Posts Tagged ‘licensing’

The Cloud May Be About To Get Stormy

If you read the technical media and the blogosphere, we’re all on an inexorable march towards The Cloud. No-one seems exactly sure what The Cloud is, but we’re going there. As I wrote in a previous post, I use a simplistic definition for The Cloud; any form of storage that I connect to over a network connection classes as Cloud storage. It is, perhaps, an overly simplistic definition, but until a more formal and agreed definition surfaces, it will suffice for now.

I’m also, in some cases inadvertently, a reasonably prolific user of Cloud storage. I store large amounts of data in The Cloud; photos, software, general data, web pages, databases, emails and so on. With safely secured backups of course, as Cloud services are just like any other computer resource; sometimes they fail and go offline.

I don’t, yet, store music in The Cloud but we’re now starting to see so called music lockers being created for just that purpose. Amazon have just started a music locker and Apple are expected to follow soon. This is where the problems start.

Storm Clouds Friday night

I don’t need a license to store the data I currently store in The Cloud. I don’t need to seek permission from software companies to store backups of applications I regularly use. I just store them. I don’t need to seek permission from the manufacturers of the cameras which take the photos I store in The Cloud. I just store them. I don’t need to seek permission from the companies whose software I use to create slide decks that I store in The Cloud. I just store them.

But music is a whole lot more contentious and, if the record labels and other media organisations get their way, I may never end up storing my music in The Cloud. On the face of it, The Cloud is purpose made for The Cloud; upload my music, download it anywhere, stream it to any device. It should come as no surprise that the record labels don’t like this.

Universal Music want only songs with digital receipts to be able to be uploaded to music lockers. Songs without such receipts would be considered unauthorised, including songs from CDs I own that I’ve ripped, songs purchased from retailers without such receipts, promotional songs without such receipts.

Sony want only a single computer to be designated to be able to upload to a music locker, without seeming to consider what happens when we upgrade or buy a new computer.

Warner Music Group go one step further and want a central music locker authority, ostensibly to be able to track you and sue you if you use your music locker in a way they don’t like.

Amazon’s music locker offering is built on the assumption that no additional licensing is required; a music locker is just network connected storage. The music labels don’t agree with this and it will be interesting to see if Apple goes down the licensing route or stands its’ ground with Amazon.

Until then, I’ll just keep my own music collection safe and secure on resources and devices I own and control. But for The Cloud in general and for music lockers specifically, the cloud seems to be distinctly stormy and threatening right now.

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

Talking GeoBabel In Three Cities (And Then Retiring It)

You’re invited to speak at a conference. Great. The organisers want a talk title and abstract and they want it pretty much immediately. Not so great; mind goes blank; what shall I talk about; help! With this in mind, my first thought is normally “can I adapt, cannibalise or repurpose one of my other talks?“. This sometimes works. If there’s a theme which you haven’t fully worked through it can serve you well.

But a conference audience is an odd beast; a percentage of which will be “the usual suspects“. They’ve seen you talk before, maybe a few times. The usual suspects also tend to hang out on the conference Twitter back channel. Woe betide if you recycle a talk or even some slides too many times; comments such as “I’m sure I’ve seen that slide before” start to crop up. Far better to come up with new and fresh material each time.

But sometimes you can get away with it and so it was with my theme of GeoBabel. Three conferences: the Society of Cartographers Summer School, The Location Business Summit USA, AGI GeoCommunity 2010. Three cities: Manchester, San Jose, Stratford-upon-Avon. Three audiences: cartographers, Silicon Valley geo-location business types, UK GIS business types.

I’ve written about GeoBabel before; it’s the problem the location industry faces as we build more and more data sets which are fundamentally incompatible with each other. This incompatibility arises either due to differing unique geographic identifiers, where Heathrow Airport, for example, is found in each data set, with differing metadata and a different identifier, or due to different licensing schemes which don’t allow data to be co-mingled. We now have more geographic data than before but each data set is locked away in its own silo, either intentionally or through misguided attempts to be open.

The slide deck, embedded above, is the one I used in San Jose. The ones for Manchester and for Stratford-upon-Avon are pretty much identical but are on SlideShare as well.

As another way of illustrating the problems of GeoBabel, I came up with what I’ve termed The Four Horseman Of The Geopocalypse. All very fin de siecle but it seemed to be understood and liked by the audience at each talk.

The first Horseman is not Pestilence but Data Silos. All of the different types of geographic data we have, international and national commercial data, national and crowd sourced open data, specialist and niche data and social network crowd sourced data each live in isolation to each other with the only common denominator being the geo-coordinates each data set’s idea of a place has.

The second Horseman is not War but Licensing. Nowadays in the Web 2.0 community we’re used to having access to data but we’re not willing to pay for it. Licenses vary between closed commercial licenses and open licensing. But even in the open license world there are silos, with well meaning licenses becoming viral and attaching themselves to any derived work.

