OpenCage At State Of The Map Europe 2014; Geocoding – The Missing Link For OSM?

Last weekend, myself and the rest of the OpenCage team were in Karlsruhe in Germany for the second annual OpenStreetMap State of the Map Europe conference. It was probably one of the best run and most diverse OSM conferences I've been to. For a start the key essential elements for a conference were there; there was plentiful coffee and the wifi was both fast and more importantly, it didn't die horribly during the conference. I'd submitted a talk called Geocoding - The Missing Link For OSM? and had been asked to actually give that talk. That was my reason for being at SOTM-EU. But we were also going to soft launch OpenCage Data's latest offering, a geocoding API that's powered by OSM and other Open Data and which is built using open source commodity components. That's the reason Ed and Marc Tobias were also in Karlsruhe. Read On…

The State Of The Mapping API

This week the GeoBusiness conference took place in London and as far as geo-themed conferences go it was a broad themed and mixed bag of an event. GIS was heavily represented as was the BIM element of this geo-discipline. The collection of raw data was a prevailing theme on the exhibition booths with drones aplenty and LIDAR cars out in the car park of the Business Design Centre. Thankfully the data and web driven part of the industry was also represented and I played my part by giving a talk.

I decided to talk about the current state of the wide range of web maps APIs we have in our toolkit and with tongue placed slightly in cheek I called the talk The State Of The Mapping API. A personal homage to OSM’s State Of The Map conference if you will.

Slide01

Slide02

So, hello, I’m Gary and I’m from the Internet. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Geotechnologist in Residence for Lokku in London. I used to be Director of Global Community Programs for Nokia’s HERE maps and before that I led Yahoo’s Geotechnologies group in the United Kingdom. I’m a founder of the Location Forum, a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, I’m the chair of the W3G conference and I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Slide03

There’s a lot of URLs in the slides to follow and rather than try to frantically jot them down, this is the only URL you really need to know about. If you go there right now, this link will 404 on you but sometime tomorrow this where my slides and all my talk notes will appear here.

Slide04

I’m going to be talking about mapping APIs; the point where the web meets maps. This is a wide ranging topic so I’m going to concentrate solely on web maps, forgoing discussions on mobile app development or GIS. Don’t’ be scared. The lines of code you can see behind me is as technical as this talk gets.

But although this talk isn’t technical in itself, there’s a lot of technical stuff going on on the slide behind. You need a web browser to view the map. In that browser you need to be able to inject map images into the web page, to preload other images for when you pan and zoom, to fetch this data from another web server other than the one that’s producing this page and a programming language to make all of this happen.

Slide05

So before I talk about a suitable subset of what’s available on today’s internet, it’s probably a good idea to look back. To see how we got here. To see how today’s web maps are able to be a ubiquitous part of our online experience. To indulge in a little bit of history, albeit a very subjective potted history.

Slide06

Let’s start in 1990 and the birth of what we know as the web. Tim Berners Lee created the ability to link documents together, served up from a web server and viewed in a web browser. The language to enable this was called hypertext markup language, or HTML. But this wasn’t the graphically rich and interactive medium we’re used to today. This was a plain text environment. There wasn’t even the ability to add images to web documents.

Slide07

3 years later, Marc Andreesen was working on the NCSA Mosaic Browser and realized they wanted a way to include images on webpages; so he proposed the IMG tag, implemented it, shipped the browser, and it’s stayed to this day. That is a typical story for how HTML gains a new tag – someone needs it and implements it, others copy it, and eventually its considered part of the standard.

The IMG tag could point to image resources on external servers anywhere on the web, so it was actually the first way you could bring data from other servers onto your page, though the data had to be in image form.

Perhaps the first commonplace use of the IMG tag as an API of sorts was for “hit counters.” People would put hit counters on their sites to track visitors, and each counter was actually just an IMG tag pointing at a server, passing in an ID parameter.

Slide08

And because there was now a way to embed images in web pages, this meant that if you had a map as an image file you could embed maps in web pages. Coinciding with the the launch of the final wave of the first set of GPS satellites were launched, the first web server that served up maps went online; the Xerox PARC Map Viewer. These were static maps with none of the clicking, tapping, dragging, panning and zooming that we associate with online maps today.

