Posts Tagged ‘data’

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 …

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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!

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… I tweet, a lot, as @vicchi …

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… and I write a map blog at www.vicchi.org

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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.

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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

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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

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

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… 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?

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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.

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Seriously? Really?

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

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

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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.

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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 …

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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, …

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the default maps app for Windows Phone …

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… 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.

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

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including Yahoo …

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and Microsoft’s Bing.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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 …

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

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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.

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Here’s Google’s B2* scorecard …

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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 …

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… 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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But Apple Maps have iterated rapidly and improved significantly …

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… 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.

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This is Apple’s B2* scorecard …

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And finally there’s the accidental geospatial data companies.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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This is Foursquare’s B2* scorecard …

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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*

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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.

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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.

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Foursquare’s maps are OSM based …

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OpenCage are building geo services on OSM data …

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and both Craigslist …

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and Wikipedia are using OSM maps.

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Then there’s MapBox …

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and CartoDb, both building a business on OSM.

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So this is OpenStreetMap’s B2* scorecard …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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)

The Quest For The London Flood Map

My morning’s reading today has been dominated by a map image that the UK’s Environment Agency released on December 6th that, to quote the Tweet, shows “the extent of potential flooding of London if the Thames Barrier wasn’t in place“. If you know London at all, it’s certainly an arresting image but like so many times when I encounter a map, I want to interact with it, move it, see whether where I live in London would have been impacted. So I started investigating.

Some background context is probably in order. On December 5th. the UK’s Met Office issued severe weather warnings for the East Coast of England. A combination of a storm in the Atlantic to the north of Scotland, low atmospheric pressure and high tides were all combining to push a massive swell of water through the narrows of English Channel, in effect squeezing the water through the Dover Strait. As the North Sea and English Channel are relatively shallow, the sea would back up and had the potential to flood large areas of the East Coast of England as well as the areas surrounding the tidal stretch of the River Thames and that means London and possibly even where I live in Teddington, which marks the upper limit of the tidal Thames. Thankfully for those of us who live West of Woolwich, the Thames Barrier exists to protect London from such flooding, though I’m sure this is less of a comfort to those people who live to the East of the barrier.

3WxNK

But back to that map. It’s a nice overlay of flood levels on the Docklands area of London based on satellite imagery. The cartography is simple and pleasing; light blue for the River Thames and Bow Creek, darker blue for the banks of the rivers and a washed out aquamarine for areas that would be flooded. But it’s a static image. I can’t pan and scroll it. The Tweet from the Environment Agency and the image itself contained no context as to where it came from or how it was made. So I browsed over to the Environment Agency’s website in search of enlightenment.

The Environment Agency is a governmental body and that’s very much apparent from the website. It simply screams corporate website produced by a large contractor. But no matter, I’m not here to critique website design; I’m here looking for a map. So I looked. I searched. If that map is on that website it’s not wanting to be found. It’s the map equivalent of the planning application for the demolition of Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and is on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard. But what I did find was this map … the Risk Of Flooding From Rivers And Seas map. With this map I could finally find out what risk there was of flooding to my local area. Eventually.

Now it’s only fair to state upfront that the original version of this post, from this point onwards, was less a critique of a map and much more of a scathing flaying alive of a map. But thankfully before I posted this, I’d also taken the time to read Gretchen Peterson’s Getting Along: The Objective And The Subjective In Mapping. After rereading my original post, it was only too evident that calling it a critique was unfair as it was far far too subjective. So I rewrote it, trying to adhere to being objective wherever I could be.

flood-1

So let’s start … this map has some significant flaws. The questions are why and what could be done to rectify those flaws?

flood-2

The map starts zoomed out to encompass the entirety of England, with no apparent flood information at all. There’s a prompt to “enter a postcode or place name”, but I know where I live so I try to zoom in by double clicking. The map’s click event is trapped as I’m told to “zoom in query the map” which I work out to mean I have to use the map’s zoom slider control. But if you take the time to write some code to trap the act of clicking on a map, why not go one step further and use the double click paradigm for map navigation which is by now almost universal? But this is also a flood map, so why not use my web browser’s built in geolocation facility to automatically zoom the map to where I am right now, or at least present the map in a form where there’s some flood information available. Why make the user do all of this additional work? With a few simple lines of Javascript code, the map could be made so much more immediate and easily usable.

flood-3

So I started to zoom in, using the pan control. The next zoom level was less than visually pleasing. Jagged, blocky and pixellated place labels are scattered across the map. It’s almost as if the map’s tiles were hand rolled, but more about that in a minute.

When zooming, the map’s centre had changed and after my initial double click zooming attempts were rebuffed, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to pan the map without recourse to the pan controls. Indeed my first attempt at panning looked more as if I was trying to drag the map image out of the browser window. But then a few seconds later the map redrew itself. This was less a slippy map and much more a slow-py map.

flood-4

After zooming in a further 3 times, the pixellation on the place labels had cleared up but the map itself was washed out and faded, almost as if there was a semi transparent overlay on top of the underlying base map, which itself looked like the Ordnance Survey map style. It also looked, to be frank, a bit of a mess. Given that I was trying to find out flooding information there was far too much information being displayed in front of me and apart from the map’s legend, helpfully marked legend, none of it was flood related. Yet.

flood-5

One further zoom level in and I finally found what I was looking for. A visualisation of what looked like an overflowing River Thames. At first sight this explained the washed out nature of the map I’d seen earlier. Surely this was due to an overlay containing the flooded areas but rather than overlay just the flooded area, the entirety of the map was overlaid, with the non-flooded areas being made translucent to allow the underlying map to bleed through.

The great thing about Javascript web maps is that, if you know how, you can actually break apart the layers of the map and see how it’s constructed. Doing just this led me to discover that the flood data I was seeing wasn’t an overlay. With the exception of the map’s pan and zoom controls, the map is a single layer. Whoever was behind that map has made their own tile set with the flood data an intrinsic part of the map. All of which is extremely laudable but at higher zoom levels the tile set just doesn’t work and the choice of underlying base map leaves quite a bit to be desired.

flood-7

Finally, after several more pan and zoom operations I could see my local area. But it had taken 7 attempts at zooming in and almost as many panning operations to keep the map centred on where I wanted to see. Now it’s true that entering my postal code would have taken me there immediately but one of the habits we’ve developed when viewing digital maps is to be able to dive in and get where we want to go by interacting with the map itself and not neccessarily with the map’s controls.

Even when I’d found the information I want, the flood data seems placed on top of the base map almost as an afterthought, despite the two data sets being baked together into a single map layer. I can appreciate the cartographical choice of using shades of blue for the two flood zones, but the pink chosen to show existing flood defences is a questionable, albeit subjective, choice. The flood data just doesn’t sit well on top of the underlying Ordnance Survey map, whose map style just clashes with the flood data’s style. Finally and probably worst of all, the map is slow, almost to the point of being unusable. All of which makes me wonder how many people have come across this map and just simply given up trying to find the information they’re looking for. If only the map looked as good as the original graphic that started me on this map quest (pun intended). Surely someone could do better?

Maybe someone will. The flood zones are available via WMS from the UK’s data.gov.uk site, though that very same site warns you that registration is required and they’re not under an open license. Even taking a simpler base map approach and overlaying the tiles from the WMS would make the map far more accessible and easier to comprehend. Some of the data itself looks like it could be available from Environment Agency’s DataShare site, though it’s only fair to say that this site and data.gov.uk does suffer from the same lack of discoverability and ease of use that the flood map suffers from.

For geospatial information such as flood data, there’s no better way to make it easily comprehensible and visible than on a map. The mere fact that there is such a map is to be applauded. It just could be so much better and this would take a trivial amount of technical acumen from anyone who’s used to making even simplistic digital maps. This map could be amazing and shine so brightly but as it currently stands, it can only receive the same score as I saw too many times on my school report cards. “B-. Could try harder.

Image Credits: Environment Agency.
Written and posted from Augie’s Coffeehouse, 113 N 5th Street, Redlands CA (34.05693, -117.18151)

Open Data Yields Tangible Results – And Tangible Maps

In January of this year I made a hopeful prediction that 2013 would be the year of the tangible map.

This hope was prompted by the maps I saw at one of London’s geomob meetups in November of 2012, where I saw and, importantly for a tangible map, touched Anna Butler’s London wall map and a prototype of David Overton’s SplashMap.

The hopeful prediction was made as a result of literally getting my hands on one of Anna’s London maps and it’s a treasured possession, though still sadly needing a suitable frame before it can take pride of place on a wall at home.

But what of SplashMaps? In November 2012 the project was on Kickstarter and I was one of the investors in this most tangible of maps. In December 2012 Splashmaps met their funding targets and went into production and today, through the letterbox came my own, tangible, foldable, scrunchable and almost indestructible SplashMap of my local neighbourhood.

IMG_1190

Now all if this could be taken to be simply my crowing with delight over maps. But there’s a deeper context to all of these tangible maps. Both the London Wall Map and SplashMaps have come about due to one single thing … open data. The case has often been made, though equally as often misunderstood, that open data is an economic stimulus. As many people ask why should we give something away for free as ask for data to opened up to the public.

IMG_1189

Both of these maps wouldn’t have been financially possible without access to open data; the pre-open data era licensing costs and restrictions alone would have put paid to any startup opportunities an aspiring entrepreneur came up with. But in these maps, the proof of what open data can do has become very real, indeed very tangible.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Map Push Pins vs. Dots? Google Map Engine vs. Dotspotting?

