Posts Tagged ‘geo’

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 …

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.005

… 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.

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.010

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

Gary Gale - Welcome to B2*.011

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)

From Where 2.0 To Just Where; With Meh 2.0 Somewhere In The Middle

And so, as Where 2012 draws to a close and the lobby of the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco fills with a slew of geo’d-out delegates waiting to check out, it’s time for the traditional post conference retrospective writeup. If you were at Where this year or in previous years you’ll probably want to skip ahead to the next paragraph, right now. Where, previously called Where 2.0, is one of the annual maps, geo, location conferences. Though it’s very Californian and eye wateringly expensive, it’s still the place to go to talk, listen and announce anything related to the nebulous industry we call Geo.

After skipping Where 2.0 last year, this year I returned as part of the Nokia contingent and found out that some things had changed.

Firstly, Where 2.0 was no more. O’Reilly have rebranded the conference as simply Where, with the strapline of the business of location. The conference had also moved from its traditional San Jose venue, via the soul desert that is the Santa Clara Convention centre last year, to a new home at the Marriott Marquis slap bang in the middle of downtown San Francisco.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, whilst Where was as slick and well put together as it’s always been, something was missing. It’s not easy to put my finger on what precisely was lacking. There seemed to be a lack of … buzz, for want of a better word. It felt … muted. Numbers were certainly down from previous years but that alone can’t account for the feeling, or lack of it, this year. Granted, the venue was excellent, the food was as well too. The coffee was … Starbucks. We can’t have it all. The wifi almost held up. I met up with a lot of old friends and colleagues, including some from Yahoo! and the after show parties were edgy and the bar was open, free and copiously stocked.

But it did feel more Meh 2.0 (to be said out loud with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders) rather than Where 2.0, and from speaking to other people, I’m not alone in thinking this.

So enough introspection, to the point of this post, which is retrospection. Let’s start with the high points.

Read On…

The Non Golden Rules of Geo (Redux)

Back when I used to work for Yahoo! I wrote a lot of posts for the Geo Technologies blog; for reasons partially explained in my last post, that blog is now offline, presumed dead. But one post that seems to keep catching people’s imagination is the one in which I, somewhat tongue in cheek, codified the Six Non Golden Rules Of Geo. Much to my satisfaction, it keeps getting mentioned, although the full original post is inaccessible, as is the rest of that blog. Nate Kelso reproduced part of it, as did John Goodwin but until earlier today I’d not been able to find the full post.

Step forward the aforementioned John Goodwin who, with a bit of internet detective work, managed to find a mirror of the post. While I much prefer to link to blog posts rather than reproduce them in full, in this case I’m plagiarising myself and making an exception on the ground of inaccessibility, and have mirrored the post in full here. It’s worth mentioning that this post was originally written in February of 2009, when I was still working for Yahoo! so it’s a little out of date and was originally posted as …

UK Addressing, The Non Golden Rules of Geo or Help! My County Doesn’t Exist

George Bernard Shaw once said the golden rule is that there are no golden rules and at Geo Technologies we understand that there is no one golden rule for geo and so we try to capture and express the world’s geography as it is used and called by the world’s people. Despite the pronouncement on golden rules, a significant proportion of the conversations we have with people about geo lend themselves to the Six Non Golden Rules of Geo, namely that:

  1. Any attempt to codify a series of geo rules into a formal, one size fits all, taxonomy will fail due to Rule 2.
  2. Geo is bizarre, odd, eclectic and utterly human.
  3. People will in the main agree with Rule 1 with the exception of the rules governing their own region, area or country, which they will think are perfectly logical.
  4. People will, in the main, think that postal, administrative and colloquial hiearachies are one and the same thing and will overlap.
  5. Taking Rule 4 into account, they will then attempt to codify a one size fits all geo taxonomy.
  6. There is no Rule 6, see Rule 1.

I codified these rules after a conversation last week, via Twitter and Yahoo! Messenger, with Andrew Woods, a US based developer who was, understandably, confused by the vagaries of the how addresses work in the UK. Andrew’s blog contains the full context but it can be distilled into three key questions:

  • If the country is The United Kingdom, how come the ISO 3166-2 code is GB?
  • If the country is The United Kingdom, is England a country?
  • If England is a country, do I use it in an address?

As a US developer, Andrew is naturally fluent with the US style of addressing, with all of its’ localised and regional exceptions. This is a good example of both Rules 3 and 4 in the real world; most people in the US will use number, street, city, State and ZIP for specifying an address. But how does this transfer to the UK? What’s the equivalent of a State … England, Scotland or Wales? Let’s try to answer some of these problems:

Middlesex In 1824

If the country is The United Kingdom, how come the ISO 3166-2 code is GB?