Slide09

In 1995, Netscape and Sun teamed together to introduce JavaScript, a language they predicted would transform the web. At the time they introduced it, JavaScript could only really programmatically do the things you could already do in HTML – like programmatically creating IMG tags — but it was an important step towards making client-side APIs more possible.

Slide10

Along with JavaScript came the Document Object Model or DOM, a cross platform way of representing the elements that made up a web page and of accessing and manipulating them programmatically. This was a massive step. A web page could load a Javascript script and that script could start to change the content of the page, adding elements and responding dynamically. The way was paved for enough of today’s web to be present to make web maps.

Slide11

Also in 1995, MultiMap launched. This is important. We tend to think of digital maps as being a purely Silicon Valley product thanks to Yahoo, Google and the like. But MultiMap was a pioneer and more importantly, it was a British pioneer.

Slide12

In 1996, Macromedia launched the Flash Player plugin. The EMBED or OBJECT tags could now be used to embed a SWF file from anywhere on the web. Flash embeds meant we could embed something more interactive than just an image, like a game, an animation or maybe a map.

Slide13

In 1996, MapQuest started; a subsidiary of R. O’Donelly that produced maps for the Blue Pages, the local information section at the front of US phone directories. MapQuest launched the first commercial web maps application. You could now put maps and other map related content on web sites. The maps came from Navteq and other sources, including MapQuest’s own. The Automobile Association of America were an early customer with a very primitive form of turn-by-turn navigation; you called the AAA, told them your route and they printed a map for your journey.

Slide14

So we now have early digital maps. But they were small maps. Converting map vector data to raster images took time, the bigger the image the more time it took. Bandwidth over dial up modems also meant that putting a map in a browser was slow. So digital maps were small; they were quicker to produce and they downloaded quicker. They were also ugly maps; a stock cartography style and, in the UK, the dominance of OS map data didn’t make the maps appealing to the eye. Browsers were primitive compared with today and map functionality was very limited; no panning or zooming here. Even MultiMap used this way of producing digital maps though they did a much better job of it than most.

Slide15

Not many people realise that Yahoo were the first people to launch what we now term slippy maps, where you can click and drag to pan and zoom the map, and integration with search. This is a contested area. Yahoo maintain they launched first in March 2004. Google maintains they did. Even a decent amount of web searching doesn’t turn up a clear cut answer to who was first. But I used to work for Yahoo so for now I’ll believe their version.

Slide16

In March of 2004, a man called Steve Coast presented ideas for a publicly editable map of the world, OpenStreetmap, at EuroFOO after being inspired by the success of Wikipedia and a growing frustration with the license around proprietary data in general, but in the UK in particular.

Slide17

In 2005, Jesse James Garrett coined the term AJAX to describe the new GMail style of applications which fetch data asynchronously using the Microsoft originated XMLHttpRequest technique from 1999.

XMLHttpRequest could make a request to your server, get data back from it, process the data, and render it into the page however it liked. By default, you could only bring data in from your own server using XMLHttpRequest, but it reduced the time that users spent waiting for pages to load.

After he coined the term and popular JS libraries built in support for AJAX, it quickly rose in popularity amongst web developers as the new, right way to build web applications.

We were still limited to using AJAX to just getting data from our own domain, however.

Slide18

Despite being phenomenally popular, web maps were limited by complexity, cost and lack of interaction. Developing a web map app was complex, needing expensive maps and knowledge of how to manipulate geographic and spatial data sets. Surely there was an easier way to use maps on the web? Then, in 2005, it can be argued that the world of web maps changed. Then there was an easier way to use web maps.

Slide19

It’s February 2005 and Google Maps launches; according to the launch announcement maps can be fun and useful. Firstly in the US, then in Japan, Canada and the UK.

Slide20

2 months later and the first maps mashup emerges; a ride sharing app, built internally at Google using an undocumented API.

Slide21

This undocumented API didn’t remain private for long and by June people were discovering it and producing their own mashups, such as Housing Maps and the Chicago Crime Map.

Slide22

Google could have locked down this private API. Instead, John Hanke (ex of Keyhole) formally released the Google Maps API. It made sense. Google needed the internet to grow; more web content to index; more space to place ads on; more brand recognition. What would this free maps API do to the other businesses in this sector? I don’t think they took it too seriously … at least to start with.