Yesterday, Google launched their Maps Engine Lite beta; a way of quickly and easily visualising small scale geographic data sets on (unsurprisingly) a Google map. The service allows you to upload a CSV file containing geographic information and style the resulting map with the data added to it. I thought I’d give it a try.

I turned to my tried and trusted data set for things like this; a data set I derived from a Flickr set of geotagged photos I’d taken of the London Elephant Parade in 2010. It’s a known data source and I know what the results of this data set will give me; it lets me do a reasonably meaningful visual comparison of how a particular product or service interprets and displays the data.

Google Maps Engine

Reading up on Map Engine Lite, I noted that I could only upload a maximum of 100 data points into a layer on the map, which wasn’t a problem as my data set is localised to London and contains only 10 pieces of information, one for each photo I’d taken. Once I’d uploaded the data I could style the colours of the push pins and the background style of the map. It looks pretty good, even if you are limited to 100 points per layer and it’s for strictly personal and non commercial use only.

But I was sure I’d seen this sort of thing before and I had, in the form of Stamen’s Dotspotting. I already had an account with Dotspotting and, even though I’d forgotten about it, I’d previously made a map from my London Elephants data set.

DotSpotting

The parallels are many. Both Map Engine and Dotspotting allow you to upload data in CSV format. Both services try to work out coordinates from the data, if there’s no lat/long coordinates already. Both services allow you to style the resultant map.

There are differences. Dotspotting allows you to download your data; it doesn’t appear that Google does. Map Engine allows you to style the map markers; it doesn’t seem that Dotspotting allows this. Dotspotting supports Excel spreadsheets, CSV files, Flickr and Google My Maps feeds; Map Engine only supports CSV files.

There’s also one other key difference; Map Engine was launched yesterday, whilst Dotspotting was launched 2 years ago.

But there’s an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Mapping Meteor Strikes; There’s A Lot More Than You’d Think

Last week’s 10,00 ton and 55 feet’s worth of meteor that exploded over and hit the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in the Urals made several thoughts go through my mind. In this order.

  1. I feel for the 1200 people who were hurt and injured
  2. Thank goodness it didn’t happen where I live
  3. With all the asteroids and smaller pieces of rock zooming over our head, this has got to have happened before, hasn’t it?

On the subject of the last thought, it turns out this has happened before. A few times. Actually close to 35,000 times. The Meteoritical Society has a data set detailing these. It would make a great map. Which is exactly what Javier de la Torre, co-founder of CartoDB has done.

Meteor Map - Global

A map of impact points would be effective enough, but Javier’s use of a heatmap not only shows the global spread of the debris which has been raining down on our planet since 2,300 BC but also shows the density of strikes, which makes the map simultaneously more effective and accessible.

Meteor Map - UK

There’s also been far more strikes in the United Kingdom than I would have either thought or feel vaguely comfortable about, if you can ever be comfortable with things falling from the sky with horrifying effect.

Definitely a map to file under the I wish I’d done that category.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

GeoPlanet Data Resurfaces For Download; On The Internet Archive

Although I can’t find the originator of the saying that there’s no delete button for the internet, it’s a saying that’s very true. If you put something up on a web site, be it a photo, some text or perhaps a file of geographic data there’s a very good chance that someone else has a copy, even if you subsequently take the original down. It’s a sort of digital whack-a-mole.

This is all too apparent in the story of Yahoo’s GeoPlanet Data download. When I was part of the Yahoo! Geo Technologies team, we released a public download of the Yahoo! WOEID data set, under the CC BY 3.0 license, in 2009 at Where 2.0. More about that license in a moment.

As Yahoo! continues to undergo change under the leadership of Marissa Meyer, the current data file and all earlier versions were taken offline. Visit the GeoPlanet Data page on Yahoo’s Developer Network site and instead of a set of download links, you see “We are currently making the data non-downloadable while we determine a better way to surface the data as a part of the service.“.

YDN

But the digital mole that is the WOEID data has resurfaced, and versions 7.4 through 7.10 of GeoPlanet Data can now be found on the Internet Archive.

But Yahoo! has taken down the downloads, so how can this happen? That’s where the CC BY 3.0 license comes into play. The Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license, to give CC BY 3.0 its full name, gives anyone the right to share the data, in other words to copy, to distribute or to transmit the data, providing users of the data attribute it back to Yahoo! Once issued under such a license, it can’t be revoked; you may choose to issue a new version under a different license scheme or stop issuing new versions entirely, but the earlier versions remain under the original license.

Internet Archive

I’ve always had a soft spot for the WOEID and for the GeoPlanet API and data download. Maybe this new availability of the data set will stimulate new usage of WOEIDs. Who knows, the data may even be forked and added to?

