Free Our Data: the blog

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


Gordon Brown announces OS maps to be free online

Do we scent victory? Hell yeah. It seems that the prime minister plus the chief secretary of the Treasury plus the inventor of the world wide web collectively outrank Vanessa Lawrence, and so Gordon Brown was able to declare at a seminar at No.10 yesterday (to which I was invited, thanks for asking) that

Today, some of you may know, we are opening up Ordnance Survey information – one of the first recommendations that Tim Berners‑Lee made to us with Nigel Shadbolt in the work that they are doing. We are making Ordnance Survey material available to the up to a certain level in a way that it was not available free of charge before.

The Guardian has the story: Ordnance Survey maps to go free online:

The government is to explore ways of making all Ordnance Survey maps freely available online from April, in a victory for the Guardian’s three-year Free Our Data campaign. The move will bring the UK into line with the free publication of maps that exists in the US.

Gordon Brown announced the change at a joint event in London today with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who is now information tsar advising on the handing over of private government data to the public.

The government has been inspired by the success of crime mapping where “data openness” is helping citizens assess the safety of geographical areas.

Today’s announcement will be followed by a speech, due next week by the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, explaining how the freeing up of data, alongside the scaling back of other functions of central government, could lead to a “smarter state”.

Our understanding is that Liam Byrne was key in getting this pushed throughL since it involves financial risk – OS won’t be getting that income – the Treasury has to approve it.

Key points: it involves “mid-scale” maps from 1:10,000 upwards; and it kills off the “derived data” rows that government departments and everyone else has been having for so long. Derived data will have a stake through its heart.

Oh, and – this “free” will extend to being free for commercial use. That’s right, you’ll be able to build a business with it. Though it’s not clear yet whether you’d be able to take the maps and create *printed* ones. Must ask about that.

There will be a consultation starting in December. We’d urge any customer of OS to add in their views. And we’d urge any would-be customer who would otherwise not use the data to add their views too.

Quite where this leaves OS’s “hybrid strategy” isn’t clear. And OS doesn’t seem very clear about it either. Vanessa Lawrence wasn’t at No.10, and nor was anyone from OS, which seems surprising – you’d think they’d want to bask in the reflected glory of being praised by Tim Berners-Lee for the quality and usefulness of their data, surely?

When we asked this morning how much foregone revenue this means (since obviously giving away maps you used to charge for means less income), OS said it was “not in a position to make any comment at this time”, which seems surprising, again, because you’d think that it would have given Liam Byrne very clear indications of how far the roof would fall in if it were to do this.

19 Responses to “Gordon Brown announces OS maps to be free online”

  1. WIlliam Allbrook Says:

    I am impressed by this announcement. It is a victory for common sense. The derived data issue was never sustainable, intellectually or economically. The amount of time and energy spent in bringing us to this point is scandalous. I can think of only one person who should take responsibility and quietly shrink back into the shadows. Perhaps the Internationally Recognised Expert would like to break cover and pass comment?

  2. Tim Says:

    Good news. Shame they won’t release mastermap though, and I expect they will only release reasonably low resolution raster data.

  3. Walkhighlands Says:

    If the data becomes free, and there is no derived data anymore, how could it not include paper maps, as you could design your own from OS data anyway?

    What could be affected:
    Google maps could include OS mapping?
    Walking books may include OS mapping instead of the little diagrams that many have?
    Companies may launch printing their own cheap versions of OS maps?
    Free OS maps on GPS devices, phones etc?
    On car Sat-Navs?
    Mapping software (Memory Map, Anquet etc) to come drastically down in price? – and ultimately free?
    Maybe the OS may eventually stop selling prints of its own maps?

  4. Tom Chance Says:

    I’m a bit confused by this post and what I read yesterday, which mentioned electoral boundaries.

    Do we know if they will be releasing any *raw data* that is completely free of copyright restrictions? Or will it be confined to an improved OpenSpace-type service?

  5. Nicholas Verge Says:

    Will OS data released include aerial imagery, digital elevation models and obsolete (historical) mapping?

  6. Andy Key Says:

    Yeah, I’m also a bit worried by the fact you say “it involves ‘mid-scale’ maps from 1:10,000 upwards…” That’s basically the raster mapping (Landranger, Explorer, road atlas etc) which is nice, but what the mash-up people need is some of the raw data sets. Were these mentioned specifically? You’ll have a hell of a job extracting the local authority boundaries from a raster Landranger map.

