Free Our Data: the blog

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


Is OS’s OpenSpace all it’s cracked up to be?

Merry Christmas to our dedicated readers; and apologies for not updating more often – I did blog the launch of Ordnance Survey’s OpenSpace on the Guardian Technology blog, and thought it had been quite well covered. But we could have done it here too..

Anyway, people have had time to (as they say in the US) kick the tyres of OpenSpace. What do they think?

Ogleearth is not impressed because of the restrictions on volume. The OpenSpace FAQ says:

1.4 How much data am I allowed to use?OS OpenSpace allows your API key to access up to 30 000 tiles of data and up to 1 000 place name look-ups per day for free.

5.4 My site gets a lot of traffic, what can I do?Congratulations :! Contact us to talk about the different possibilities we may be able to offer you. If you are interested in commercialising your application, take a look at point 6.2 of the FAQs.

To OgleEarth, which is a well-read blog, that means that

So let’s say I add an embedded OpenSpace map to a blog post on Ogle Earth that shows 9 tiles. That should last me about the first 12 hours of every day. Sorry late-rising Californians, my quota is up! Should I add two such maps within 15 posts of each other, so that the front page of the blog displays a total of 18 squares, then Europe is out of luck too. Translation from OSese: Feel free to have a website that uses our maps, as long as it is obscure and unpopular.

Mm. And it adds:

this is so stupid and tone-deaf to the realities of Web 2.0 that I’m practically sputtering into my Malay gin & tonic. Pages and websites are artificial constructs in Web 2.0, as we’ve now all moved on to services aggregated from wherever they may originate. Do I really have to set up an ad-free www.NotOgleEarth.com and link to maps served from there as popups or iframes every time I want to use OpenSpace? Is OS not aware that advertising such as Google ads is ubiquitous on the blogs and hobby sites that the OpenSpace API is ostensibly for? For the overwhelming majority of bloggers — certainly those for whom 30,000 tiles per day is plenty — the ads at most help defray hosting costs, or else they are injected by web hosters to pay for free hosting services.

That’s not really a great vote of confidence. What do other people say? A Technorati search brings up a long list of results – with people who are happy that OS has done this.

The OpenStreetMap crowd (that’s a compliment – eyes, bugs, shallow) analysed the licence and found that if you generate something new, using information from the OS, which is “a severable improvement” (as in, you can separate it from the map, and it’s better), then it’s your data. A small win…

TechCrunch UK wasn’t impressed, because it doesn’t go far enough for them:

However, it is not great news for startups. The OS has “almost? come to its senses because there remains the issue that startups will not be able to create commercial businesses out of this data from the word go. Even though these are businesses from which the government could potentially extract tax revenues, again.

That’s straight out of the Free Our Data playbook, though we have to say we’ve not been in touch with TCUK. (Maybe we should.)

Blacksworld notes that the OS cartography has far more detail, which is a very pertinent point – and the one which is behind us pushing for this data to be more easily usable.

As its author notes:

The license is a license, so some people and going to love it, some will hate it and most will just get on with hacking. One thing that the guys from the OS were emphasising yesterday, was that they really want people to consult with them. That’s why we were there yesterday – so that the people who made OpenSpace could see what we thought. I think the desire of the OpenSpace team to listen to people’s feedback and act on it is a genuine one, so maybe we could all try some constructive criticism before trashing it. But hey, this is the internet.

It’s a good point. The OpenSpace API could be better; it could be unlimited; but then again, the OS has to pay for its data costs somehow. While it’s a trading fund, it can’t just give away the use of its data centres. We’ll have to wait for a more enlightened regime, perhaps.

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