[Talk-GB] Ordnance Survey response

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemeD.net
Thu Jan 14 15:33:58 GMT 2010

Dave F. wrote:

> I've had a quick look through your document in the limited time I've got.
> "The availability of raster cartography is not a barrier to innovation."
> Could you expand on what you mean by that? Do you mean the availability
> now, or after the consultation?

Availability now.

People are not being stopped from doing innovative, creative things by  
a lack of a freely-available raster background for web work (the cited  
reason for releasing 1:25k and 1:50k raster). Raster backgrounds are  
already widely available through webmap APIs. If you want to produce a  
good mashup website, you can; and people do.

Releasing 1:25k and 1:50k raster maps _would_ save publishing  
companies, like the one I work for, quite a bit of money for the maps  
we already license. We could also print off a bunch of copies of maps  
in popular areas (say, Snowdonia and the Lakes), undercutting the OS  
by £3 because we don't have an obligation to publish in unprofitable  

But saving my employer money is not one of the drivers for this  
consultation, and neither should it be. We charge for our magazine,  
and if maps are a selling point for it (which they are), then I don't  
see why we shouldn't have to pay for any OS content we use, just as  
we'd pay any other contributor.

The objective should be to release enough data that people can produce  
innovative products, while preserving enough of an income stream for  
the Ordnance Survey so that it can still afford - in a climate of  
reduced public-sector spending - to survey the country accurately and  
efficiently. In the extreme case, we could ask OS to release  
absolutely everything for free; but that entails a ~£100m pa  
Government commitment, much of which would effectively be a subsidy to  
companies like ours who could, and do, pay for data and are happy  
doing so. That won't fly in the current financial climate, and nor  
should it.

IMHO. :)

> " the strongly-coloured, dense cartography of the 1:25k and 1:50k
> products is entirely
> unsuitable for superimposing information."
> Within OSM I'm using the excellently scanned OoC 1:25k by Andy R. with
> no problems.
> In the wider issue of mash-ups, faded backgrounds could be, & is being
> ,used to reduce any perceived obscurant.

Well, maybe. The cartographer in me says that the colours are chosen  
for a reason and that it's better to design a new cartography than dim  
out an existing one. CloudMade's Pale Dawn style, produced by Stamen,  
is a really good example of how it should be done - a simple, but  
effective cartography expressly designed for this purpose.

> "Free release of the raster products would also harm public perceptions
> of Ordnance Survey."
> The perception of OS is that they're data hoarders (which the tax payer
> payed for) in the belief that 'knowledge is power'

No, I don't think so. That's the perception of the 20 OSMers and the  
30 people who've been following the Guardian's Free Our Data campaign  
- well, a few more than that, but you know what I mean.

IMX the perception of the OS among the general public is very  
favourable. OS has a reputation for quality. Most people don't  
understand that OS does "data", they just know of the paper maps -  
which they like. Every time there's a story on the news about  
over-trusting numpties driving off a cliff "because my satnav told me  
too", someone always pipes up in the comments section with "tsk,  
should have used an OS map".

If you can buy the same map from another company, with the OS name  
relegated to a tiny attribution on the legend, then that will slowly  
erode the goodwill associated with the OS. Public sector accounting  
practice is very bad at recognising goodwill, but it certainly exists.

> "Though custom cartography is the right answer for many applications,
> it will ?nd it dif?cult to compete with the free,
> universally-recognised cartography of the OS."
> Are you saying you want to prevent these releases to protect the   
> likes of OSM?
> Competition leads to improved services through innovation.

FWIW: I don't believe that's a universal rule. But your politics are  
probably different from mine!

I wouldn't just say "to protect the likes of OSM". Rather, "to  
encourage people to create new and innovative maps". If the 1:25k and  
1:50k are freely available, there will be less of an incentive for  
people to produce innovative maps from the source data.

> By thoughts will be sent to OS shortly...

Good good. The more responses the merrier, and it would be excellent  
if others were to publish their responses too. (Though you probably  
want to send it to DCLG as they're doing the consultation. ;) )


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