Free Our Data: the blog

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


If councils move to Google Maps does that help or hinder Ordnance Survey?

Today’s Guardian Technology looks at how a number of councils, notably including the London Borough of Brent, and even some central government organisations, are moving to use Google Maps for their consumer-facing displays of map data.

In Councils bypass Ordnance Survey for Google Maps, Heather Brooke looks at the shift, which councils are making because in the first instance, Google Maps is free and comparatively easy both to program and use:

Traditional geographical information systems provide “complex data, complex systems”, said Dane Wright, IT service manager at Brent council in north London, at the annual conference of GIS in the Public Sector earlier this month. Google Maps, by contrast, provides “complex data, simple systems”.

Wright told the conference: “What we are doing is moving to Google Maps as the primary interface for casual use by public users. This will leave the GIS system for more specialist users. The reason for doing this is to provide a better user experience – familiar interface, easy to use, integrated aerial imagery, attractive, no need for training or large manuals.”

But, you say, OS is the source for pretty much all of Google Maps data – and where it isn’t then the company that is sources that from OS.

That’s true – but it does mean that OS becomes vulnerable if Google decides that it would like to shift to someone else for its mapping data. And without knowing the precise details of the Google Maps licence with OS – does it pay per map displayed, per frame downloaded, or is it a lump sum? – one has to wonder what the effect will be.

Meanwhile, even the government’s Directgov system for finding a school in a locality uses Google Maps (although a number of other Directgov systems don’t). Other examples of Google Maps (or indeed Yahoo! Maps or Live Local Maps) being used rather than OS for customer-facing products are welcome. Seen any?

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