The State Of The Map 2007/The Cathedral and the GPS - a Personal View

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This talk, entitled The Cathedral and the GPS - a Personal View, was the second keynote of the conference, given by Ed Parsons.


Whilst the talk is Ed's personal view, the things he's saying aren't far from what Google are about. However, the same can't be said of Ordanance Survey (his previous employer). They are between 'a rock and a hard place' - their licencing scheme, which is controlled by the OS, has 'restricted' the industry.

Inspiration for the talk comes from a book, 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar', which looks at open source software development. Key quote: 'given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow' - community can solve problems quicker than a dedicated team. eg 'Mapguide' has moved to an open-source model.

Unless mapping agencies like OS change their ways, they will cease to exist, because what 'you guys' are developing.

So is OS the Cathedral, and OSM the bazaar? Potentially. But geospatial date isn't exactly the same as software. What's changed though is that technology has democratised the process.

[shows a video]

eg, GPS, and availability of supporting services. they have made it possible for community to replicated what was previously only possibly by a large organisation. this is having an impact not only on geospatial data, but all sorts of information. 'We are entering the era of the professional amateur'. The first area to see this happening was astronomy.

[shows image of supernova]

Discovered by observatory in Japan in 1987, which studies particles released when a supernova happens. You need to be in a very quiet environment (hence underground). Particles discovered, then it was calculated that supernova could be expected three hours later, somewhere. The only way of doing this was to have a distributed network. So, at 10PM (universal time), a guy in Chile sees the supernova. to prove it was the same supernova, other evidence was needed. so evidence from amateurs was used. So having amateur astronomers panning the sky, a major theory was proved.

A few weeks ago, we all saw these photographs of the bombing of glasgow airport. All the photos in the news were taken by amateurs. This is something the media are trying to get their heads around.

Something new is the ability to create your own drones. This is illegal, but that makes it all the more exciting. remote controlled aircrafts, 'beams' down images.

This stuff is serious, because information created by the community is all the more important when disasters happen. We've all seen Katrina - the disaster was the lack of government response - and 'citizenry' filled in the gap. google got phonecalls from united states coastgard, who were using google earth to help find where people were.

now, yesterday 'pins on maps' were unfairly dished by Richard. yes, they're not elegant, but they are a good way of people making maps relevant to them. often, a point is enough. there are hundreds of these [mashups] - some of it is strange, but then so are some wikipedia articles.

going back to chris anderson, he's most famous for the 'long tail' - eg now possible to make an economic book which is only published for 10-15 copies. currently, geodata is still pretty far up the long tail. some of the very top stuff isn't available, and might never be available (security, etc). however the exciting stuff is the long tail.

[shows map of kmz files that are on the internet]. most of the planet covered to some extent.

so, there's a big change happen. democratisation of tools, etc. are they guys who control this listening? from a government position, maybe people are starting to listen. eg the 'power of information' report for the government. Central Office of Information have welcomed 'experimental partnerships', subject to 'resources'. 'Ordnance Survey will look seriously over the coming weeks at the recommendation to create an Open Space'.

So here's some criticism of your project. Huge arguments about licencing are expected, but eventually you come out with a licensing scheme that works. You need to focus on that. the other thing is to focus on 'finishing'. how many people remember the 'rabbit' telephone system? the idea was to create the same kind of system as cell phones, but low-fi. survived two years, but didn't work, becuase the base stations were never there when you needed it. completeness is important. you need to have national coverage of where people are, like the cell phone networks did. you don't have to map sheep in the middle of nowhere.

the commerical world is taking what you do very seriously, and beginning to understand. there are 10 million tomtom deviced, which now allow you to 'share', which allow you to 'correct' locations. it asks you what's wrong, and allows you to edit, eg add points of interest. so 10 million potential surveyors!

finishes off with a slide from google earth, of new dehli. all the data on that, other than the imagery. all the data has come from non-commercial sources, using exactly the same tecniques as OSM uses. people in the commercial sector are making use of this information. what you're doing really is changing the way that the industry works.


Question regarding reliability of data. As more gets built by the community, will it be seen as reliable enough for commercial use?

it's a competitive issue. if there's a choice between data sets, then quality is an issue. but there's no reason why community data should be any less reliable than commercial data. in some ways, it should be better, but it might take a while to get there. tomtom aren't going to use OSM data for a while. it's going to take some complaining too - some people don't get wikipedia yet.

you probably know about the yahoo imagery being available for the OSM project - when is the Google imagery going to be available?

Well, the data is quite expensive. until someone can find a way of getting cheap aerial photography, there are some basic commercial realities. we have to licence the data, and the costs go along with that. there's potential in UAVs, but I think it'll be a while before we see an open source national imagery set.