Which segues neatly to the third Horseman, who’s not Famine but Derivation. Each time you create something from data, you’re deriving a new work in the eyes of most licenses and that means the derived work often has the original license still attached to it. You do the work, but you don’t own the work.

Finally, the fourth Horseman is not Death but Co-Mingling. There is no one single authoritative geographic data set, you need to find the ones which work for you and for your business or use case. That means you need to mingle the data sets and frequently the licenses you have for those data sets explicitly prohibit this.

Babel by Cildo Meireles

But now after three outings, it’s time to retire GeoBabel, for now at least, just as I retired my Theory Of Stuff earlier this year. That means I had to find a new theme to talk about at my next event, the Geospatial Specialist Group at the British Computer Society. But that’s in my next post.

Photo Credits: Nick. J. Webb on Flickr.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Geographic and Transport Data; a Tale of Capricousness, Whimsy and Downright Insanity

The industry I work in thrives on data; we consume loads of the stuff and in turn we generate petabytes of it. I’m talking about data in general, not the geographic, mapping or place data that I usually write about.

But the longer I work in the Internet industry the more convinced I become that, as an industry, we need to get our act together. How else to explain the bizarre, rapidly changing and capricious nature of how we gain access to, use, pay, don’t pay and disseminate data?

We’re socially conditioned to assume that free does not equate to good, hence the adage “there’s no such thing as a free lunch“. So stuff that costs is good and stuff that’s free isn’t. But normal rules don’t apply here.

Let’s take geographic data; I’m on home ground here so this should be relatively straightforward.

The proprietary data vendors, NavteqTeleAtlas and others, charge for their data and limit what you can and can’t do with it. OpenStreetMap on the other hand charges nothing for its’ data and only places limits on the data to protect the data by way of the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license.

So naturally the data you pay for should be good and the data you don’t pay for should be … less than good. Naturally.

Except OpenStreetMap data isn’t less than good. UCL’s Muki Haklay summed this up neatly as “How good is OpenStreetMap? Good enough” at the OpenStreetMap conference in Amsterdam this year. Conversely, the proprietary data vendors don’t always get it right. One data vendor, who will remain anonymous, shipped a release of data with wildly incorrect centroids, the lat/long coordinate which represents the nominal centre of a place, which meant that amongst others, Covent Garden ended up being centred on Holborn Underground Station.

This isn’t an isolated incident.

On the one hand, the City of Vancouver in British Columbia makes its data, all of its data, free and open. On the other hand, the City of Tempe in Arizona decides to charge a “fair approximation of market value” for its data, which as James Fee recently discovered means that you’ll need to cough up $100,000 to use it commercially.

In San Francisco, BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit, makes their data which includes train times freely available and taking a refreshingly prosaic approach to accessibility and licensing.

Getting an API key: Psyche: you don’t need one. We’re opting for “open” without a lot of strings attached. Just follow our simple License Agreement, give our customers good information and don’t hog resources. If that doesn’t work for you, we can certainly manage usage with keys and write more terms and conditions. But who wants that?

Here in the UK TFL, Transport for London, give you some data for free but not the train times and for overground trains the Association of Train Operating Companies (pdf link) value this data at a staggering £27,430 per year

And elsewhere in the world, other operators are closing down people who want to use this data, in New York, in Berlin, in New South Wales and we can’t really seem to work out who owns the data and whether there’s intellectual property being infringed or a public service being undertaken.

… and don’t even talk about the British postal code data was closed, was then going to be opened up but now isn’t. Apparently.

With all the data we consume and emit, we spend a lot of time and effort evangelising APIs and web services that use it. But as an industry we really need to start to act clearly and consistently in order to be taken seriously and in order for the Internet industry to realise the potential that we all think it’s capable of.

Posted via email from Gary’s Posterous

Deliciousness: data, licensing, WordPress autosaves, cheese in space and lots of Nutella

More intriguing, interesting and just plain bonkers stuff from the information hose pipe we call the internet:

  • Starting off with a serious note, Ed Parsons, my opposite number at Google, wrote a great blog post on the knots that data licensing can tie you up in and why you end up paying more for a leased digital version than you do for the physical paper version.
  • WordPress started bugging me about an auto-saved version of a blog post I didn’t want to keep but couldn’t get rid of. Turns out there’s no way to do this from the WordPress dashboard but some MySQL hackery did the trick.
  • I am, and am VERY badly affected by being in close proximity to WiFi and other microwave transmission sources. Not that I’d expect you or anyone else who isn’t adversely affected to believe me“. The rest of the story on the Daily Telegraph blog is priceless.
  • Ofcom confirmed what anyone with the UK ADSL line already knows, that the average UK broadband speed is just over half of what’s being advertised and paid for.
  • A US highway exit sign got every word misspelled, apart from the word “exit”.
  • Forget putting men on Mars or getting the Space Shuttle working; we put cheese into space, tracked it, lost it and found it again. Makes you proud to be British.
  • Someone likes Nutella. A lot.
  • And finally, if your iPhone gets a text message containing a single square character. Turn it off. Turn it off now.