Author Archive for ‘Gary’

Another Piece Of Bloggage By Gary

Self professed ”geek with a life”, geo-blogger, geo-talker and geo-tweeter, Gary works in London and Berlin as Director of Global Community Programs for Nokia’s HERE Maps; he’s a co-founder of WhereCamp EU, the chair of w3gconf and sits on the W3C POI Working Group and the UK Location User Group. A contributor to the Mapstraction mapping API, Gary speaks and presents at a wide range of conferences and events including Where 2.0, State of the Map, AGI GeoCommunity, Geo-Loco, Social-Loco, GeoMob, the BCS GeoSpatial SG and LocBiz. Writing as regularly as possible on location, place, maps and other facets of geography, Gary blogs at and tweets as @vicchi.

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*.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.001

Welcome to B2*; the new reality of the mapping industry …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.003

So hello, I’m Gary. I’m the co-founder of Malstow Geospatial and small and friendly maps, location and geo consulting company
based in South West London, which means I’m currently Head of APIs for the Ordnance Survey. In previous corporate roles
I’ve been head of community maps for HERE and head of geotechnology for Yahoo!

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.004

… I tweet, a lot, as @vicchi …

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… and I write a map blog at

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.006

There’s quite a lot of slides in this talk and some of them contain URLs. Rather than try and frantically jot them down, this is the only URL you might want to take note of. It’s where the slides and my notes will be appearing. If you go to this address right now there’s nothing there but tomorrow when I get home, this is where things will automagically appear.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.008

The starting point for this talk is an article I wrote recently for GPS Business News in response to what I perceived as a growing trend that the mapping industry is in a wonderful and safe position and that everything is awesome … so I did some research of my own and found some wonderfully big looking numbers being tossed around

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.009

75% of people are using some form of location services on their smartphones, according to Pew Research.

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Markets and Markets value the entire location based services market at $40 billion, albeit in 5 year’s time

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Berg values just the advertising section of LBS at $15 billion in 4 year’s time
Obviously we’re in the midst of a mapping and location boom

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.012

The trivial amounts of $2.76 billion that TomTom paid for TeleAtlas …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.013

… and the $8.1 billion that Nokia paid for Navteq in 2008 are obviously bargain basement.
That’s a lot of money and a lot of market share. Surely?

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.015

Looking at all of these big numbers it seems obvious that if you’re a mapping company the sole path to success is just to license your data and then head to the bar, safe and secure that you’re in an unassailable position.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.017

Seriously? Really?

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.019

That can’t be right. I wanted to take a look at this unassailable position. Indulge me if you will …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.021

Firstly, I want to set some context for what today’s mapping industry looks like and why it looks the way it does

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.024

As a species we’ve been making maps for a while. This isn’t the earliest map but it’s one of the earliest that’s recognisable as a map; it’s of the world as the Babylonians thought of it. Babylon is in the centre of the map and there’s seven triangular islands, 3 of which are missing due to damage, in the “river of bitter water”, or the sea.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.026

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.028

No-one knows who made the Babylonian map, but we know this map, which goes under the delightful Latin title of Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici, (literally Hemisphere of the equinoctial line, to the circle of the Arctic pole) was made by Cornelius de Jode in 1593 for an atlas which was published by his father. This is a prime example of a map as art, but this art came at a price. You needed to be wealthy to commission such a map and such a map was often given as a notional gift to the rich and powerful to curry favour or was commissioned by one of the ruling elite. This is maps for rulers. Quite often the map was a blank canvas, waiting to be discovered and filled in, it certainly was the case when Sir Walter Raleigh undertook his voyages of exploration for Queen Elizabeth I and maybe the process by which this happened looked something like this …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.030

Business marketing terms weren’t around in 1593, at least not that we’d probably recognise today, but I think you could classify de Jode’s map as B2G, business-to-government, as the kings, queens and other members of the ruling elite who either commissioned maps or were the beneficiaries of them were as close to government as you’d get in those days

