Ordnance Survey Thoughts

Now why was that so difficult ?

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced that many of the data products produced by Ordnance Survey are too be made “open data” free for download and use by both indivuduals and commerical organsiations in the UK.

Our data has been freed ?

Well of course we will still have to see the details but this is a massive step forward and huge kudos needs to be paid to all those who have worked behind the scenes lobbying for this change and of course those who have been much more visible in their campaign. Congratulations Charles !!

The impact of Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt is raising the value of free data on the political agenda was also clearly important and perhaps was the final push in the finally balanced arguments between the treasury and cabinet office.

Is the world about to end now in Southampton?

Of course not, many myself included have often made the point that there are in actual fact two data businesses at the OS. The one which produces large scale detailed and up to date data for use by government and customers in the utility sectors and  the other which produces the rest and which actually accounts of a relatively small proportion of the revenues of the OS.

It is this second business that is impacted here, the people who continue to license OS Mastermap and Address Layer will not be impacted by this move, and the OS will not see a massive fall in revenue as a result.

On the other hand at least some of the following datasets should be made available for free, and we can expect to see many new products and services appear as a result..

  • Boundary-Line™
  • Code-Point®
  • Code-Point®  with polygons
  • Land-Form PROFILE®
  • Land-Form PROFILE® Plus
  • Land-Form PANORAMA®
  • Meridian™ 2
  • OS VectorMap™ Local

Make no mistake this is something that has been forced on the OS by Government, the OS did not appear to be represented at the announcement yesterday and there is only a terse statement on the OS website reflecting this change in direction.

This is a shame, the leadership of the OS could have been more proactive in realising the value of their information came from its wider distribution not from following a business model based on its scarcity.

Written and submitted from Pan Pacific Hotel, Singapore (01.293N, 103.859W)

24 replies on “Now why was that so difficult ?”

No real surprise in the “announcement” for most I think though with so much misinformation (not to mention misunderstanding and misrepresentation) flying around even from those who were there (let alone the rest of us) it will be interesting indeed to follow the journey from conjecture and kite flying to April’s reality!

Footnote: “mid scales products” (though I am not sure who coined it in this context) and the smaller scale products (some still need to get “scale”!) do not include (as you may recall) a number of the products you list including the Profile ones (to which EA also contribute) and VML but do include OS StreetView and the raster products aligned with the paper ones.

This is excellent news, not unexpected other than the timing. However the huge issue of “derived data” isn’t mentioned – we can already get authority boundaries (to a certain extent) for free from Census 2001 data, but usage of that data is highly restricted.

While it appears that we will now be allowed to plot authority boundaries on our maps (about time too!) will OS still claim ownership of that data and anything that we derive from it?

I have a need to make slight modifications to local authority boundaries so that I can map the highway authorities that maintain roads, but will I be allowed to publish or share this modified data? Current “derived data” rules would seem to say “no”.

What an amusing question from a Google person… “Now why was that so difficult?” indeed.

This from a company that goes on a jihad against people who dare to use non-Google software to view public data on public Google websites. Say, don’t you work for the thugs who threatened those nice people at NASA’s WorldWind open source project? And aren’t you the guy who cashes a paycheck from the people who tell lies about why they block access if you use a non-Google viewer to look at Earth? You know, that deceptive bit about “Right then, it looks like you may be a bot or virus so we’re cutting you off.” Oh, and isn’t Google the same crew of hooligans who help themselves to copyrighted material from authors worldwide but are the quickest of all to pull out their legal cudgels when someone dares to quote anything from Google?

So now that even the fattened bureaucrats at OS have opened up, when will it cease being too difficult for the sanctimonious robber barons at Google to open up as well? Tear down that wall, o Lord High Geospatial Technologist, tear down that wall and walk the talk yourself.


Sorry your feel so negative, I don’t know the details of the issue with NASA you describe, but it sounds like reverse engineering to gain access to commercially sourced data that any organisation would have a problem with. I’d be happy to look into it you would be kind enough to send me some more details

An important step forward indeed but as Anthony points out there is still the derived data issue. Another interesting angle is that the announcement states that postcodes will be free – does this mean that PAF licence issue has also been resolved…?

@ Keith,

Yes I’m not sure what has been announced so far clear up the derived data issue although TBL was well aware of the issue and I’d be surprised if this is overlooked. I think the statement mentions postal boundaries so the best we may expect are codepoint polygons ?


Hi Ed,

The brief mentions “postcode areas”, so you are right …a little ambiguous. But I think there would be some backlash if its not the lay interpretation of postcode = addresspoint? We shall just have to wait and see.

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