2009 In Review Part 2: Organisations

In an earlier post, I wrote about the gadgets that made 2009; now it’s time to look at the organisations and by strange coincidence, as there were 3 gadgets, so there are 3 organisations.

First up is OpenStreetMap. One of the things I write about a lot is geographic data, how everyone wants free, open, high quality data but how no-one really wants to pay for it. While attempts to monetise the data corpus of OpenStreetMap haven’t entirely succeeded, yet, there’s no denying that all the contributors to one of the biggest crowdsourced data projects on the Internet … believe, and they’ve created something incredible.

The second organisation is the Ordnance Survey, or to be more specific, the staff of the Ordnance Survey. Much maligned and the object of much derision within the geo community, the majority of the staff as the OS have been working towards opening up the vast reams of excellent high quality geo data and it finally looks as if their hard work and belief is paying off.

And thirdly is the folks behind the GeoVation Challenge Award. GeoVation is all about doing stuff, worthwhile and exciting stuff with geography, with location and with geo. It’s funded by the Ordnance Survey but it isn’t an Ordnance Survey project per se. The best way to view it is the Ordnance Survey’s first, hesitant, tentative steps towards opening up their data.

The people behind OpenStreetMap believe in open data, the people behind the Ordnance Survey want to believe in open data and I believe in the GeoVation Challenge, so much so that I’ve accepted an offer of a seat on the judging panel for the Awards.

2009 seemed to be less about technology and more about communities and people, and that means a lot of belief.

Coming up later today is Part 3: People …

Photo credits: mikeyashworth and simonperry on Flickr

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

Written by Gary

A self-professed map addict, Gary has worked in the mapping and location space for over 20 years through a combination of luck and occasional good judgement. Gary is co-founder of Malstow Geospatial, which provides handmade, professional geospatial consulting. A Fellow of the RGS, he tweets about maps, writes about them...
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If some of the staff at Ordnance Survey would like to make their datasets open, the senior management there certainly seem determined to resist it. When any data is released by OS we’ll see just how open it really is and how much of a it was a cynical, politically-motivated promise by the Government dressed up as open by the reluctant senior management.

I want to see all kinds of data from public bodies released for open use. The funding needs to be sorted out for OS, but that is nothing compared to the benefits and innovation that will spring from open data. I hope OS can lead the way – but I’m not holding my breath.


In an organisation as large as the Ordnance Survey I don’t doubt that there’s inertia and resistance to change. After all, the whole concept of “open”, however you choose to define it, is anathema to a lot of the OS staff and the legislature that enforces the proprietary licensing model on the OS data. But every person in the OS I’ve spoken to is committed to “open” and is passionate about it.

They have to be because one way or another change is coming to the OS. It can be change the OS controls, in which case they remain a vital and effective data source, or change the OS doesn’t control, with parallels to the way in which Google ring fenced Teleatlas in the United States earlier this year.

In the former scenario, the OS remains, in the latter, the OS becomes redundant.

My hope is for the former.

When a baby takes its first faltering steps, you don’t chastise it for not walking properly at the first attempt or for taking so long to walk in the first place. Nor do you accuse the parents or grandparents of some sinister plot to allow the baby to walk, but only in a half hearted manner.

No, you encourage, praise and offer constructive suggestions to help the process.

And that’s exactly what the OS needs from us right now … praise, support and encouragement.

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