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.032

But by the middle of the 20th Century, maps may still have been under governmental control but they were also for the masses as well, with the likes of you and me being able to buy maps and go out and explore the wonders of the countryside or navigate to unfamiliar parts of the country or even beyond, to what was termed, at least when I was growing up, as “abroad” or on the “continent”.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.034

These sort of maps were designed for the consumer and fall within the purview of what’s now termed business-to-consumer, or B2C

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.036

While we tend to think of digital maps as a relatively modern invention, maps have been data for a long time, pretty much ever since we stopped engraving them by hand. Though there’s a lot of press coverage about vector maps being the latest thing, maps were vectors that then got converted into rasters. And of course, it you have data, other people may want that data

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.038

They may even be willing to pay money to license that data, and so we have maps as data and maps as a business-to-business transaction.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.040

Life was simple. The maps industry knew where it was. We went out and made maps from mapping data. We did this under government authority as B2G, we licensed the data to other businesses as B2B and we sold maps to the public as B2C.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.042

But all things can, must and do change and the disruptive change to the maps industry started in the mid to late 1980s

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.044

In 1984 a company called TeleAtlas formed in the Netherlands and the following year another company called Navtech formed in Silicon Valley. Both made rudimentary digital map data and TeleAtlas’s data would form part of ETAK, the first in-car navigation system.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.046

In 1989 the rollout of the US controlled Global Positioning System starts. These days we know this as GPS.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.048

In 1991, at Cern in Switzerland a man called Tim Berners-Lee started to link a web of documents together and on this very NeXT cube (formed by Steve Jobs after he’d been ousted from Apple), the first webserver and web site was born and the World Wide Web officially started.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.050

Up until 2000 there was two sorts of GPS signal – a degraded civilian one and and an accurate military one. This difference stopped in May 2000. As a result GPS starts to become widespread in civilian devices, leading to the explosion of personal satnav devices and the presence of GPS in our smartphones

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.052

And talking of smartphones, whilst they were first thought of an patented in 1971, mass availability and adoption of these hybrid mobile phone, network enabled computers didn’t really take off until the turn of the Millennium

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.054

And in 2005 Google finally made their unofficial API for Google Maps, which had launched earlier that year, publicly available and Yahoo! quickly followed with their maps API.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.056

So with map data, maps APIs, GPS and maps on the web and on our smartphone a decision inversion occurred. Technology decisions which had previously been made by the CTO and then percolated downwards to GI and software engineers, were now being made by those same GI professionals and percolating upwards.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.058

This was the birth of a new type of business transaction, B2D or business-to-developer. Availability of map data, ease of use of APIs and friendly licensing and terms of use became critical to a mapping organisation’s continued success.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.060

All of this made me think of a theory about the distribution channels and relationships that mapping organisations have. My theory goes something like this … in order to continue to survive and grow, just having one channel or relationship isn’t enough

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.062

B2G alone isn’t enough

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B2B alone isn’t enough

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B2C alone isn’t enough

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B2D alone isn’t enough

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.069

You really need to please all people, all of the time, you need to be B-to-everything, which I’m shortening to B-to-* because it’s shorter to say and sounds vaguely snappier

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.071

To try and prove my theory I looked at some of the key players in the mapping and mapping data space and tried to categorise them. Would the theory hold for one category, for all of them or maybe there’s some specific category where the theory holds true, albeit in a tenuous way

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.074

The first category I termed “this is my map data making”, in other words, organisations that actually go out and collect the raw geospatial data that’s the key ingredient in making a map.
Then there’s “not my map data making”; these organisations make maps but use other company’s map data, usually licensed data.
And then finally there’s “accidental map data making”; organisations that have ended up creating mapping data almost accidentally or as a beneficial side effect to their main endeavours.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.078

This is the first category of companies; those that make their own maps

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.081

First up is Amsterdam based TomTom, the owners of TeleAtlas.

