Guardian article just plain wrong !!

Once again the Guardian Newspaper in the UK (which I read incidentally) has got caught up in the free geospatial data debate.

I quote..”Our taxes fund the collection of public data – yet we pay again to access it. Make the data freely available to stimulate innovation, argue Charles Arthur and Michael Cross ”

The OS is no more funded from taxpayers than many large software companies who work largely with government customers and have had the development of their core software funded over a number of years of development contracts, this is particularly the case with the large GIS software vendors!

The article is so full of factual errors I don’t now where to begin, but what comes across really clearly is the lack of the customer viewpoint!

Why not ask the customers of OS data what they would prefer – the status quo where they and they alone pay to license the high quality data they need, or the much admired situation in the United States where the provision of spatial data is funded by political mandate, which has over the last couple of administrations, resulted in data which is decades old and not maintained to any level of consistency.

The much admired data in Google Maps, MapPoint etc. comes from commercial vendors, which Google etc. have had to license, the base government supplied data does not meet their needs.. Remember the famous “Where is Apple” discussion last year, a result of government funded data used by Microsoft being so out of date it did not show the location of Apples’ offices in Cupertino !

There is no such thing as “free data”, in the end somebody has to pay for the expensive business of collecting and maintaining national geospatial databases, ask a politician what they would prefer to spend a limited tax funded budget on.. Hospitals and Schools or funding the collection of geospatial databases you know what they will answer !

Written and submitted from The Marriott Hotel, Huntsville, using the hotel in-room internet connection.

34 replies on “Guardian article just plain wrong !!”

[…] Unfortunately MasterMap is prohibitively expensive, and requires specialized software, making it inaccessible to schools. The long running debate about whther the OS should be charging for its data was recently given a re-airing in this Guardian article, It’s helpful to read a response by Ed Parsons, CTO of the OS, on his excellent blog Ed Ed understands and supports the need for organisations such as schools to access the latest OS products, and this is where ESRI, with their Maps Direct for Schools step in. […]

Just a quick comment on

“… and requires specialized software, making is inaccessible to schools”.

Did you know that there is quite a bit of free software out there that will let you view / query / play / teach OS MasterMap. We have a free OS MasterMap viewer that has had over 3500 registered downloads. It also has numerous educational organisations using it for teaching purposes.

You can download our viewer here:

And the official sample data here:



Just an observation – part of the problem seems to be that some people perceive the OS as having an unfair advantage. One solution which I havent heard discussed recently is that of freezing the large scale database at the time OS became quasi commercial. If the database was then valued (wow) then it (collected at public expense up to that point) could either be made available for free to anyone who wants it or OS could be invited to licence it on the same terms as anyone else who wanted to use it – that would seem to even things up?

I dont think there is anyargument over the quality of the data and its comprehansive national coverage, the only issue seems to be who pays (or for some people who pays twice)

An excellent and articulate blog that is spoilt by one of the GI software vendors exploiting it for advertising purposes. (Thanks again ES”Built on gobvernment funds”RI). For me the question isnt the history / ownership (??Elgin Marbles??) but the statement in the original article “Much is of great commercial interest”. So what we have here are the vendors wanting data to make their systems complete at point of sale. Will the overall cost go down? I don’t think so, it will just transfer the money, that makes OS a self funding agency, to a group of private software developers. Yes we will all continue to pay twice but now it will line the pockets of US Corporation individuals.

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