Free Our Data: the blog

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


How much does it cost to display a map online? The correct(ed) answer

After last week’s blog post in which we suggested it would cost millions to put an OS map of the UK online if you had a successful site (with, say, 2,000 users per day), we’ve had lots of people saying that’s wrong. And it is.

So today’s Guardian carries the story How much does it cost to display an OS map on a website?:

Much less than we estimated last week. In “Time to account for travel maps’ costs” (June 22), we wrote: “For a charity to put [those maps] on a webserver that might be used by hundreds of people (a typical server can handle 2,000) would cost millions of pounds annually.”

In fact, Ordnance Survey points out, the cost would be more like £18,000 per year – a hundredfold less than we suggested.

Of course we should have checked and checked again. Yup. We were following mySociety’s expectation that if it cost £1,000 for a single user internally per year, that that would scale up scarily once you displayed the data online.

But the confusion is understandable. OS’s page on copyright licensing for internet use (at http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/business/copyright/purpose/internet.html) does not specify that internet users en masse only count as one; hence mySociety’s expectation that internet use would lead to an explosion in costs.

Not so, said OS. For a single scale mapping of the country – say, at 1:50,000 scale – including Code Point for finding postcodes (so you can get a map of a postcode’s location), the annual licence for a website serving 20,000 map images per day, every day, would be £18,200 per year.

To provide the mapping service most web users are used to, one would have to license several scales: we have grown used to being able to zoom in on a point.

Streetmap offers seven mapping scales; Multimap offers 13, though not all appear to come from OS. Using multiple scales will, of course, ramp up costs very quickly – as will being popular. But even licensing seven scales will only take your annual costs to around £100,000 – not into the millions. Unless, of course, you are wildly successful.

So, that’s corrected, we hope. But even so:

Tom Steinberg, mySociety’s director, says: “The price for these maps, which cover only a small chunk of the country, is way above affordability by most small and medium-sized enterprises, a group that employs more than half the UK workforce. Furthermore, it excludes the entire caste of internet-based enthusiasts who’ve produced about 80% of all the innovative mapping work in the world over the past couple of years.”

Even at the new lower price, we probably won’t be putting those maps on soon..

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