There’s obviously a B2C offering from TomTom, driven (pun fully intended) by TeleAtlas’ data, as this is what the company is probably best known for.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.082

The B2C flavour continues with paid apps on two of the main smartphone platforms.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.083

And on the B2B side there’s licensing TeleAtlas data …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.084

… as well as a map platform that caters for the B2D side of things, as long as you’re a paying licensee

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.085

TeleAtlas/TomTom data are the underpinnings for Apple’s maps on iOS and on OS X as well as Google’s maps for those areas where Google hasn’t yet made their own maps as a by product of gathering StreetView data.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.090

So TomTom’s B2* scorecard looks something like this …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.093

Then there’s Chicago based Navteq who were acquired by Nokia and now form part of Berlin based HERE.

There’s a strong B2C presence for HERE, with a consumer maps portal, …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.094

the default maps app for Windows Phone …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.095

… a deal with Samsung to provide maps which aren’t Google’s on Android phones and rumours of an equivalent for iOS at some point.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.096

B2B is also a strong showing for HERE, signing platform deals to run maps for big enterprises …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.097

including Yahoo …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.098

and Microsoft’s Bing.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.099

And finally there’s a B2D presence with a whole suite of developer APIs, some freemium, some tied to NAVTEQ data licensing.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.104

Here’s HERE’s B2* scorecard …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.107

Moving away from global mapping providers, let’s take a look at where I’m currently consulting, the UK’s Ordnance Survey, which is probably the oldest mapping agency there is, being in existence since 1792

As an executive branch of the UK government, the OS is trying hard to cover all the bases.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.108

There’s the printed consumer maps side of the business which seems to be as British as long summer evenings, weak tea, cricket and warm beer.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.109

There’s also a strong B2D showing with a variety of APIs, which I’m working hard on expanding and improving.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.110

And there’s data, loads of data which is licensed to other businesses as well as being made available to central and local government agencies via the UK Public Service Mapping Agreement.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.115

The Ordnance Survey’s B2* scorecard looks something like this …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.117

That’s category number 1 dealt with, now let’s look at category number 2, the “not my data” brigade who take mapping data and make maps and services with it under license

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.120

It probably comes as no surprise that the first in this category is Google, the company that, probably unfairly, seems to be synonymous with web maps and mobile maps. It’s true that Google are slowly making their own base map as a convenient by product to StreetView, but they are also licensees of a staggering amount of data, including TomTom’s.

Google tries hard to tick all the B2 boxes. There’s a consumer maps site …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.121

… and mobile maps which are closely integrated with Google’s other core business, that of selling search advertising.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.122

There’s also a strong developer offering as well, giving “free” (in very inverted commas) access to maps, geocoding and a whole slew of other geospatial services.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.127

Here’s Google’s B2* scorecard …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.130

Launched in 1996, next up is MapQuest. 1996 doesn’t seem that long ago but MapQuest is a literal veteran of online and digital maps

As a TomTom/TeleAtlas licensee, MapQuest has a strong consumer offering, albeit one with some quirks. There’s a consumer map portal, which isn’t powered by TomTom data at all, rather it’s driven entirely by OpenStreetMap.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.131

MapQuest’s B2C credentials extend to a competitor to Google Maps amongst others being available on iOS, on Android, on Windows Phone and on Amazon’s Kindle Fire as well.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.132

It looks quite an impressive offering, maps, GPS, traffic notifications and turn by turn navigation …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.133

… but sadly it’s a US only affair so I can’t download it or try it out as I don’t have a US credit card.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.134

There’s also a strong B2D showing as well, and MapQuest are unique here in offering two identical sets of developer APIs, one driven by TomTom data and one by OpenStreetMap.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.139

This is what MapQuest’s B2* scorecard looks like …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.142

And finally in this category is Apple. The Cupertino based company is a relative latecomer to the maps game, relying on Google for their maps until the launch of Apple Maps in 2012

It’s fair to say that the first versions of Apple Maps felt rushed. With odd visualisations of melting bridges, showing the wrong location of the Apple Store in Sydney, Australia, marking an entire city as a hospital, misclassifying a nursery as an airport, and identifying the nearest petrol station to be as far as 76 miles away from the user’s location.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.143

But Apple Maps have iterated rapidly and improved significantly …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.144

… and thanks to the acquisition of C3, they have a very impressive 3D offering and a captive developer audience in the OS X and iOS operating systems.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.149

This is Apple’s B2* scorecard …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.151

And finally there’s the accidental geospatial data companies.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.154

The best example of which is probably New York’s Foursquare.