The UK’s full name is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and although the United Kingdom and Great Britain are used interchangeably, Great Britain really refers to England, Scotland and Wales. At the time of writing, both GB and UK are formal ISO 3166-2 codes for the United Kingdom with GB being the assigned code for Great Britain and UK being exceptionally reserved by the United Kingdom.

If the country is The United Kingdom, is England a country?

To be formal and precise, the United Kingdom is a unitary state, not a country, with four “member” countries; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

If England is a country, do I use it in an address?

Normally, no. A full UK address consists of the following:

  • The addressee’s name, if known or applicable
  • The company or organisation, if known or applicable
  • The building name; optional if the building has a number
  • The number of the building and the name of the street
  • The locality name;optional
  • The Post Town
  • The county; optional if a Post Town and Postcode are supplied
  • The Postcode

… for example, take our office address of Yahoo! Geo Technologies, 125 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8AD. This address has no building name, a building number and street, no locality name, a Post Town, no county as we have a Post Town and a Post Code, and a Post Code.

Which brings me neatly to another example of Rule 4 and the missing county of this post’s title. The UK’s postal hierarchy and administrative hierarchy are not the same. Since 1996 the first half of a UK postcode, known as the outward code, has been used to help in the sorting of mail but prior to this a set of postal counties were used as part of addresses and these frequently do not match the current set of administrative counties. For example, the county of Middlesex was formally abolished in 1965 with the majority of the county becoming part of Greater London. Despite this and despite the 1996 postcode changes, Middlesex lives on as a postal county and as informal area name with the side effect that it is still possible to send mail, and have it delivered, to places in a county which hasn’t existed for over 40 years.

Oh, and Yahoo! GeoPlanet, naturally, recognises Middlesex and correctly identifies it as a Historical County.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Paleo vs. Neo – A Final Word (Plus A Helpful Venn Diagram)

When you’re on the inside of an industry looking in, you take a lot of things for granted. You fling terminology, acronyms and slang around, safe and secure in the knowledge that your audience knows exactly what you’re talking about. But when you’re on the edges of an industry, or even on the outside, looking in, all of a sudden that terminology becomes opaque, those acronyms obscure and that slang becomes misleading. When you’re on the inside, looking in, you forget all of this and sometimes all it takes is a simple question to ground you and remind you of this.

And so it was with my post on neogeography being removed from wikipedia; a flurry of email conversations with friends and colleagues resulted which can be paraphrased succinctly as “neo? paleo? WTF?“. I tried to write down the background to all of this geographic storm in a teacup, but that only served to confuse matters. So, with the caveat that this may end up fanning the flames rather than putting them out, in the end I came up with the following venn diagram to explain.

Paleo vs. Neo - A Helpful Venn Diagram

It goes something like this.

Paleotard and neotard are both pejorative terms. Paleotards are what neotards call practitioners of paleogeography; not the study of ancient geographies but users of traditional GIS techniques who look down their noses at the upstart Web 2.0, mashup and LBMS communities. Neotards are what paleotards call practitioners of neogeography; those same Web 2.0, maps, data and LBMS combinants.

Both look down their respective noses at each other mudslinging neotard and paleotard around disparagingly. But in reality neotards and paleotards are a minority. Both neogeographers and GIS users both intersect with the wider web mapping discipline and with the use of geographic data. It’s all just “geo” really.

So there we go; paleotards vs. neotards explained. Now hopefully we can all move on and forget about this.

Written and posted from the Intercontinental Hotel, Chicago IL (41.891017, -87.62403)

Two Weeks In; Of Dog Food, Mobile Handsets and Finnish Doors

Two weeks into the Nokia and Ovi experience and I can finally pause and catch my breath. It’s been an intense two weeks and asking me what my impressions are of Nokia are akin to putting someone at the top of a very large, very steep and very fast roller coaster, watching them plummet down and then, before they’re even out of their seat, asking them to comment on what the scenery was like. So I won’t even try to comment on the scenery and will instead merely record the four things that have stuck in my mind.

I’ve been busy. I’ve been very busy. I’ve also been at home for all of two days in the last two weeks and whilst video chatting with my family over Skype is better than a plain old fashioned voice call it’s no substitute for being at home more; but things will settle down into a more manageable routine over the coming weeks. Being busy has meant that I’ve kept my head down and tried to assimilate all the new information with which I’m being bombarded, a fact that’s not gone unnoticed by Chris Osborne … “severe drop off in @vicchi’s bloggage and tweetage levels, means that maybe, just maybe, he is actually doing some work these days“. Quite.