Slide23

Google’s Maps API was followed in quick succession by similar offerings from Yahoo! and from Microsoft.

Slide24

In December 2005, Bob Ippolitto wrote a blog post describing a technique he named JSONP, which used (hacked) the SCRIPT tag to asynchronously bring data in from other servers.

Finally, with JSONP, we had a way to bring data in from another server without using a server ourselves – as long as that server provides JSONP-compatible output.

With HTML and the IMG tag, with AJAX and with JSONP, all of the pieces we need to make a modern web map are in place.

Slide25

Maps are now an integral part of today’s web. A lot of the products and APIs that started the explosion of web maps are still with us. Some aren’t.

Ovi Maps became HERE Maps by way of Nokia Maps.

MultiMap was acquired by Microsoft and became part of Virtual Earth.

Yahoo! gave up on maps entirely by way of a strategic deal with Nokia.

And Virtual Earth gave way to Bing Maps.

The rest of these, and many others, are still with us.

Slide26

But time is limited, so I’m going to focus on 5 different maps APIs. Leaflet, OpenLayers, Modest Maps, Google Maps, D3 and Raphaël. The one common denominator is that they’re Javascript APIs. But you can categorise these maps APIs in many different ways.

Leaflet, OpenLayers, D3 and Raphael are all open source. While Google is very much proprietary.

Leaflet, OpenLayers, ModestMaps and Google all use bitmap map images, normally referred to as map files. While D3 and Raphaël use vector data for their map display.

But these are sweeping generalisations; there’s a lot of overlap in capabilities and approach.

Slide27

Let’s look at the pros and cons of a proprietary maps API first.

Slide28

  • Provides free or low cost maps to low volume users
  • Often must be for non commercial use and the map must be visible to the public
  • Tend to be “all in one” solutions, the API as well as base maps and tile servers
  • Can include additional features; routing, traffic, geocoding, street level imagery, etc

Slide29

Pros: Simple to use

Cons: Vendor lock in or lack of flexibility

Slide30

Compare and contrast the proprietary approach with that of open source.

Slide31

  • Pick and choose the components you need
  • Large choice of map styles
  • Create your own maps and styles
  • Use your own servers, cloud based maps or outsource your map hosting
  • Write your own additional functionality or choose from existing plugins and extensions

Slide32

Pros: Flexibility and choice

Cons: Often need to cherry pick from components

Slide33

Another way of comparing these APIs is by size. A more complex and rich API give you more choice but at the risk of slowing down your web page load times. Version 2 of OpenLayers is the behemoth here, weighing in at over 700 KB of JavaScript to load. Modest Maps is more … modest, requiring around 25 KB of code to be loaded.

Slide34

Then there’s the type of map that will be displayed. Most of these APIs are what we generally call slippy maps.

Slide35

A slippy map is one that can be panned, zoomed and moved around by your mouse or your finger.

Slide36

Bitmap map tiles are used, with the API using AJAX and JSONP to not only load the tiles you need right now, but also those adjacent.

Slide37

So your map is like a window on the world, a view port into the area you want to display, but with the surrounding areas preloaded to giver you the impression of a smooth and seamless zooming and panning experience.

Slide38

There’s also vector maps, which rather than using bitmap images, render the map as a series of points, lines and polygons.

Open source or proprietary, slippy or vector, small to load or large, there’s many more ways you can slice and dice the categorisation of maps APIs.

Slide39

Now let’s look closer at each of the 5 APIs, starting with Google.

Slide40

The “house style” of Google’s maps is instantly recognisable; watch out for it when you’re next browsing and see how many times you spot it.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide41

OpenLayers

Slide42

A great example of the wide range of proprietary and open map tile styles available can be seen in this OpenLayers powered map comparison, with open tiles from OSM and Stamen Design but even including proprietary styles from Google, ESRI and HERE, though I wonder if the creators read these service’s terms of use which tend to forbid this sort of thing.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide43

Leaflet

Slide44

Here Leaflet is driving a choropleth map using the US Census Bureau’s data and map tiles from Stamen. You’d be surprised at how few lines of code are needed to produce this map.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide45

Modest Maps

Slide46

This example of Modest Maps is suitably, well, modest. But not every use of a map on the web needs the full blown interactive experience. Sometimes just a map is enough.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide47

Now let’s look at the vector map APIs, or to be more accurate the vector APIs that can also be used to display vector maps.