As a consumer recommendation site, Foursquare gets things impressively right.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.155

There’s also two consumer mobile apps, the original Foursquare and the new Swarm, though many people, myself included, think Foursquare isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be, especially since the gamification elements of checking in and competing to be mayor of a place have been phased out.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.156

But the side effect of all of this has been a vital part of the mobile location based ecosystem and that’s Foursquare’s places data which power so many of today’s LBS and LBMS offerings.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.157

This data set, an almost byproduct of their core business, has immense value that is now slowly being licensed and recognised.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.162

This is Foursquare’s B2* scorecard …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.165

There’s also an elephant in the room, an obvious omission that I’ve not talked about, and that’s OpenStreetMap. Now I know that OSM is a community and not a company or an organisation but it rightly deserves examining in terms of B2*

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.167

Since its inception in 2004, OSM has grown and grown. Not just in the amount of the world that’s been mapped, nor just in the amount of mapping data that this has generated (which currently weighs in at just under 500 GB). OSM is probably the definitive exemplar of a crowd sourcing project and it’s now starting to attract some heavyweight business attention, both directly and indirectly through the ecosystem of companies offering and monetising OSM based services.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.168

In addition to using TomTom data, Apple are also using OSM, albeit from a vintage prior to OSM’s change of licensing from CC-BY-SA to ODbL.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.169

Foursquare’s maps are OSM based …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.170

OpenCage are building geo services on OSM data …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.171

and both Craigslist …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.172

and Wikipedia are using OSM maps.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.173

Then there’s MapBox …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.174

and CartoDb, both building a business on OSM.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.179

So this is OpenStreetMap’s B2* scorecard …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.181

So does my theory of B2* being the new reality for the maps industry make sense? Does it hang together coherently? Obviously I think it does, for several reasons, but also that even if you’re a mapping company that manages to cover all of the bases that B2* currently stands for, that’s not necessarily grounds for congratulating ourselves and resting back on our laurels.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.183

As some of the early market leaders got acquired, there were fears around uncertainly of map data supply and the explosive growth of the dashboard top satnav box slowed to a trickle, supplanted by free offerings on people’s smartphones. Surely there would be winners and losers and this would affirm my theory of B2*. Maybe. None of the players in this space have gone out of business … yet. But it’s too early to be sure and when disruptive change happens in an industry it happens fast and it’s easy to be complacent and not spot a trend.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.185

Accuracy always matters for a map, not just for how accurate the map and its data is, but also for where the map is. Consider this for a moment, the duo of TeleAtlas/TomTom and Navteq/HERE have a pedigree steeped in the automotive industry, in satnav and turn-by-turn navigation. Their maps are road heavy, sometimes to the detriment of other forms of transport. The national and cadastral mapping agencies, including Britain’s Ordnance Survey, on the other hand, map everywhere within their territory regardless of whether it’s a road network, a metropolitan or urban area or the remotest and sparsely populated areas. And then there’s OpenStreetMap which maps everything it can, anywhere it can. Accuracy definitely matters and all the organisations I’ve talked about claim to have accurate maps and most of the time these days they have.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.187

In addition to accuracy, depth also matters but several mapping companies have discovered to their cost that not everyone needs depth. Classic B2B players, such as utility companies and fixed lines communications providers definitely need depth, as do governments, especially when it comes to marking out electoral boundaries or calculating taxation. But not all use cases demand the most detailed map.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.189