Nokia gate5 GmbH

I learnt today that Ovi is Finnish for door, proving for once the adage that you learn something new every day.

At Yahoo! we used to talk about eating our own dog food a lot; thankfully meaning that a company should use the products that it makes rather than that the employees develop a predilection for Pedigree Chum. Although it took me the best part of the first week to notice, Nokia certainly eats its own dog food; apart from the ever present starfish style conferencing phones in meeting rooms, there’s no desk phones at all. None. But everyone has a mobile, and uses them a lot, either over the cellular network or hooked up to the internal VOIP system through the office wifi. Actually everyone seems to have more than one mobile handset, two, three and even four handsets doesn’t seem to be unusual.

I can haz new badge pleez?

In a previous role I seemed to spend a lot of my time talking about why location and all of the many geo facets it encompasses is important. Many was a meeting with a senior exec which started with the depressing question “so .. location … is it really important?“. Nokia gets location; there’s absolutely no doubt about that. The question is now how do we deliver real value and real market share with location … and that’s half the fun and half the challenge.

New Job. New City. New Desk. New Country

Written and posted from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Berlin, Germany (52.519426, 13.403229)

Your Place Is Not My Place; The Perils of Disambiguation

We take the art of geographic lookup for granted these days; type a place name into a form on a web site or feed it into a web service API and hey presto! Most of the time you’ll be told whether or not the place name is valid or not and, in case there’s more than one place with the same name, either asked to choose which one you mean or be presented with the most likely place.

Most of the time … but not all of the time.

Which Way To The Town Centre?

The hey presto bit of the process seems at first glance to be relatively trivial but isn’t. Just ask anyone who’s had to implement a system that handles place names. Actually, the hey presto part is actually two discreet processes in their own right. First of all we need to identify a place, or whether indeed there’s a place at all; this is usually called geoidentification.

identify; verb; establish or indicate who or what (someone or something) is

This is the thing that determines that there is a place in “I’m in London today” but not in “I do love Yorkshire Pudding“.

Once a place has been identified, we need to work out if there’s more than one place of the same name (which is more than likely as we’re stunningly unimaginative where place names are concerned, duplicating and reusing the same name all over the world) and if so, which one. This is usually called geodisambiguation.

disambiguate; verb; remove uncertainty of meaning from (and ambiguous sentence, phrase or other linguistic unit)

Some places are pretty easy to disambiguate; as far as I know there’s only one Ouagadougou and that’s the capital of Burkina Faso. Some places should be easy to disambiguate, least at first sight; take London, that should be easy. It’s the capital of the United Kingdom. Well that’s true but it could also be the London in Ontario, or the one in Arkansas, in California, in Kentucky or any of the other 22 Londons that I’m aware of.

The gentle art of disambiguation is critical to the act of geocoding, geoparsing, geotagging and any of the other words the the location industry chooses to tack geo on as a prefix. Get disambiguation wrong and you fail on two counts.

Firstly, you’re showing your audience that you don’t know or don’t care about what they’re trying to tell you. Secondly, you allow your users the opportunity to specify the same place in a multitude of conflicting ways.

This is part of the problem of GeoBabel; your place is not my place.

So far, so theoretical, but let’s look at a concrete example of this. A few weeks back I added my Twitter account to the Twitter directory site The first thing you’re asked to do is to supply your location, or to “Type Your City” as phrases it. So I type London and the site starts to attempt to disambiguate on the fly; so do I mean “London, United Kingdom” or “London, Ontario“? But wait, what about the other options? - London geo disambiguation fail #1

Which “London” is the one tagged by 436 people but with no indication of which country? What’s the difference between “London, United Kingdom“, “London,UK” and “London England“. Space and punctuation, or the lack of it, is obviously important to here. So let’s try and give the system some help and start to type United Kingdom … - London geo disambiguation fail #2

Oh dear. The “London, United Kingdom” still shows up but because I’ve put a space in there I don’t get offered “London,UK” anymore but I do get offered the London in the lesser known country of “Uunited Kingdom” and also “London, Ub2“, which one assumes is the UB2 postal code which specifies the London suburb of Southall.

Your place is not my place.

