Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens

“There’s no economic incentive to free data – until we produce one”

Today’s Guardian Technology has an article by SA Mathieson about OpenStreetMap’s work last weekend to try to map the Isle of Wight.

A few key points:

  • OS maps from the 1940s are now officially out of copyright, and there’s no copyright in the National Grid Reference. “Dr Humphrey Southall, reader in geography at the University of Portsmouth and director of the project, says that much of the series is still usable: “Most of the parish boundaries existed 100 years ago,” he says, and in many rural areas, the 1940s maps are still pretty accurate: “There are large areas of the country which are like that, but most people don’t live in them,” he notes.”
  • private companies deliberately put errors into their maps, so they can catch plagiarism. Ever been to Lye Close in Bristol? No, you haven’t, even though it’s marked on the A-Z company’s maps. Nobody has – it doesn’t exist. (I once went out with a woman who lived in a London road which wasn’t marked on the A-Z. That did make life quite complicated.)
  • Next weekend (May 13-14) OpenStreetMap will attempt to map the centre of Manchester, with the aim of producing a free-to-use map of venues for the city’s Futuresonic 2006 arts festival in July. “They can’t get it from OS without spending vast amounts of money,” says Coast.
  • The “Mapchester” event is getting space and support from Manchester Digital Development Agency, a public-sector organisation. “We very much endorse it,” says Dave Carter, its head. “We see it as a map version of open source. It might not work, but … we’re funded to promote innovative research and development, which is why we’re supporting this.”

Is it only me who finds it faintly ridiculous that a public sector organisation is endorsing a public movement to create open-source maps for the public’s use when there’s already a public sector organisation that creates very good maps – but which neither the other public sector organisation or the public wants to tangle with?

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