As I mentioned earlier, disruption happens and it happens in such a way that the market leaders often don’t notice. Any company active in the mapping space ignores the encroachment of Google into it’s heartland or the uptake and adoption of OpenStreetMap at their peril.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.191

All the companies that make their own mapping data, that’s TeleAtlas/TomTom, Navteq/HERE and the Ordnance Survey rightly pride themselves on the accuracy of their map and the depth of their map (in other words how detailed the map is). For a lot of use cases, maybe for emergency service routing, deep and accurate is what you need. But for other use cases, you just need good enough and good enough either comes for free or at a substantial discount.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.193

So who wins and who looses. All the companies try hard to tick as many of the B2* boxes as they can. But there will be casualties. Google’s march towards domination seems unstoppable, but any company can make a wrong move or ignore an upstart competitor snapping at their heels. TomTom and HERE rely on big licensing deals to justify the costs of map data acquisition but this is the classic long tail model in action, the head is mined out and the tail is starting to be explored. Those big licensing deals are getting fewer and fewer and come with less revenue. HERE’s deal with Samsung is a clever move which may just be enough for a company which effectively was acquired for $9 billion and is now valued at $6 billion. There’s little doubt in my mind that owning your own mapping data gives you a position of strength and stability that being a licensee just can’t. Of all the companies I’ve mentioned, MapQuest gives me the most concern. They continue to be reliant on licensed data, even though they’ve embraced OpenStreetMap, and licensed data costs continue to rise. I have to wonder if their parent company, AOL, will make a decision that there’s just not enough revenue coming in and will decide to close MapQuest down. For companies lucky enough to continue to own their data, the challenge is no longer to make a map or keep it fresh and accurate. The challenge and the reality is to expose the map and the map data to as many channels as they can. This is what B2* is all about. It means own your data, monetise it, make a balance between free and paid offerings and keep making your map ubiquitous.

Written and posted from GIS Ireland 2014, Dublin, Ireland (53.34431, -6.24843)

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.



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.


Most people in this room, I hope, understand that in today’s geospatial world a geocoder is critically important. Most people outside of this room and outside of this industry probably don’t. They just expect stuff on the interwebs and on their phone to work, for their devices to understand not only what they meant to say or type or tap but also where they meant. So I think it’s worth noting why people need to geocode …


They might have data with geospatial context but without coordinates or have data where the coordinates are questionable.

They might want to show their data on a map or store the coordinates in their data and do more than just cache them.

They might have coordinates but not know where those coordinates actually refer to or to easily cluster their data into whatever geographical grouping makes sense for their use case.

All of this … and more … needs a geocoder that works, works well and probably works globally


But enough about why people want to geocode … why do we want to geocode and by “we” I mean Lokku, the company behind OpenCage Data and behind Nestoria


We need a geocoder because Nestoria gets real estate listings. That means properties with, hopefully, a valid address. That data needs to be cleansed, sanitised and shown on a map, either precisely or in the general area if we can’t get a precise, street level geocode.

Nestoria has been doing this for over 8 years, geocoding and indexing up to 10M properties, every day. That’s a lot of geocoding and it needs to happen in areas of the world which aren’t always served by the commercial geocoders that the proprietary map providers offer.

You’d be forgiven for saying “but that screen shot is for Karlsruhe, that’s not difficult, Germany is well mapped and has a sane addressing system”. And you’d be right.


But we also do this for countries like India, which aren’t well mapped and which have a much more … fluid … approach to addressing. In January of this year we were in India and asked some people in Bangalore how would they geocode a batch of a thousand or so addresses.

The answer we got was simple … “Geocode that many addresses? We wouldn’t”. There’s a long running joke in India to effect that the country does has GPS, but it doesn’t stand for Global Positioning System, instead it stands for General Populace System. You look at an address, get to the nearest spot and then ask someone, repeating the process until you reach your destination.

Yet we’re geocoding in Bangalore and in India to the best of our ability to do so.


When it comes to choosing a geocoder, there’s a lot of choices for you to make and the choice you make has to be the right one for you


This is just a small selection of the geocoding services on offer. Some open. Some proprietary. Some free, some paid and some freemium.