Slide48

Raphaël

Slide49

This example of a Raphaël driven map is much less the style of web map we’re used to and much more of a visualisation of a map. It’s easy to underestimate how challenging producing a map of this sort was just a few years prior. But the combination of being able to draw vector graphics, coupled with open and free vector data sources such as Natural Earth Data makes this a relatively simple task.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide50

D3

Slide51

These examples by Jason Davies using D3 illustrates how a web map can be very different from the other slippy map style maps we’ve seen.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide52

And for the vocal community of users who complain about map tiles being rendered in the web Mercator projection, there’s plenty of other projections to go around. You can loose hours just watching this demo. I speak from experience on this.

You can find the live version of this sample here.

Slide53

Open source or proprietary. Slippy map or vector map? All in one solution or roll your own solution. Which maps API is right for you?

Slide54

At the end of the day, it’s your choice. Every one of these APIs have much to commend them. Some are quick and easy to use. Some need time and effort spent in learning. Some come with every sort of mapping tool you need, straight out of the box. Some you need to customise to your needs. Some lock you in to only using other geospatial APIs from the same company or vendor. Some allow you maximum flexibility, albeit with the viral nature inherent in many open source license schemes.

Google continues to dominate in this field and a Google map has almost become synonymous with a web map for many of today’s web users. But this is by no means game over for the other maps APIs, be they proprietary or open source. Leaflet continues to make continual progress and has fast become my maps API of choice. Vector maps from D3 and Raphaël continue to redefine what we think of as a web map, blurring the lines between a map showing data and a visualisation of geospatial data.

But it’s a personal thing as well as a professional one. As with everything else online and offline, it’s probably best to take some time to look at what’s out there and make an informed decision about what’s best for your needs. And remember, this is but 5 of the multitude of maps APIs that are out there.

Slide55

The Challenge Of Open

One of the great things about the combination of maps, geo, location and London is that roughly once a month there’s some kind of meetup happening in the city on these themes. One of the longer running players in this space is the Geospatial Specialist Group of the British Computer Society which is being relaunched and reinvigorated as the Location Information SG. Earlier this week I gave a talk, but what to talk about?

It didn’t take too long to come up with a suitable theme. In my current day job, consulting with open data specialists Lokku, I come across the benefits and the challenges in using open data on almost a daily basis. One of the earliest lessons is that nothing is simple and nothing is straightforwards when you bring licensing into a field and open data is no exception.

Slide01

Slide02

So, hello, I’m Gary and I’m from the Internet. I’m a self-confessed map addict, a geo-technologist and a geographer. I’m Geotechnologist in Residence for Lokku in London. I used to be Director of Global Community Programs for Nokia’s HERE maps and before that I led Yahoo’s Geotechnologies group in the United Kingdom. I’m a founder of the Location Forum, a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, I sit on the Council for the AGI, the UK’s Association for Geographic Information, I’m the chair of the W3G conference and I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Slide03

There’s a lot of URLs in the slides to follow and rather than try to frantically jot them down, this is the only URL you really need to know about. If you go there right now, this link will 404 on you but sometime tomorrow this where my slides and all my talk notes will appear here.

Slide04

I’ve been in this “industry” for almost 25 years. I’m not quite sure what actually comprises this “industry” though; I think of it as a loose collection of software, data, geo, maps and location. Thinking back, maybe life was easier when everything was proprietary and locked up? You knew the boundaries, you knew what you could and couldn’t do with software and data. You didn’t need to be a part time lawyer.

Slide05

But this isn’t 25 years ago, like it or not we’re in the future.

Slide06

And the future is very much open.

Slide07

Whether it’s the open source software that runs your laptop or desktop or the open source software that runs the vast majority of the internet and the web …

Slide08

Or whether it’s open data, such as OpenStreetMap or open government data, the concept of open is very much of the now and that means we need to be able to deal with both the benefits this brings as well as some of the pitfalls that lie in wait for the unwary

Slide09

One of those pitfalls is the license, that usually vast amount of frankly impenetrable legalese that is difficult to understand and seems to have been written for lawyers and not for mere mortals.

