Digital Planet and geodata

On the train home last night, I caught up on this weeks podcast of the BBC Radio World Service programme, Digital Planet a regular on my iPhone powered commute these days. As has often been the case recently there was something of interest to Geo people in the form of a report on a LIDAR survey of the recent Italian Earthquake and a report from Kenya on Wherecamp Africa.

It was great to hear in both cases the positive impact that geospatial technology was having, in particular the report from Kenya highlighted once again the importance of making sure the rich infrastructure of geospatial technology we enjoy in the West is made universal.

Google Map of Kenya
Google Map of Kenya

I was however a bit miffed at the comments made by Bill Thompson, someone I usually have a lot of time for, who made the point that he though it would be better if geospatial infrastructure for Africa was developed in a more open fashion, using openstreetmap or the Mumbai free map as a model.

This is a debate well known to readers of this blog, and as always I ( and Google ) am fully supportive of the open geodata movement, however I will once again argue that making the data available without cost as map tiles in Google Maps and via the Google Maps API will have an impact on Kenyan society orders of magnitude greater than providing a raw data feed alone.

To be clear the point I am making is not that access to  raw geodata is not important to some communities, and in Kenya Google is experimenting making the raw data available for non-commercial use, but its impact is small in comparison with the widespread availability of mapping data on the web, mobile phones , etc.

Bill happy to debate the point over a coffee next time I’m in Cambridge 🙂

6 replies on “Digital Planet and geodata”

That’s a false dichotomy Ed, and I’m sure you know it. A third option would be to put the data into the public domain – it could then go into both OpenStreetMap (et al) and Google’s tiles, and everyone could maximise their benefits. There’s no need to portray it as a choice where you can either incorporate into Google’s business model or incorporate into community-based open projects – if you want to, you can do both.

And I dislike non-commercial clauses in these kind of things – there’s plenty of entrepreneurs in badly-served countries who could take your data and run with it if they could make a few dollars here and there doing so.


I’m not sure the public domain is really a practical proposition for geodata today, most organisations creating geodata today want in some way to restrict rights to the use of their data by imposing some form of license, OSM and cloudmade data is not public domain either…

As for entrepreneurs in Kenya, many more will get economic benefit from developing applications (mash-ups) on top of mapping tile, that would do so from getting access to the raw data which remains of interest to a very small audience relatively.


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