Archive for October, 2006

Press Quotes

A good week for open mapping in the media. I have a couple quotes in a National Geographic News article on GeoRSS, Disaster Prediction, Social Networking Boosted by Geo-Data Feeds, and in this week’s Big Issue on OpenStreetMap (the UK magazine sold by homeless as an alternative to begging .. do buy one if you have the chance), Walk This Way.


So long 20th Century Yahoo Bookmarks

Techcrunch reports Yahoo! Bookmarks Enters 21st Century.

Back in 1999, I developed Yahoo Bookmarks for the 20th Century. Building the site was a fun little project, it was basically a single My Yahoo module blown to full product size. But the real action was in the Yahoo Companion (now Toolbar) which gave seamless access to bookmarks across multiple machines, by getting underneath the skin of the browser. This was pretty mind blowing stuff back then!

So now Bookmarks will run on the MyWeb platform (without the sharing), along with delicious, and that’s so long to the storing bookmarks as key-value serialized structures in the user database. Bookmarks was based pretty literally on Netscape Bookmarks. When I just migrated, first level folders were converted to tags, and nested folders discarded. Adios 20th Century.

I’m really surprised to read that Yahoo Bookmarks has 20 million active users. This is probably 99.9% through the toolbar. The Bookmarks site hasn’t changed one iota since I stopped working on it, the Export Bookmarks feature has been “new” for 7 years. Implementing this feature was a small political struggle .. not everyone was convinced we should allow users to leave. Guess this hasn’t been a problem! We also had a 1000 bookmark limit .. somewhat arbitrary, but there were efficiency limits in the user database. One Techcrunch commentator was “heart broken” by this limit .. me too. