Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

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On Freeing Data, Unwillingly

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So 10 days ago now, the UK Government announced that they would be freeing up some Ordnance Survey data as part of a “drive to improve transparency”. You can read reactions to this all over the geospatial blogs (see Mapperz excellent round-up), some ambivalent, others mostly positive.

Me, I’m with the ambivalent crowd. On one level, assuming it’s actually useful datasets made available, and assuming we get to use them how we’d like to (using it in our internal GIS, for example), it will be great, and my colleagues will find their jobs considerably easier. However, like a lot of things the UK Government has done recently, this was handled badly (the lack of Ordnance Survey input into the original announcement,  speaks volumes). If it’s not going to be done willingly, will we see the same quality? The same commitment to survey the rural areas? Presumably, the cost of the remaining datasets will go up to cover the projected loss of revenue (whatever that is), so a lot of small businesses could end up in a worse situation than they are now- with expensive data that they can’t afford, or free data that’s not fit for purpose because 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 better!

I’m glad there has been a change, as I broadly support the Free Our Data campaign, and have done since it started, but I wanted it to be well thought through and planned for, and not a snap decision to try and win some votes. How naive of me…

I’m also concerned, like Peter Batty, about the affect on OpenStreetMap. I’ve been an enthusiastic convert to the benefits of OSM, since hearing of Muki Haklay’s completeness studies, and with seeing some of the beautiful maps and really cool innovations that it has spawned recently. At conferences in the UK this year OSM felt like the juggernaut it was impossible to ignore, and why would you want to?  OSM is now a valuable part of the UK geospatial ecosystem and I would hate to see that change.