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

The Problem With Location Based Mobile Services

There’s a problem with today’s crop of location based mobile services, commonly referred to as LBMS; those little apps which sit on our smartphones and allow us to geotag status updates or photos, find relevant local place information or check-in at a place.

The problem isn’t one of privacy or tracking. Nor is the problem one of an LBMS dying and going away. The problem isn’t whether I can get a good location fix or whether the results I get are accurate or not. The problem isn’t even of the value of the data we, the customer, put into a service and whether we can get it back again.

The Internet Connection Appears To Be Offline

No, the problem is whether we can actually use the service from our smartphone at all.

It’s 2013 and I live in the suburbs of the capital of the United Kingdom and this happens all the time. Not in the uncharted wilds of the UK. Not in obscure regions of the world. But in my local neighbourhood and in the heart of London. And it’s not just a problem with Vodafone, my current cellular provider. Over the last few years I’ve been on T-Mobile, on Orange and on O2 and all the cellular carriers seem to have exactly the same problem; one which makes a mockery of their coverage maps. According to Vodafone’s map, I should be getting high or at least variable 3G data coverage where I live, but instead I get variable or no coverage at all when walking in my local neighbourhoods.

3G data coverage that drops in and out; that’s the problem with today’s location based mobile services.

I’m getting off of my soapbox now …

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

2013 – The Year Of The Tangible Map And Return Of The Map As Art

Looking back at the conference talks I gave and the posts I wrote in 2012, two themes are evident.

The first theme is that while there’s some utterly gorgeous digital maps being produced these days, such as Stamen’s Watercolor, the vast majority of digital maps can’t really be classified as art. Despite the ability to style our own maps with relative ease, such as with Carto and MapBox’s TileMill, today’s maps tend towards the data rich, factual end of the map spectrum. Compare and contrast a regular digital map, on your phone, on your tablet or on a web site in your laptop’s browser with a map such as Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici and you’ll see what I mean (and if you don’t browse the Norman. B. Leventhal Map Center’s Flickr stream you really should).

Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici

The second theme is that despite the abundance of maps that surround us these days, a digital map is almost by definition an intangible thing. It’s a view port, hand crafted by a digital cartographer, on a mass of hidden, underlying spatial data. It’s ephemeral. Switch off your phone, your tablet, your sat nav or your computer and the map … vanishes. Until the next time you hit the “on” button, the electrons flow again and the map re-appears. But it’s still intangible, despite the irony that a lot of maps these days are interacted with via a touch interface; we tap, poke, prod and swipe our maps, but they’re not really there.

But maybe 2013 will be both the year of the tangible map and the year of the map as art. It might be if the closing days of 2012 are anything to go by.

On December 8th, 2012, David Overton’s SplashMaps made their funding total on Kickstarter. A SplashMap is a real outdoor map, derived from (digital) open data, but rendered on a light and weatherproof fabric. It’s a tangible map in the truest sense of the word; one you can fold up or even crumple up and stick in your pocket, safe in the knowledge that it won’t fade away. There’s no “off” switch for this map. As one of the SplashMap funders, I’ll have a chance to get my hands on one in the literal sense of the word in a couple of months, once they hit production. So more about this map in a future post.

The other map that is both 100% tangible and 100% art is the awesomely talented Anna Butler’s Grand Map Of London. A modern day map of the UK’s capital city, digital in origin, lovingly hand drawn in the style of the 1800s and printed, yes, printed on canvas. It’s a map worthy of the phrase “the map as art” and when I first saw one and handled one in late November of 2012 I wanted one, right there and then.

Grand Map Of London

And then, on Saturday, December 29th 2012, Mark Iliffe and I met Anna for a coffee in the Espresso Bar of the British Library on London’s Euston Road and out of the blue, Anna handed over a long cardboard tube containing my own, my very own, Grand Map Of London. People nearby looked on, slightly non-plussed as I crowed like a happy baby, promptly unrolled the map over the table and just looked and touched. The next half an hour or so pretty much vanished as I pored over and luxuriated in the map, lost in the details and revelling in the map under my hands. Truly this is a tangible map which is itself art.

I’ve often said, half in truth, half in jest, that I’d love a big, as big as I can get, map of London on my wall, probably one of Stamen’s Watercolor maps. But Anna’s Grand Map Of London will be getting a suitable frame and sitting on my wall, just as soon as my local framing shop opens after the New Year break.

Grand Map Of London

Two maps to wrap up 2012. Both tangible, both digital in origin, both made for looking, touching and feeling. One clever, innovative and utterly practical and one a map you can keep coming back to and which reveals more artistic cleverness each time you look at it.

2013 is shaping up to be a “year of the map” in ways I’d never had hoped for at the start of 2012.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)