Slide10

This isn’t a new thing. Think back to the days before we downloaded software in a blinking of an eye. Remember shrink wrapped software? Remember the catch 22 of breaking the seal meaning you accepted the EULA that was underneath the shrink wrap?

Slide11

No one read the EULA, we just wanted to get our hands on those brand new floppy disks and then patiently feed them, one by one, to our computer to get at our new purchase.

Slide12

Even in the days of the web, where downloads have supplanted floppies, CD and DVD ROMs, we just want to get to the “good stuff”. We instinctively look for the button that says “accept” or “agree” and just … click.

Slide13

We don’t read the EULA, or the terms of service, or the terms of use, or the license. In essence we’re blind to what we’re agreeing to and sometimes what we do agree to can be surprising.

Slide14

If you use iTunes on your phone, tablet or computer you’ll have agreed to the iTunes terms of service and in doing so, scuppered your plans for taking over the world by use of anything nuclear, chemical or biological.

Slide15

If you’re using Apple’s Safari browser on a Windows machine, you’ll also be in breach of the license which you’ve accepted and which clearly states that you won’t run Safari for Windows on a Windows machine.

Slide16

But you may be missing out on an unexpected treat. In 2005, the makers of PC Pitstop included a clause that promised a financial reward for reading the EULA and contacting the company. Five months after release and 3,000 sales later one person did read the EULA and was rewarded with a cheque for $1000

Slide17

But I am not a lawyer. I have no legal training whatsoever. With the proliferation of open source and open data it now feels that I have to be able to read the small print. If you don’t read your open licenses then I would strongly recommend that you do.

Slide18

In doing so, you’ll probably feel as I first did; that you’re walking into a veritable minefield of clauses, exclusions and prohibitions.

Slide19

You’d be forgiven for thinking that if you’re fortunate enough to be dealing with purely open licensing, with not even a whiff of anything proprietary, that everything is clear, it’s all black and white.

Slide20

You’ll start to become familiar with the GPL.

Slide21

With Creative Commons, with or without attribution and with or without non-commercial use clauses.

Slide22

And if you’re using OpenStreetMap data, with the ODbL.

Slide23

You’d probably be forgiven to thinking that it’s all cut and dried and no one can make any mistakes, especially not the big players in the industry, those with large amounts of cash and an equally large team of in house lawyers who specialise in this sort of thing.

You be forgiven, but it’s not black and white nor is it clear cut. Let me give you an example of this.

Slide24

This example hinges around TechCrunch, the sometimes scathing tech blog started by Michael Arrington in 2005.

Slide25

One of the by products of TechCrunch is CrunchBase, which is a freely editable database of companies, people and investors in the tech industry.

Slide26

It will probably come as no surprise that in 2007 the CrunchBase API was launched, providing access to the whole of the database under a CC-BY license.

Slide27

It’s worth looking at the human readable version of the CC-BY license.

You can share – in any way, in any form
You can adapt – remix the data, build a derived work, transform it
You can make money – this is for any purpose, even commercial endeavours

Slide28

Then in 2010, TechCrunch plus CrunchBase was acquired by AOL for an undisclosed but estimated figure of $25M.

Slide29

In July of 2013 an app called People+ launched using the CrunchBase data set to “know who you’re doing business with”.

Slide30

4 months later this comes to the attention of CrunchBase’s new owner who promptly send a serious of cease and desists for all the wrong reasons, displaying a stunning lack of how open licenses work and what they mean.

Slide31

The first cease and desist makes the following assertions. All of which are true. Yes, People+ replicates what CrunchBase does, after all it’s based on CrunchBase. Yes, People+ exposes the CrunchBase data in a way that’s far more intuitive and valuable than CrunchBase’s own (web based) search.

