Data Policy Thoughts

Set the boundaries free

An excellent post by Richard Allan on the Power of Information blog, Geographic Data that Should be Free (In All Senses of the Word).

As the post points out there could be a very simple solution to the current problem with OS derived data, make certain types of geospatial data including administrative boundaries and the locations of public services free . 

This would have a very minor impact on the revenue of the OS, the real “cash cow” for the OS is its large scale Mastermap data, it could almost give away all it’s other data products and not really notice the difference.

Written and submitted from a First Great Western Train, near Reading using my Three 3G modem.

5 replies on “Set the boundaries free”

Here is what I think would be an ideal solution for the UK admin boundary data.

1) OS to provide an admin. area geocoding web service (REST) . Other major UK geocoding providers to include UK admin area data in their services using fresh data from OS.

2) OS and other big web map tile providers to provide colour shaded semi-transparent WMS tile layers of admin areas for use with APIs from OpenLayers, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft … (in both UKOS and Mercator projections).

The solutions I propose in my previous comment should avoid the proliferation of out of date copies of the UK admin. area data and enable the creation of public service web sites along the lines of FixMyStreet.

OS making boundaries and point locations free to use would certainly open up what can be done by local authorities and other public sector organisations with map APIs. The other really useful dataset would be Royal Mail’s postcode file (PAF). It’s a real pain having to monitor how many times the PAF file is queried.

Let’s hope the Location Council mentioned in the Location Strategy will be able to sort a lot of this mess out.

PAF is probably the only thing that makes money for the Royal Mail. If the government ordered them to make PAF available for free then the RM would demand a massive annual compensation package. Ain’t gonna happen. (But it should! The RM licenses are a bad deal.)


I’d just like to say that I was at your lecture on Google Maps this evening in Swansea and it was really interesting. I’m only 18 but I love everything technology-related, and what you described – about the directions Google Maps might be taking in the future alongside what it does now – were really fascinating to me.
However, I had a question to ask that I didn’t get the chance this evening: Out of your personal preference, which do you prefer: the Apple iPhone or the Google G1?


Jayne Horswill

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