All existing geocoding services have weaknesses and limitations
Most offer very limited coverage in emerging markets
Some allow caching or persistence (storing) of geocodes; some don’t
Almost all services severely rate limit or throttle over a 24 hour period
Commercial and/or proprietary services offer paid for plans ranging from $0.001 per query to €31,250.00 per month!
Not all providers allow for commercial use of geocodes
Some services don’t even offer a useable service, but instead permit hosting your own instances
Almost all proprietary services restrict the map canvas you can display geocodes on, forbid commercial use of geocodes or assert ownership of the geocodes or all of these

For Nestoria we had to make a decision and the one we made is why I’m here speaking to you now. We decided not to go with a proprietary geocoder


We decided to build our own geocoder. Or to be more precise our own geocoders. One for each country Nestoria operates in. This was a hard decision to make but the right one. No other geocoding service offered the right combination of coverage, depth, usage rights and many other factors.

So build our own geocoders we did. With open data. From OSM. From Yahoo! GeoPlanet and from other open data sources. These geocoders are running right now, 24×7, geocoding property listings and making Nestoria work.


When I joined Lokku and OpenCage Data in January of this year I took a long hard look at the back end geo technology that Nestoria has and immediately had a lightbulb moment. We should launch a geocoder. And not just a geocoder that uses the Nestoria geocoders, one that uses many open source and open data geocoders and one that offers global coverage, not just in the countries that Nestoria operates in.


For most people geocoding and OSM mean Nominatim. There’s also other geocoding services, including MapQuest’s Open Geocoder which is powered by Nominatim as well as other services such as, and Photon to name but a few. But all of these services are standalone. It’s one geocoder, behind a single API. There should be more than one.


Because if you look at what’s behind the API for the large proprietary geocoders, there is more than one geocoder. There’s many. This is certainly true for the companies I’ve worked for that offer geocoding services … both Yahoo’s and NAVTEQ’s geocoder is really many country and/or language specific geocoders. You hit a single API and it’s fired off to many geocoders based on country or language so the user gets the best answer they can. This isn’t an easy task to achieve and it’s probably one of the reasons why commercial geocoders cost and cost a lot.


But while the proprietary map and geocoding providers battle it out between themselves OSM and open data are being overlooked and ignored. While the proprietary players have now grudgingly admitted that the map in OSM is a competitor to their offerings, the same cannot be said for their view of OSM being a viable opponent in geocoding.


There is a classic gap in the market and this is one that at OpenCage we’re trying to exploit and one which we home the OSM community as a whole will help exploit.


So we’ve taken the Nestoria geocoders, we’ve added in our own instances of Nominatim, of DSTK and of Two Fishes and we’re wrapped this all into a single API which does just what the proprietary players do, we look at the query, fire it off to all of these geocoders and confidence rank the results which we then return.

This is just the start, we plan on adding more open geocoders and more open data in the future as the service grows. If you have a geocoder you think we could or should be using, come and find us and tell us. As well as myself, there’s Ed Freyfogle and Marc Tobias Metten here at SOTM-EU.


It’s called the OpenCage Geocoder and you’ll find it online here. Right now.


Just as the power of Leaflet’s JavaScript maps API is in it’s simplicity and ease of use, we think the OpenCage Geocoder API is simple and easy


OSM isn’t just for the US or for Europe and neither is this geocoder


Reverse geocoding is just as important as forward geocoding. Indeed with the continuing rise in smartphone use, it’s probably not unfair to say that reverse geocoding is just as important as forward geocoding is, if not more so


For now, we’re launching as a beta service, which means this is a free service. After the beta period, there will be pricing levels introduced, but there will always be a free tier and our pricing will be clear, transparent and above all flexible.


In 2011 at WhereCamp EU in Berlin I codified Gary’s Law of Conference failure. Never work with children, animals or live demos. Now it’s time to put that law to the test. This is what the geocoder looks like and does.