All of this is true. Except that none of this is in breach of the CC-BY license that AOL clearly doesn’t understand. AOL may not like that fact that someone is making a better job of their own data than AOL is having hurt feelings is irrelevant in the context of whether a cease & desist is valid and this one is clearly not

Slide32

The second cease and desist makes AOL’s hurt feelings clear. The second clause here is completely wrong. AOL can decide to forbid someone from using the API if they feel it violates their terms, but they cannot “terminate” the license to use the content. The content is free to use under the license, and there’s nothing AOL can legally do about it.

Slide33

As an interesting footnote to this tale, if you look at the CrunchBase terms now, you’ll note that AOL have, as of December 2013, reissued the CrunchBase data under CC-BY-NC, but they also seemed to have learned a valuable lesson, noting that any data that was created before this date remains under CC-BY.

Slide34

So even the big players can and do get open licensing wrong. That example was just over a single data set, covered under a single license and one where the license contains both the full legal terms as well as a human readable form, for those of us who aren’t lawyers.

Things get much more fun when you start to try and mix open data licenses, to produce a derived or co-mingled work.

Slide35

Actually this is where the fun stops. Whilst there are co-mingled works out there on the interwebs, they are few and far between. Finding the correct path to take when attempting to rationalise two open licensing schemes is incredibly difficult. Most legal advice is to just say no.

Slide36

To take a slightly contentious view, this may be one of the reasons why none of the big players have never produced a derived work that contains OpenStreetMap and this may also be one of the biggest single barriers to adoption of OSM. From speaking to various lawyers, all of whom actually specialise in IP and in data licenses, the main stumbling point is the “viral” nature of the share alike clause in most open data licenses. Large companies, who have invested a considerable amount of time and effort in making their proprietary data, are unwilling to add in a data source which effectively means they have to share the derived work with the public … and their competitors.

Slide37

Another stumbling block, admittedly one which is more down to the creators of an open data set rather than the license, is that of provenance. If you take a data set, can you really be certain where all of the data came from. Did some of the data come from another source? Do you know what that source is? Do you know what license that other source is under? Do you know if the licenses are compatible?

The answer to most of these questions is usually “no”. It’s a truism of some members of the tech community that an approach of “sue first, ask questions later” is often used. Taking all of this into consideration it get easier to see why the default legal answer to “can we use this open data set” is often “no”.

Slide38

If there was a concerted effort on the part of the organisations behind open licenses to make their licenses compatible, to set aside or work together on differences, then maybe we’d see more widespread adoption of open data outside of the existing open data community.

Slide39

For open source licenses things are a little clearer; lots of work has been done to rationalise between GPL, lGPL, BSD, MIT, X11, Apache and all the other open licenses that are focused on code and on software.

Slide40

But for open data licenses, the picture is anything but clear. Yes, there’s loads of commentary on how to approach open data compatibility but nothing that’s clearly and humanly readable.

Nowhere is this more apparent in the admission from Creative Commons that the number of other licenses that are compatible with CC licensing is … none

Slide41

Maybe to bring agreement between the differing parties and factions where open data licensing is concerned we need to put disagreements behind us, maybe the way forward is a new open licensing scheme, where attribution is maintained but with the viral element softened or removed.

Slide42

Maybe, but that day has’t yet come, though there have been some attempts to do this, but strangely they’ve yet to see widespread adoption

Slide43

Finally, a shameless plug …

Slide44

If you like the topics of maps, of geo, of location and all points inbetween, then you’ll probably like #geomob, the roughly quarterly meetup of like minds. The next event is on 13th. of May at the UCL Campus.

Slide45

Written and posted from Lokku, Clerkenwell Road, London (51.522553, -0.102549)

Welcome To The Republic Of Null Island

In English, null means nothing, nil, empty or void. In computing, null is a special value for nothing, an empty value. In geography, null tends to be what you get when you’ve been unable to geocode a place or an address and haven’t checked the geocoder’s response. What you end up with is a pair of coordinates of 0 degrees longitude and 0 degrees latitude, a point somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, south of Ghana and west of Gabon. It’s here that you’ll also find Null Island, if you look hard enough.

The website for the Republic of Null Island (like no place on earth) says this about the island’s location …

The Republic of Null Island is one of the smallest and least-visited nations on Earth. Situated where the Prime Meridian crosses the Equator, Null Island sits 1600 kilometres off the western coast of Africa.

… but Null Island is an in joke created by Nate Kelso and Tom Patterson as part of the Natural Earth data set in January 2011.

null-island

It’s totally fictitious and is designed as a gentle poke in the ribs for people who don’t check the return value from their geocoder and end up putting a pin on a web map in the middle of the ocean. As Natural Earth’s release notes mention …

WARNING: A troubleshooting country has been added with an Indeterminate sovereignty class called Null Island. It is a fictional, 1 meter square island located off Africa where the equator and prime meridian cross. Being centered at 0,0 (zero latitude, zero longitude) it is useful for flagging geocode failures which are routed to 0,0 by most mapping services. Aside: “Null Islands” exist for all local coordinate reference systems besides WGS84 like State Plane (and global if not using modern Greenwich prime meridian). Null Island in Natural Earth is scaleRank 100, indicating it should never be shown in mapping.

Look carefully enough, especially on web sites that handle large amounts of data from third parties and which helpfully supply a map for some additional context, such as property sites, who should really know better and Null Island may just appear before your eyes.

the-link

Take Whathouse.com for example, who have a 3 bedroom property near Enfield in North East London for sale, yours for just £995,000. Whathouse helpfully provide a map tab on their property listings to that if you’re not familiar with where the N9 postal district of London is, you can find out.

the-link-map

This is in London, the capital of the United Kingdom, which as far as I know hasn’t suffered massive continental drift to end up in the middle of the ocean.

the-link-map-zoomed

Zoom the map out and you can see why this unique property seems to be alone in the middle of the ocean; it’s really on Null Island. Either that or someone hasn’t been checking their geocoding results properly. A bad geocoding result is almost probably definitely the reason for this little geographic faux pas, but a part of me likes to think that Null Island really does exist and you really can spend close to a million pounds securing a 3 bedroom apartment on one of geography’s most tongue in cheek places.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Cartography, The Musical

I like maps. Even if you’ve never read posts on this site, the name “Mostly Maps” should probably be a giveaway. What you may not know is that I don’t really like musicals. Now granted I’ve seen Rent and Spamalot, but that’s because Alison and I were in New York and the former was recommended by one of my best friends and for the latter I’m a massive Python fan. Maps and musicals aren’t something that go together. But that may be about to change.

Cast your mind back to the dawn of history, before mobile phones were smart and when GPS was just an Australian rugby club, which is sometime in the very early 2000′s. If you lived in London, your essential navigation guide wasn’t a maps app, but a copy of the A-Z as the Geographer’s A-Z Street Atlas was better known. This was the map you carried around London rather than a mapping app on your phone. I still have several editions on the bookshelf at home, each one being bought when its predecessor got so dog eared as to be unusable or just started falling apart.

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The probably apocryphal backstory is that the A-Z’s founder, Phyllis Pearsall got lost in 1935 following a 1919 Ordnance Survey map on the way to a party and decided to make her own map. To do this she got up at 5.00 AM and spent 18 hours a day walking the 3,000 odd miles of London’s 23,00 or so streets. This tale is disputed, with Peter Barber, the British Library’s Head Of Maps, being quoted as saying “The Phyllis Pearsall story is complete rubbish, there is no evidence she did it and if she did do it, she didn’t need to“. Given that Pearsall’s father was a map maker who produced and sold maps of London, he’s got a point.

But regardless of the accuracy of the legend around Phyllis Pearsal, it’s a great story, especially for those of us who used the A-Z each and every day around London. But is it a musical story? Neil Marcus, Diane Samuels and Gwyneth Herbert seem to think so and they’re the team behind The A-Z Of Mrs. P, a musical about London’s iconic street atlas and its founder that’s currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. Reviews have been mixed, but anything that throws some attention on the A-Z is welcome in my book, even if it is a musical.

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You may have noticed that at the foot of each post I always try to provide source and attribution for photos or images that I use. I think I’m going to have to expand this to include the inspiration for each post. In this particular case, credit is due to Alison. If it’s not a sign of true love when your wife texts you to tell you about something map related she’s seen, then I don’t know what is. I guess you don’t spend nearly 15 years being married to a self professed map nerd without knowing a good map related story when you see one.

The A-Z Of Mrs. P poster by Su Blackwell.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)