To be fair, I’m not singling out for attack here; this is just one of many examples of sites who try to use geographic lookup but end up making life difficult for their users (but which London do I pick?) and for themselves (now, how many users in London in the UK do we have?). I’d happily offer to help them; if only I could find any contact information anywhere on the site …

Photo Credits: foilman on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

Retiring The Theory of Stuff; But First, A Corollary

It’s time to put the Theory of Stuff out to pasture. It’s had a good life. It’s appeared in 5 of my talk decks (or so Spotlight tells me), in 3 of my blog posts and continues to generate hits on my blog (or so my analytics tells me).

When I tell people I’m going to talk about my theory, a Mexican wave of shoulder slumping passes through the room, coupled with a prolonged sigh from an audience who’ve just resigned themselves to a slow painful death over the coming minutes. Luckily things perk up when my introductory slide of Anne Elk (Miss) and her Theory appears but even so, it’s time to quit whilst you’re ahead.

You may well ask, Chris, what *is* my theory?

But before I do …

One of the great thing’s about O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 conference is the vast number of people you meet who just fizz with ideas and intelligence in this somewhat nebulous space that we call location, place or geo. One such person is Sally Applin; she owns the domain so that’s got her off to a good start. After Where 2.0 she pointed me to her own theory that voyeurism and narcissism sell software.

People like to look at themselves and at other people. If they can do it at the same time–then the application will succeed! Look at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace, Skype–basically any software that allows for both looking at others and self viewing, self reading, self posting etc…will sell. We’re on the chimp ladder. We like to compare ourselves and compete.

If you generalise software out to the slightly more generic terms ofservice or product; you’ll see that Sally’s theory complements the Theory of Stuff quite nicely and even provides an exemplar of those businesses and ventures that prove the theory.

Korean unisex toilet?

This is especially interesting when you look at the success (to date at least) of ventures in the social space, such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. What else are these is not an online way of saying “look at me, here I am, this is what I’m doing” and in doing so generating a vast sea of highly localised and personalised data into the bargain?

Photo Credits: wili_hybrid on Flickr.
Written and posted from the Yahoo! London office (51.5141985, -0.1292006)

(Geo) Chicken and Egg (The Problem with Press Releases)

There’s a danger in looking at too many press releases; you can easily come to think that the view of the world that these pieces of writing portray are a fair and accurate representation of the real world.

Thus both myself and the ever readable James Fee were vastly amused to see Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch refer to CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap.

Many people describe CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap project as “Wikipedia for maps,” and they aren’t far off. The project allows anyone to add and edit map data around the globe, and the project is now a viable open and free source of mapping data for third party developers.

Now is probably a good point to mention that CloudMade was founded (by OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast amongst others) in 2007 and OpenStreetMap launched in 2004. Geo chicken … meet Geo egg.

Chicken Egg

I look forward to reading about other TechCrunch exclusives including the discovery of RedHat’s Linux and British Airway’s airplanes.

Photo Credits: The Eggplant on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Geo on the Horizon at Horizon Geo

Last Friday I ventured north to Nottingham, along with Ed Parsons, Steven Feldman and Muki Haklay to attend the one day Supporting the Contextual Footprint event run by the Horizon Digital Economy Research institute at the University of Nottingham. Along the way I discovered a manner of tracking my journey that I’d hadn’t previously considered, but that’s covered in a previous blog post.

The focus of the Horizon event was to discuss the infrastructure needed to support location in its role as a key context and to identify any research theme that came out of the discussions; a classic case of the ill defined and fuzzy interface between the commercial world and that of academia.

The day was split into three thematic tracks:

  • The Location Challenge
    • What are the challenges specific to the capture and management of location data?
    • What is the state-of-the-art in the technologies available to store, query and present location data?
    • How do we understand location in context, especially in real-time, on the move?
  • Whose Data Is It Anyway?
    • What data should be considered “personal”?
    • Should I “own” data about me, such as where I am, my home electricity usage, my bank transactions?
    • How can users be enabled and encouraged to manage this data?
    • What technologies are available to do this?
    • How, when and by whom should “personal” data be exploited?
    • What checks and balances should be in place to protect all stakeholders, including both citizens and service innovators?
  • Can Crowds Be Authoritative?
    • Crowd sourcing is a powerful technique for data collection enabled by modern handheld devices, but how far can user-contributed data be trusted?
    • What are the processes required in order to meld crowd-sourced data with existing, authoritative, datasets?
    • What are the legal implications of generating, combining and using such user-generated datasets?
    • For example, what environmental details could citizen sensors collect?
    • How might this change our understanding of the live state of the world?

Take A Little Time With Me

Read On…