    And does it definitely *definitely* kill off the derived data issue?

  7. Andy Key Says:

    @Walkhighlands: Yes, it will mean the collapse of the Memory Map/Anquet/Tracklogs business model. At the moment those companies effectively give their software away for free and make money through mark-ups on the map data. The software packages vary a lot in quality and in the functions they offer. If the map data’s available for nothing ,they’ll have to focus on selling the software instead. On the plus side, that may trigger some of them to improve the quality of that software, to justify charging a decent price for it. I suspect a lot of them will simply drop out of the market though.

  8. John Nutt Says:

    Seems like a half hearted attempt to me. What about detailed maps? Google maps already give us all we need at the ‘mid-scale’ – what we really want is the detailed level maps – i.e. the Ordnance Survey MasterMap product!

  9. Charles Arthur Says:

    My understanding – though of course the consultation next month should make this clearer – is that electoral boundary data, postcode area data and maps at 1:10,000 and up (ie less detailed) become available.

    And yes, “derived data” goes away. Tim Berners-Lee was very specific about the frustrations that causes.

    @JohnNutt – well, I guess you can please some of the people..

  10. Walkhighlands Says:

    Great news on derived data.

    I’m sure the OS will try to exclude 1:25 000 though. OpenSpace currently has 1:10 000 and 1:50 000 but not the 1:25 000 in between.

  11. MishMash Says:

    OS data to be made freely available?…

    Potentially big news, even if limited: some Ordnance Survey data (you know, the stuff the tax payer paid for, directly or indirectly) is to be made freely available. The free our data blog has some comments. Importantly: Key points: it……

  12. Nicholas Verge Says:

    What i would also like to know, is does this mean that mapping produced for other parts of the world, mostly Commonwealth countries and UK colonies/dependancies, produced by the DGIA (formerly GSGS), the OS and the Department of Overseas Surveys, will be released, if not classified?

  13. Anthony Cartmell Says:

    Just removing the “derived data” rules is a major advance, and will make the use of the Google Maps API for UK locations officially allowed at last!

    A very good announcement, I hope it actually happens without OS or the next government putting a stop to it. It seems that governments have a habit of becoming sensible just before they lose power…

  14. Lesley Says:

    How far we’ve come from 2001 or perhaps it was 2002 when OS wanted to copyright the TOID. Incomprehensible then, incomprehensible now.

  15. Gary F Says:

    Yay! A big step in the right direction. I’m very keen to see if they will release boundary (ward/district) data too.

    This website uses OS OpenSpace maps: http://www.maptogps.com/index.php?easting=499500&northing=179500
    If you zoom in all the way you can see each building. Is this 1:10,000 or 1:5000? Does the new announcement mean anyone can use this level of detail?

    I wonder how the OS web servers will cope if loads of people start using their free maps on their site? It will cost them a lot of money to enhance their infrastructure.

  16. Andy Key Says:

    @Gary: That’s OS Streetview(R) which is 1:10,000 but optimised to show streets and roads, complete with colour coding (red for A roads, yellow for B etc.) The standard 1:10,000 map shows much more detail but is less easy to read. It remains to be seen which version will be made available for general use. Both, I hope!

    If the OS are wise they will adopt the Openstreetmap approach: make the maps available for bulk download and invite other organisations to take copies and set up their own map servers.

  17. Computing, GIS and Archaeology in the UK » On freeing data, unwillingly Says:

    [...] it’s not complete or recently updated. Like Peter Batty, I don’t want our data brought in line with that of the US, as it’s currently much [...]

  18. Stephen Black Says:

    This actually changes very little. What is being made avaliable is maps online, not raw raster images but simply online access via api for online map applications.

    If you want to use background mapping served by your own servers you will still need to buy it and applications line memory map will still need maps to be purchased as unless you have a good gprs or 3g signal they won’t work over the mobile web.

    What should be released is the raw map tiles to then use however you want.

  19. Nicholas Verge Says:

    Folks interested in the freeing of UK PSI should read in full the following UK Government Policy doc

    http://www.hmg.gov.uk/frontlinefirst.aspx

    One big surprise, UK Meteorological Office data and output of its numerical weather prediction models to be freed – whoopee!

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