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Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Free Digital Mapping in the UK?

Picture of OS Map CoverIn November Gordon Brown, our esteemed leader, announced that the Government wished to make some Ordnance Survey data and some products free to the end-user.

Following this announcement, in December last year a consultation document confirmed that the 1:50,000 ‘Landranger’ and 1:25,000 ‘Explorer’ maps would be included. The proposal is for these datasets to be released with few restrictions on re-use. Maybe none at all.


Well, the real objective has nothing at all to do with us, the outdoor enthusiasts. Our benefit is a welcome side effect. It is to make the mapping freely available to organisations that might use it for mapping crime statistics, house prices, recycling targets, flooding reports or any other of a multitude of uses.

Much of the OS revenue stream will remain, and may become more expensive to compensate. The proposal is for the withdrawal of the least detailed mapping, so the sort of large scale mapping for property registration, developers, builders, surveyors etc will remain as paid-for data. However, the so-called "low resolution" data happily includes the 1:50000 and the 1:25000 scales, which is about as detailed as we're ever likely to need outside a street map.

The digital mapping publishers must be quaking in their virtual boots, and one wonders how they will justify the cost of their software without the highly lucrative sales of OS licensed product. Paper map publishers, less so maybe. A Harveys map is still the bees knees.

Obviously, to preserve the excellent paper maps and fund future mapping, the OS will require a considerable subsidy from the government (i.e the taxpayers of this fair land) to compensate for the loss of revenue. That's you and me, but, wonderfully, everyone else and every business and banker in the land as well, so only pence per head.

It's not often that I find myself the recipient of government largesse - in fact most of my business life seems to have been spent funding folly after folly by our commercially inept politicos - so in this case I'm prepared to put my capitalist principles to one side. Bring it on!

So well done to Grough Route for being at the forefront of free digital mapping. Right now it's a bargain £1.50 per month for the whole of the UK at 1:50000 AND 1:25000. If the proposals for free access to this dataset go through, then it will be free.

What now for Anquet, Memory Map, Quo etc?



Blogger BG! said...

Does this "free digital mapping" also mean that we're to be freed from those draconian copyright conditions when it comes to slapping digital OS mappage all over our blogs?

January 18, 2010 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Good question. Possibly. There has been speculation that the mapping will be licenced under a sort of "Creative Commons", with limited restrictions. We shall see. This may all come to nothing of course, so fingers crossed.

January 18, 2010 at 11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, and extremely good news! I'd missed it, since I'm so bad at keeping up with what's going on. Many thanks for flagging it up ♥

January 19, 2010 at 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Rolf Kerkhof Mogot said...

Hi Phil,

I think you're missing the point here. People like Mr 'Grough Route' are now using licensed OS content to lure you to use his site. For the moment he let you pay a fairly small amount to cover the costs of the OS licence. But if this is the real licence cost of the OS data, then this would not be such a problem. The real cost will probably be much bigger. But the point is that Mr grough just wants you to use his site, he then sells your traffic to the advertising world. That is his business case. So freeing the OS licence will not substantially change his business case. He simple wants to confront you with as much advertisements as he can.

I rather pay for whatever OS data I need and stay a-way from such Google-ads bussiness cases.



January 19, 2010 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger John J said...

The site wasn't happy that my (Linux) system had popups disallowed. When I allowed popups I kept getting....popups!

Still a good facility though, thanks for pointing it out Phil.


January 19, 2010 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Hi Rolf

Yes, you're probably 100% correct - there is no such thing as a free lunch. Advertising might be the financial engine in the end, just as it is with magazines, newspapers, commercial TV - and even the TGO Magazine website!

However, provided the advertising is not too intrusive, I wouldn't be too bothered.

Many web service providers offer a choice between a "free" account with advertising, or a "paid-for" service without. This option could be offered for digital mapping, but I suspect that the take up would be quite low, unless the paid for version offered greatly enhanced features.

Instead of a subscription the existing option of 'pay per print' and 'pay per gps download' might be the way to pay for an ad free service.

That said, Google's free search engine is entirely financed by advertising, but I can't imagine anyone signing up to pay to have the advertising removed when they use it. The ads really don't interfere with the functionality.

And, like Google, you can use a web based mapping service from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

So I think the CD/DVD based products may have had their day. It will be fascinating to see how Memory Map & co respond to the challenge. Hopefully we will see new, innovative and much cheaper products in the near future.

But the data ain't free yet, so we'll have to wait and see!!!!

January 19, 2010 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Hi John

That's odd. I use Firefox, and I also have popups disallowed, but I've not had any problems ... nor have I had any popups!

Good stuff with the 1:25000 maps though - some parts of our Challenge Route now look quite terrifying!

Maybe I should have stuck with the old 1:50000 Memory Map? Ignorance is bliss and all that?

Cheers for the info.


January 19, 2010 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Phil said...


Oooops. I tell a lie. *embarrassed* On checking I HAVE allowed pop ups for Grough Route (must have forgotten).

Still works fine in Firefox though :-)

January 19, 2010 at 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Rolf Kerkhof Mogot said...

Hi Phil,

i also use linux/ firefox with no popups allowed, works allright for me.

Talking about linux brings me back to the original question: free OS data.

In the open source community are already loads of free geographical programs. They seem not to impress, mostly due to lack of data = real maps. Let us hope that free OS digital maps will give opensource community the lead they need to really impress us.

I do not know where, but somehow I have a feeling that opensource and open access are related.

Regards from dull and grey Ede, The Netherlands.


January 20, 2010 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Interesting point about the open source community, Rolf. I had not considered that. I've had a good look at OSGeo.org and there certainly seems to be a lot going on.

The question remains, though, will this freeing of OS data go ahead? I do hope so.

January 21, 2010 at 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Rolf Kerkhof Mogot said...

Hi Phil,

o there is so much. Check this forexample:

A windows example: this freeware would be enough if OS-data would be available

By the way the Dutch OS service is now starting to sell data at very low prices for consumers to use in cheap programs like Ozi-explorer.



January 22, 2010 at 12:11 AM  

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