The API runs over HTTP or HTTPS. Here’s the API geocoding Karlsruhe and with a format parameter than gives you back JSON.


Or if you prefer XML we can do that too.


Or if you’re already using Google’s geocoder we can return JSON in the format that v3 of the Google API uses.


Or maybe you’d like to see what the return values from the geocoder looks like on a map? We can do that too.


So feel free to sign up and to try the OpenCage Geocoder out


If you find a problem, want help or have suggestions or want to talk to us … you’ll find us on Twitter


Thank you for listening

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


  • 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


Pros: Simple to use

Cons: Vendor lock in or lack of flexibility


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


  • 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


Pros: Flexibility and choice

Cons: Often need to cherry pick from components


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.




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.




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.


Modest Maps


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.


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.




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.




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.


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.


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?


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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


And the future is very much open.


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 …


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


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


You’ll start to become familiar with the GPL.


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


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


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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


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.


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


Finally, a shameless plug …


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.


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.


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.


Take 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.


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.


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.


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.


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)

In India Just Because You Can Map Something, Doesn’t Always Mean You Should

It’s easy to get stuck in a mental rut, to think that everyone thinks and feels the same way you do about a subject. But sometimes you need to get away and visit another country and another culture to find out that maybe there’s more than one way of looking at a subject. For me that subject is, unsurprisingly, maps and the other country was India.

Some countries are easier to map than others. Up to the end of the Cold War, it was commonplace for the UK’s Ordnance Survey to not show prohibited places, although this practice has been effectively stopped due to the widespread availability of satellite imagery. Further afield, there’s contested borders and territorial disputes which makes mapping some administrative boundaries something of a challenge; a proof of the old adage about pleasing some people some of the time but not all people all of the time.

It’s easy to think that not mapping an area is a thing of the past. That we can and should map everywhere. That mapping is simply the combination of human effort, a bit of technology and a lot of data. Indeed OpenStreetMap’s beginner’s guide states upfront that the data you add improves the free world map for everyone. But as I found out, in India, there’s a lot more subtlety and nuance behind this admirable creed.

Firstly there’s the act of mapping itself. As with pre-Cold War Britain (and to be fair, some parts of Britain today), India has placed restrictions on what can and cannot appear on a map. When working for Nokia’s HERE Maps, I ran a program to use crowd mapping to improve the company’s maps in India and came across these restrictions first hand. My point here is not to agree or disagree with a government’s stance on mapping restrictions but merely to point out that they exist.


But it’s not just the government who would prefer you not to map places, it’s the people as well in some cases. According to recent figures, India has a population of around 1.27 billion people; of these, over 65 million live in slums. Sadly this wasn’t a shock; I’d been well prepared for slums from my visit to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania at the end of 2012.


In Dar es Salaam, you map slums to help the occupants find vital facilities; fresh water, sanitation, health care and so on. You use the map to bring the slum to the authorities attention so they do something about it. Making a map is vital. But not necessarily so in India. Indian slums are hidden in plain sight. Everyone knows they’re there, but they don’t always bring attention to themselves. Putting a slum on the map runs the risk of bringing some potential prime real estate land to the attention of an unscrupulous property developer; some of whom have been known to raze a slum to the ground overnight and displacing the residents through the judicious use of bulldozers.

Another subtlety that doesn’t apply in the United Kingdom are the locations of the Cheel Ghar in Indian cities, which translates to Tower of Silence in English. These are the circular raised structures where Parsi followers of the Zoroastrian faith leave their dead and let exposure to the sun and birds of prey reduce the body to bare bones. Originally these towers were outside the boundaries of the city, but the rapid growth of India’s metropolitan areas have engulfed the Cheel Ghar, leaving them as small forested oases inside the urban sprawl. Even if you know where they are, and I walked past one without knowing it until it was pointed out to me, putting these sacred places on a map would not be deemed acceptable by adherents of that faith. Just because you can map something, doesn’t always mean you should.


