Ordnance Survey embraces UGC.. it’s a start

No hell has not frozen over, Ordnance Survey finally launched their explore portal this week, a site designed for walkers, hikers, cyclists and anyone interested in the outdoors to share their walks and favourite places.

explore portal

Although this is nothing new, platial after all offered similar functionality a few years ago, this has been a long time coming, I was involved in some of the design work over a year ago! this is still an important step forward for the OS.

From a technology point of view the service was/is underpinned by the backend system developed to support the long delayed OpenSpace project, so hopefully there will be news about that soon.

Although I would take issue with some of the T&C’s, this really is progress in the right direction from Southampton.

Update: My first walk is here.

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

24 Replies to “Ordnance Survey embraces UGC.. it’s a start”

  1. It’s ok but you cannot edit your own route once created.
    Official Reply
    “Unfortunately, at the current time, users are unable to edit routes once they have been saved. However, before saving, users are able to undo waypoints they have plotted and remove their points of interest. There are several usability changes envisaged for the next release and this is an area we would like to see improved. The site is still in its beta stage so obviously we are keen to hear about any issues encountered.”
    If they can use 1:50k why cannot they use the more accurate 1:25k as field boundaries and footpaths are used to a better level of detail.
    It’s called ‘Explore’ but is more ‘Landrange’ than Explore.

  2. “We don’t want this to spoil your experience of our website; the browsers currently supported are: Firefox 1.5.x (OS X), Firefox 2.0.x (all platforms) and Internet Explorer 6 and 7.” – I visited in Camino, which is pretty much just Firefox in a different skin. Someone needs to fix their browser detection.

  3. And I get the same in Safari. For those who haven’t heard of this little-known browser, it’s used by a few small companies like Apple and Nokia. It has an absolutely terrible reputation for standards compliance and I can see why OS have chosen the much better-behaved IE6.

    *walks off into the distance, muttering incomprehensibly*

  4. Mmm – done by platial, yes; done as well by the now forgotten pocketroutes, complete with editable routes, printable maps and cross-platform support as I recall (though not 1:25000 scale mapping for licensing reasons). And it had a business model of sorts – you had to pay for prints as I recall – £3 for 10 routes or some such. A case of OS moving with the tide which is good bu tmoving up the value chain may cause distress to some.

  5. Ed,

    You seem to have broken one of the licencing rules by linking to your walk on the site (forbidden under conditon 7.3)

    7.3 hypertext linking to any page of the OEP Portal.

    Rather a bizarre rule, I admit. Presumably this is to stop websites like ours posting our routes onto Explore and then linking to them to give users a map of the route? I would have thought this will prevent Explore gaining many users. Does it also mean that Google, Yahoo et al will be breaking this condition when they crawl and index the site?

  6. Paul,

    I’m waiting for the lawyers letter 🙂

    Breaks the web really does it not – Not sure what Tim Berners-Lee who is a great fan of OS Maps would think.


  7. Thanks for the mention. I am so happy to see Ordinance Survey embrace this technology and mostly this level of openness. It is another great step toward the geoweb! Nice work.

  8. It seems to me this bit of software is all about selling paper maps via the Internet. Is this a last gasp attempt by OS to come into the real World? As an Internet mapping product itâ??s obsolete, as a sales tool for paper maps itâ??s ok. I just wish OS would wake up and be competitive with their pricing of data! Out of interest how many hundreds or millions pounds did it cost to write this software?

    I was going to write this yesterday but I got an urgent phone call from the National Farmers Union to produce a new Foot and Mouth map using Google Maps. Using Google Maps, within the hour the map was live and disseminating the message regarding protection zones and surveillance zone areas. So much for OS 24 hour emergency map service! The question is, in such an emergency could OS produce such a map and what would be their licensing costs? If there were a war the war would be over by the time OS responded!

    The question some who are singing the praises of OS and Explore should ask themselves, does this have its own API and is it programmable? NO is the answer! So all it is is a sales tool for paper maps! Well-done OS at least your marketing department have some innovative ideas; you are going to need them as your clients look for alternatives sources of map data!

  9. Hi

    There’s a couple of elements missing here that I’d like to mention:

    1) I think part of the value is to be able to access this content when you are mobile i.e. on a mobile device

    2) a user needs access to a range of scales including large scale mapping.

    Can I draw your attention to http://www.spacemark.com. This allows a user to save, share and annotate places which are then immediately accessible on web and mobile channels. The Spacemark website uses google maps I know, but if you take a minute to send the Spacemark link to your mobile (you’ll have to join up), then you can access all your favourite places on your mobile integrated with OS Mastermap.

    Spacemark does a lot more besides, as it aggregates many rich content sources in addition to mapping into a single application – also very good for adding your own content and sharing with your friends.

    And finally, if you download the Spacemark toolbar into your browser, you’ll find that you can save places from any website at all (and they’re then immediately available on your mobile) – very handy if you’re planning tomorrow’s business trip or a night out…

    Apologies for the blatant self-interest!


  10. Not exactly earth shattering is it! I mean its 2007, and this technology has been out for ages – and the best OS have come up with is a very basic map explorer that you can edit some routes on! I think its shameful that the country’s leading map supplier can only come up with this half baked idea, when there are so many other sites that do so much more. They should be leading the way and not dragging their heels in this area of technology. Rubbish.

  11. It couldn’t agree with you more Simon, for Ordnance Survey one would expect their software to be cutting edge and to be a leading light in the GIS World! How far the mighty have fallen compared to 50 or 100 years ago when the Ordnance Survey and Britain were the market leaders in cartography throughout the World! It makes me very sad to see that so many civil servants are living of the fat of this once proud institution and as well as receiving their salaries are also accumulating a good pension at the same time, whilst at the same time ripping of the taxpayer and the private sector by their overpricing of map data! Don’t get me wrong there are some very good people in the OS, but they are a small minority who are extremely dedicated. As for the rest if they had any honour or pride they would resign because they are simply not up to the job and the challenges now facing OS. The piece of software mentioned here is a good case in point as it is around 8 years behind the times, and represents around 3 months work for a good single GIS programmer. How many developers were on the OS development team and for how long, plus project managers etc, and at what cost? A very pertinent question that OS should answer! I think I will ask the question under the freedom of information act, and post the answer on the web!

    Duncan Garratt

  12. A month goes by and still the explore blog has a link to an openlayers viewer for the explore WMS !

    I suggest we encourage the public to do a new Kinder trespass by using


    (sadly only seems to work properly in Firefox)

    Hope the pythonmoo server can take it. Oh And you can print nice big maps from this site too.

  13. @ free the OS, either the OS is very open in it’s comments policy, or the moderator does not understand he contents of that blog post.

    Still you have to be impressed by the Openlayers framework, better than the original OS slippy map for sure, and of course it’s an API.

  14. Well you would have thought that some of the explore developers might just look at the blog. If they did then would they have notified the OS management? If the management were notified then would we expect them to do anything? Perhaps the presence of the public facing explore WMS is being left as a ‘Leak’ on purpose.

    Of course the Google Maps API can be used to display tiles from the explore WMS too. Ed, are you or Google going to be the first to dare to publish such a page?!

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