Society of Cartographers Redux

To be filed under the “slightly self promoting” department, earlier this year I was invited to speak at the Society of Cartographers Summer School in Manchester, UK. It’s always great to be invited to speak at a conference but I was particularly excited by the SoC. The geo world I inhabit is one of data, APIs, platforms and data mining and aggregation techniques. Sometimes the map gets lost in all of this. So it was an honour to speak at an event where it was all about the map. The Summer School was written up in November’s edition of the SoC Newsletter which is only available to society members, but with permission I’ve reproduced below the sections of the newsletter which cover my involvement.

Welcome to the world of the geo data silo: where closed data is open and open data is closed – Gary Gale (Nokia)

Inspired by London Transport maps, various historical maps and his son, Gary has been involved with maps and mapping for many years. His entertaining, informative and well-illustrated lecture took delegates on a short trip along the route taken by location-based communications from smoke signals, pigeons, the compass, maps such as the Mappa Mundi, radio signals and triangulation through to today’s maps as seen in smart phone with GPS-based mobile devices. He then turned his attention to data, silos of data and the “geo-industry” where the map doesn’t seem to be important any more; it’s all about the data and the map is often strangely absent.

Gary then took delegates on another trip, this time into the dark world of ‘Geo-Babel’, where we have data, lots of data, wide and varied, some commercial (Navteq and Teleatlas), some authoritative (Britain’s Ordnance Survey) and some of it crowd- sourced and growing aggressively (OpenStreetMap), some from unlikely sources (Flickr) and some from location-based social networking services (Foursquare and Gowalla). All this data, often available and free, a cartographer’s dream, but wait, Gary explains that there is now a darker side to data. Much of this ‘free’ data appears to be locked in its own private little data silos, ironically at a time when previously proprietary data becomes unlocked and open (Ordnance Survey), crowd-sourced data becomes locked behind a well meaning but restrictive license, the question is posed to delegates, how can we, as part of the geo-industry, dig ourselves out of this hole?

Mike Shand

Panel discussion: “All this data is good but what about the cartography?”

The last session of the conference was setup as a panel discussion, with the theme of “All this data is good, but what about the cartography?” In order to start the ball rolling the preceding presentation was by Gary Gale (Nokia/Ovi Maps). His grandly entitled presentation – Welcome to the world of the geo data silo; where closed data is open and open data is closed – certainly resonated with me, particularly “the four horsemen of the geopocalypse”. Gary sat aside to allow his fellow panelists a short rant-space each. Richard Fairhurst concentrated on his vision of carto-goodness. He made an interesting analogy between industrial carto (Google), Boing Boing carto (retro 8-bit games style map) and Artisan carto (cartography with care). For a laugh (I presume!) he proposed a figurehead for web cartography and then flipped up a slide with three figureheads – Jobs, Gates and Chilton. He was followed by Bob Barr with a wider view of maps and quality. I then tried to propose some questions to the panel (eg: you have shown examples of good/bad design – but what are you exactly looking for when you are making those choices?) – and then opened it up for audience participation and questions/comments. We really should have recorded this session as there was a wide- range of points made, few of which I can now recall! You really needed to be there to get the full impact of the panelists’ views and the lively discussion that ensued.

Steve Chilton SoC Chair

When I last wrote about my theory of GeoBabel I seem to recall saying I was retiring it. That’s still true but seeing as I didn’t actually write the newsletter my geoconscience is clear on this point.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Written by Gary

Husband, Father, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user.