But even if you make an accurate and detailed map, how do you cope with the vagaries and eccentricities of the Indian addressing system? I asked someone at the GeoMob meets GeoBLR meetup we ran in Bangalore how they’d geocode (turn addresses into longitude and latitude) a batch of a thousand or so addresses. The answer was blunt and succinct … “Geocode that many addresses? We wouldn’t”. There’s a long running joke in India to effect that the country does has GPS, but it doesn’t stand for Global Positioning System, instead it stands for General Populace System. You look at an address, get to the nearest spot and then ask someone, repeating the process until you reach your destination.

Given how visual and landmark based Indian addresses are, this approach makes a lot of sense. In India I stayed at 3 different hotels in New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. In Delhi, the address was Ring Road, New Delhi; in Mumbai it was Western Express Highway, Santacruz East and in Bangalore Swami Vivekananda Road, Off M.G. Road, Ulsoor. Standing outside each hotel and looking around, the addresses made a lot of sense, in Bangalore I was just off the M.G Road, named after Mahatma Gandhi; there’s a lot of M.G. Roads in India, the equivalent of High Street in Britain. Other addresses include location clues such as near, opposite and by. If you really, really need to geocode an address you look it up on a digital map and make a note of the coordinates; a very manual and not at all scalable way of dealing with the problem.


Reading all of the above back to myself before I click on Publish makes me realise that in hindsight it’s blindingly obvious that each country will have its own set of edge cases. India is no exception. A massive amount of credit for what I learned in India should go to Sajjad, Sumandro and Kaustubh, the team behind Bangalore’s GeoBLR geo themed meetup. Thank you all, you taught me a massive amount and expanded my horizons considerably.

Tower of Silence (for Parsi Sky Burial): Mumbai by James Oleson on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The London Underground Strike Map

If you’re trying to get out and about in London today you’ve probably noticed that the Tube is on strike. Again. You could read the list of closed stations that are on Transport for London’s website and try and work out quite how, if at all, you’re going to get to where you want to be. Or you could look at a map.

This map. Now why didn’t TfL think of doing this?


Strike map by Ian Visits on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

A More Accurate And Realistic Map Of The Northern Line

Running between Edgware, Mill Hill East and High Barnet to the North of London to Morden to the South, the London Underground’s Northern Line stretches for 36 miles and takes in 50 stations. The line, marked in black on the Tube map, is a familiar sight to London commuters. But is the map of the line accurate? Does it reflect reality?


A geographic map of the line looks something like this. The Northern spurs of the line merge at Camden Town and then split into two branches, one via Charing Cross and the other via Bank, before merging again at Kennington and heading towards the Southern terminus at Morden.


But anyone who’s travelled on the Northern Line will probably also be familiar with the line being colloquially referred to as The Misery Line. The line is old with the first stations opening in 1867; signal failures and delays are constant companions, despite TfL’s program of upgrades and modernisation. Splitting the line into two sections, with Charing Cross trains terminating at Kennington and Bank trans running through to Morden doesn’t seem to help much. Maybe it’s time for a new map of the Northern Line that reflects the reality of commuting on this line? Maybe that map might look something like this?


Northern Line route map by Martin Deutsch. Northern Line map by Wikipedia. Realistic Northern Line map via Buzzfeed.
Written and posted from the Hyatt Regency Hotel, New Delhi, India (28.56897, 77.18515)

All Of Today’s Maps Are Wrong; We Live On A Giant Chicken

Up until the 6th. Century BC, it was commonly held that the world we live on was flat. Then Pythagorus came along and started to prove that the world is in fact a sphere. We now know that he was almost right and our planet is really an oblate spheroid, looking not dissimilar to a slightly squashed beach ball.

Today’s Internet brings us many wonderful things. Some of those are maps. Today’s map shows that with a little bit of cartographical cut-and-paste and a flagrant disregard for the theory of plate tectonics, the world we live on is actually a chicken. A giant chicken.


If this doesn’t make you grateful for the Internet then I don’t know what does.

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