Today (1 April 2011) marks one year since the launch of OS OpenData, the service that made a range of Ordnance Survey mapping data available for free for the first time.
Since the launch, the service has helped underpin a range of applications, helped promote government transparency and encouraged greater take up of geographic information.
Among the uses is the Windsor and Maidenhead Council DataTap website, which last week won the MediaGuardian Innovation Award for best use of data. The site, built by Arcus Global, uses Ordnance Survey data to instantly visualise a range of council information, including population, councillor’s allowances and crime statistics. These visualisations help make the data more accessible than mere tables or spreadsheets and help support accountability and transparency.
Peter ter Haar, Ordnance Survey’s Director of Products comments: “Since the launch of OS OpenData we’ve seen a great amount of interest and many people have downloaded or ordered data. We’ve also seen some innovative and interesting uses of the data, particularly our electoral boundary information, postcode data and the OS OpenSpace API. Now, as the service has become established in the market, it is going to be very interesting to see what further applications are built and the impact they will have.”
OS OpenData allows users to freely download mapping and geographic information, such as administrative boundaries and postcode data, which would previously have been subject to royalty payments and restrictions on reuse. The decision to make this data available for free was made by the previous government in November 2009 at the request of open data champions Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton. The commitment to OS OpenData has since been maintained by the coalition government.
Both Sir Tim and Professor Shadbolt saw geographic data as key to unlocking greater government transparency and new economic and social value.
On the one year anniversary Professor Shadbolt says: “We argued for the release of key Ordnance Survey data because location data puts everything in context. We also believed it would inspire developers who wanted to build applications with the data. This is now happening and it is precisely this sort of innovation that will create value from OS OpenData, as well as the other data that Government is making freely available.”
Since the launch, Ordnance Survey has continued to maintain and improve the data available. In addition to the standard yearly or twice yearly updates, in May 2010 OS VectorMap District was added to the portfolio, which was itself subsequently updated following user feedback in March this year. Ordnance Survey was also the first Trading Fund to incorporate the Open Government Licence in January, helping to provide greater consistency with other sources of government data.
Other uses of the service have include Nottinghamshire County Council displaying winter gritting routes, GPP Housing’s property management tools for housing associations and the Facebook game ‘National Treasures.’
In terms of future developments, Peter ter Haar adds: “I think what we have learnt over the past year is that as well as making the data available, you really also need to help people make the most of it. That is why over the next year we will be releasing tools to make it easier for users to build applications using OS OpenData.”
Further support comes as part of the current GeoVation Challenge, Ordnance Survey’s innovation awards programme that supports geography based ventures. There is £10,000 available in seed funding for the best ideas underpinned by OS OpenData that could help improve transport in Britain.
The recipients of that investment will be decided at the GeoVation Showcase on 4 May at Ordnance Survey’s Southampton head office. The event is free to attend and open to the general public.