Ordnance Survey: a sneak preview

The full version of this Ordnance Survey paper is now up, have a look!

Because you’ve been wait­ing ages, here’s my over­view of the free maps pack­age the govern­ment are (sort of) offer­ing with every option for Ordnance Survey’s future.

As for the rest, Simply Understand’s krypton­ite might well be busi­ness speak. It’s on it’s way. Not prov­ing easy though. Definitely an area I need more exper­i­ence in.

Free mapping data for all?

Back in November the govern­ment said some of Ordnance Survey’s mapping data (also known as geograph­ical inform­a­tion, or GI) would be released for free. Don’t get too excited, because the date hasn’t been set yet, and they’re still not sure how they’re going to afford it.

However, this consulta­tion does talk about what they might be giving out:

This list might change, but there’s poten­tial to add more in the future, too. Ordnance Survey have to main­tain and update the data too.

As you can see, there’s some prob­lems with post­code data. There’s no one data­base with everything in it. There are quite a few post­code data­bases around, and they all do differ­ent things. At least two compan­ies are involved too, Royal Mail and the NLPG, and at the moment they want to protect the money they make from their data.

A national post­code database

If we want one national post­code data­base, we need someone in govern­ment to cham­pion the cause and find some solu­tions to prob­lems with how to fund it and main­tain it. Various govern­ment depart­ments are trying to work with every­one and find a solu­tion, but there’s a lot to think about and it needs someone to help drive it.


The idea is to have this map data avail­able under Creative Commons.

How are we going to get to all this data?

There are four ways:

  • Just look­ing – for the general public, with search, print­ing and the abil­ity to see the data. Probably no satel­lite images or direc­tions service though.
  • Downloading – select an area of the map and types of inform­a­tion, and save them to your harddrive
  • API – free to access but will prob­ably be limited in some way (perhaps traffic) to keep costs down.
  • Order on DVD, and get charged for the discs, post­age and packing.

Ordnance Survey anti­cip­ates these will move with the times as tech­no­logy gets better and faster.

The winners

New busi­ness
All this free data will help people create new, inter­est­ing and prof­it­able services and products. In Canada a similar scheme has increased map sales quite a lot.

…and losers

  • Ordnance Survey
    This free scheme does mean OS will lose money. It will also cost just under £10m over 5 years to set up the service.
  • Their part­ners
    The people who work with OS and add value to the exist­ing mapping info will have a lot more competition.
  • Competitors
    These are popu­lar products which have some rivals, and we’re setting the cost of these products at £0. Some compet­it­ors might lose out.
  • Map buyers
    Less maps might get prin­ted, because people are down­load­ing and print­ing them instead. If this happens, the govern­ment might support a national series of maps.

There’s more to come, but that ought to keep you all busy!

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Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.

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