Making sense, and use, of open data

Earlier in the year, with the anniversary of data.gov.uk, I read quite a few articles or blog posts similar to this by Paul Clarke, lamenting the fact that the simple release of open data hadn’t automatically resulted in an explosion of useful applications and commercial value.

Publication didn’t necessarily mean communication or application, seemed to be the running theme.

To that end, we’ve seen an increasing number of organisations take open data and try to help people make sense of it – you might remember this post we published earlier in the year looking at DataTap, which uses OS OpenSpace to visualise a range of open data released by Windsor and Maidenhead Council.

DataTap subsequently won the MediaGuardian award for the ‘Best Use of Data’ but they’re just one example. I hope you’ll agree that Ordnance Survey is doing its bit through the GeoVation programme and our support of the Open Data Masterclasses (and a few more things in the pipeline I can’t talk about yet…) but there are other organisations out there trying to help people make sense of, and more importantly, use of open data.

One of those is Find Free Maps, a site built for the public by the people at FIND, a UK based mapping technology company.  It’s been developed to make mapping more accessible and to encourage wider and more imaginative use of geographic information.

I’m told that Ordnance Survey mapping, height data and boundary information are amongst the most frequently used datasets on the site, but it also contains information recently released by other sources including Natural England, British Geological Survey and the RSPB.  The team at FIND Maps has collected the data, tidied it up, mapped it, and provided the tools required to make it more useful and meaningful.

Find free maps

The site offers totally free and unlimited access to a range of maps, lots of interesting data layers and an easy to use toolkit for making and printing customised maps.  After choosing the most appropriate background and scale, you can add data layers, draw on the maps and insert text and symbols.

For example, say you want to plan a short walk.  First select the appropriate map base and then add layers such as historic monuments, ancient woodlands and profile data.  More details can be added as text before the map is saved and can then be printed. I’m not aware of anywhere where this would have been possible free of charge before the advent of open data – correct me if I’m wrong.

So far the site has been used to plan routes, help design varied training programmes for cyclists and runners, draw site plans, support planning applications, illustrate homework assignments, enhance presentations, organise charity events and plot sightings and finds.

It’s great to see open data being put to a practical use for something that has genuine value to its users.  Yesterday’s post on Kindle maps was another good example. Do you know of any others?

Or maybe you completely disagree with me?

Let me know what you think.

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3 Responses

  1. I don’t disagree with the article but without the explosion of applications that actually make money – the examples and usage so far seems to be confined to public organisations, non-profits and 3rd sector. We still haven’t seen _many_ examples of all those start-ups that use opendata or linkeddata to make a great business (making money). This was one of the expected benefits of open data – a surge in GDP.

  2. I’ve seen that argument made increasingly over the past few months Alexis. The counter is usually that the investment in open data is a long term one and it’s still early days. Time will tell of course, and there are things that can be done that will encourage the process.

  3. Ian

    There is still a strong feeling that OS date is not in fact open since it cant be used with tools like Google Earth.
    I recently asked Natural England for boundaries of SSSIs and was told its data could not be used because they are derived from OS data.

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