith has pointed out, embedding the power of open data in other worlds such as local activism has barely begun. Maps are one medium where I’ve been trying to bring these worlds together. Stepping into the ring In the left corner we have people like Rob Hopkins, who has just written a great summary of Transition Town groups mapping wild food, local groups and visions of the future. This wonderful work makes use of relatively open tools like Google Maps, but (so far as I can see) they make absolutely no use of open data, and keep all of their data in their own separate mapping systems. In the right corner we have open data crowds like OpenStreetMap, and after some prodding from me the Greater London Authority and…

Read More Matchmaking open data geeks and local mappers

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…

Read More When is a garden not a garden?

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…

Read More Are minor points of interest poisonous?

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…

Read More Low carbon power in Open Street Map

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…

Read More Some clarifications – what is wrong with Open Street Map?

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…

Read More Political philosophy in Open Street Map

Following past discussions with staff at Southwark Council and the Greater London Authority, I helped organise a technical  workshop in City Hall this weekend. We brought some key OpenStreetMap geeks together with some keen potential early adopters from the GLA, Southwark and Brent to talk open maps and hack on data & tools. Harry Wood will post a useful rundown of some of the stuff people hacked on over the two days. The only practical thing I did was to work with Rob Scott (OSM) and Scott Day (Southwark Council) to try and extract buildings from the open Ordnance Survey maps so we could merge them into OpenStreetMap without having to manually trace every single one (yawn). For the nerds, I’ve written up our initial results on the wiki. Talking with Scott, it was clear that Southwark probably have a lot of data we could benefit from, and that they…

Read More Map geeks in the bowels of City Hall

I met up with two map/GIS officers from Southwark Council this evening to continue a discussion about OpenStreetMap; they’re very interested in it. The obvious starting point, with some help from ITO, will be to use OpenStreetMap for the new web mapping service on all zoom levels up to the very detailed Ordnance Survey master maps (which have exact road shapes, buildings, etc.). That’s right – they might replace the commercial stuff with maps that were made by the community and shared for free! Southwark has some pretty well known landmarks – Tower Bridge, the Globe Theatre, Peckham library and Nunhead Cemetery to name but a few. It will be exciting to have OpenStreetMap data of these on the Southwark web site. But wait – it gets better. They’re also interested in discussing real, actual collaboration. To begin with, they might be able to provide data for OpenStreetMap and help…

Read More Map geeks collaborating with Southwark Council?

How could the Greater London Authority, Southwark Council or tenants on estates use OpenStreetMap? I regularly use it to get around, but of course I’m an OSM nerd. Most people have never heard of it, which is a shame because they could really benefit from it. This evening I introduced the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations to the project, handing around some printouts showing how OSM has many estates much better mapped than Google, and how we have nice (but very incomplete) public transport and cycling maps which are much more useful for your average tenant than a map for car drivers. Everyone seemed really enthusiastic, which was lovely! One lady thanked me for getting the name of her estate right; it changed in 1979 but lots of maps still have the old name. So I’m going to do some workshops with tenants on a couple of estates to get…

Read More Getting OpenStreetMaps out in London