Of Geocoders, Open Cages, Mapping APIs and Going It Alone

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these posts, in fact it’s been almost a year. A lot has happened since December of 2013, when I wrote “Who knows precisely where 2014 will take me?“. To be more precise, this is where 2014 took me …

Firstly if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that my blogging and tweeting frequencies have dropped right off. Put it this way, someone’s been paying attention.


Emerging from the embrace of the large corporate mapping organisation that used to be Ovi Maps, dallied briefly with the name Nokia Maps and ended up calling itself HERE Maps, I found myself in the complete antithesis of a corporate. I joined Ed and Javier at Lokku, in the trendy part of London known as Clerkenwell, with possibly the best job title I’ve ever had; I was Lokku’s Geotechnologist in Residence. I’ve known Ed and Javier for a good number of years and have watched them grow Nestoria and reinvigorate and rejuvenate London’s #geomob meetup. I knew this was going to be a very different experience.

On my first day in the Lokku office, Ed thrust a piece of paper into my hand, saying “here’s your email login credentials, the wifi password and how to access the wiki; your induction is now complete” … and it was. So what does a resident geotechnologist actually do? The first and foremost task was to sort out Lokku’s lack of an espresso machine and to run a tech talk, briefing the rest of the team on how to make the hot, caffienated beverage that the geo industry relies on. See? I told you this wasn’t going to be your everyday corporate existence.

Armed with a fresh, hot espresso I took a look at the technology that Lokku and Nestoria had put in place. My hunch was that to make Nestoria work well across the countries they served, the Lokku crew had solved one of industry’s key puzzles, namely how to geocode address listings well in countries that don’t really take the need for unique addresses that seriously. My hunch was good and I came up with a series of recommendations to the Lokku board on what they should do next, this included the concept of what Ed later termed as a meta-geocoder.

A meta-geocoder does the same as the geocoders that the larger geo companies have; a single geocoding interface with multiple geocoders hidden behind, each one doing what it does well, be that country specific geocoding, or language specific geocoding or some other speciality. With the help of the incredibly smart Marc Tobias Metten, one of the few people I know who can get a global Nominatim instance up and running, we built what’s now become the OpenCage Geocoder.


When you’re in a small organisation you have to roll your sleeves up and be prepared to get your hands dirty. Need a website? You end up writing it yourself. Need code samples and scripting language wrapper? Write them yourself too. Need to launch a product? You end up writing a talk, getting yourself to an applicable conference, in this case State of the Map EU, and launch it yourself.


In the six months I spent at Lokku, Ed, myself and MTM brought an entire geocoding API from the roughest of concept notes to something that’s up and running and is, to paraphrase Aaron Straup Cope, a real thing and it’s a thing that I’m very proud of. I also became one of the select group known as the Lokku Alumni, and that meant I got another map to add to the collection.


My stint at Lokku ended in July of this year and overnight I transformed myself from being a resident geotechnologist to being an uncivil servant and taking on the role of Head of APIs for the oldest mapping agency in the world, the UK’s Ordnance Survey. In doing so, I also struck out into the murky waters of consulting and, together with Alison, founded Malstow Geospatial. The story of how Malstow got its name is the subject for another blog post entirely.

So for now, I’ve swapped getting on a plane to Berlin on a weekly basis and taking the train and Tube to Clerkenwell on a daily basis and instead joined the daily diaspora out of London and down the Southampton, where the Ministry of Maps makes its home.

I’ve spent the last 4 months working out best how to bring the Ordnance Survey’s maps to the internet and the internet to the OS. Much is happening and I’ve found myself an amazing team of geotechnologists and cartographers. As soon as there’s something to show for our endeavours, you’ll probably read about it here first.

Who knows where 2014 will take me?” It’s been one heck of a ride and a whole lot of fun and hard work combined. Now let’s see what happens in 2015 …

Written and posted from Case Rondelli, Doglio, Umbria, Italy (42.80831, 12.30623)

Welcome to B2* … The New Reality Of The Mapping Industry

Not all Geographic Information conferences are created equal. A great proof point for this is IRLOGI, the Irish Association for Geographic Information. Today I’ve been in Dublin at their annual GIS Ireland 2014 conference, which is in its 19th year. I’d been invited to give one of the opening keynotes; who could resist such an invitation?

Held in the hidden conference centre that nestles unassumingly under the Chartered Accountants of Ireland’s offices, GIS Ireland ticked all the boxes. The conference team had obviously worked hard to ensure that there was a wide range of topics being discussed and managed to avoid the “same people, same talks, same topics” trap that some conferences fall into. The coffee was hot and plentiful and the wifi (almost) stayed up and running all the time.

The starting point for the talk I have was an article called Today’s Mapping Industry Really Does Need To Please All People, All The Time, which I’d written for GPS Business News in September. As there was an article length limit, I couldn’t go into the detail I think this topic merited, but a conference talk is a different beast. This is what that article morphed into. This is B2*.

Read On…

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.

The first day of the conference was spent in the lobby, drinking lots of the aforementioned coffee and using lots of the aforementioned wifi, while we made last minute tweaks to the API and the accompanying website. By the end of the afternoon, the API was ready, the website worked and my slide deck was finished.

Of all which meant I could enjoy the second day of the conference and actually listen to the talks until 4.30 in the afternoon when I took to the stage and gave this talk, which was filmed and put up on YouTube.

If you prefer to read an account of the talk and the launch of the OpenCage Geocoder, you’ll find my slides and commentary below.

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.

Read On…