Free our data – Same facts.. Different spin?

So this weeks Free our Data article attacking the OS (Do you think it’s personal ?) looks into the issue of inaccurate or perhaps out of date data in Navigation Systems and online mapping tools.

These I believe are the facts as presented in Charles Arthurs latest article.

– A street on which a house built in the late 1980’s does not appear to be in some GPS Navigation Systems and web mapping sites

– Sometimes the postcode is recognised but the road name is not.

– On some mapping sites the postcode is correctly geocoded but the mapping does not contain the street.

– Sometimes the postcode is correctly geocoded and the road appears on the map – hooray !!!

What is happening here? – well clearly the different service providers are making a choice as to who to obtain geographic information from, and how often to update the data in their systems.

I would guess most in-car navigation systems today are using data which is at least two years old, some progressive companies such as Tele Atlas actively market update data CD’s and memory cards every year, but the choice is with the owner to install them at additional cost.

Charles as you would expect suggests that is all the data produced by the Post Office and OS was provided for free, these problems would just disappear, as these commercial companies would no longer have to pay for updated data?

There is however another way of looking at this, the one example cited in the article, streetmap.co.uk, which actually had the road in the correct location, used up to date accurate data provided it so happens by Ordnance Survey.

They have made the business decision to source the most up-to-date information possible for their service and to license it.

Other service provides can source their data from elsewhere and may update the data less frequently, it is their business decision to do so, as contrary to popular opinion there is a choice !

There does appear to be a trend in the media at the moment to attack Satellite Navigation Systems for sending users “the wrong way”, nobody mentions you could make the same mistakes using a traditional printed road atlas if your were not really aware of your surroundings

Still I remember when the press had a phase of attacking music CD’s arguing that LP’s were actually better – It’s just the way the media handles new technology, first it’s great, then is terrible, its great but the next best thing is just around the corner and finally shock horror! nobody is making that technology anymore but we the people still love it !!

The Guardian article also states that local authorities are restricted in providing “up to date” data to other data companies as this would breach OS licensing agreements. This is true for OS derived data, if the local authority however has geocoded their own address information using GPS or their own surveyors of course this would not be the case.

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

Written by Posted in GIS

3 comments

  1. Charles

    Other service provides can source their data from elsewhere and may update the data less frequently, it is their business decision to do so, as contrary to popular opinion there is a choice !

    Ed, don’t misunderstand the campaign. As we said in the first article, we think the OS is essential and does a really good job of data collection. Our contention though is that it should not go to the trouble of trying to put a price on that data because doing so creates bottlenecks in the economy. If all satnav companies could get up-to-date, correct data at no cost (apart from the taxes they pay) then they’d offer lower prices (so more people could afford them), could focus on the important differences (stuff like the user interface) and more delivery drivers would find more people quicker, reducing pollution and congestion and time wasted.

    Otherwise why not argue that roads should be self-funding, because not everyone uses them? Why do I pay taxes for roads in Wales I’ll never use? Answer: because people and companies there might have something useful to transport to me; and there’s an economic “good” in enabling transport around the country.

    The point being that the “tax savings” created by making the OS a trading fund are less than the savings that could be created (I think economists’ word is “externalities”), and the tax revenues that would be generated, by letting lots of companies get at its data for no more than the cost of distribution.

    Yes, the OS is essential – you need quality control. If we win, your job is safe. It’s just its aims which would be slightly shifted, and even those not so very much.

  2. Ed

    Hi Charles,

    I do understand the aims of your campaign, I just personally don’t agree with major elements of it. I like you want to see greater access to government held data-sets however I just cannot agree that by making in particular OS data “free” this will result in anything but poorer quality data.

    And I have to ask – why every week is the focus on Ordnance Survey ?

    If i follow the lines of you argument GPS navigation systems in the US should be much cheaper as they are based on government sourced “free” street databases. This is of course not the case – a Tom-Tom system costs about the same in the US as it does in Europe.

    The free data in the US still needs to be processed by commercial companies to allow their use in navigation systems, these same companies license road databases from the Ordnance Survey and other mapping agencies in Europe.

    Drivers using GPS in the US pay the same for “free” data and still get lost !

    Ever heard of toll roads ? Why not make the railways free ? The principle that the user pays for the benefit they receive is pretty well established..

    I agree with there may be something in the “externalities” argument but I would like to see some hard evidence that the market in geospatial systems would expand massively if the cost of data provisions was massively reduced, but I don’t see how you could guarantee the continued existence of the OS as it currently operates, unless you can guarantee that politicians will always fund the collection of data at current levels.

    Just ask the employees of the USGS Office in Rolla, Missouri how reliable political funding of national mapping activities can be…

    ed

  3. Charles

    I would like to see some hard evidence that the market in geospatial systems would expand massively if the cost of data provisions was massively reduced, but I don’t see how you could guarantee the continued existence of the OS as it currently operates, unless you can guarantee that politicians will always fund the collection of data at current levels.

    Very good points – and continued existence and funding is something that the campaign would want to have guaranteed (though not “as it currently operates” since we’re proposing something slightly different on the data-dissemination side, though not on the collection side).

    It does hinge on the externalities. That’s the crux and the reason for the argument. Toll roads – yes, but why aren’t all roads toll roads? Why is access paid for through taxes? Because it’s more efficient. Why aren’t railways free? Hmm, don’t know that one. Though they were subsidised for many years, which was beneficial in terms of lowering pollution (more freight = fewer lorries) and, perhaps (though it would take some real statistical wrangling) reducing road deaths (fewer lorries on road).

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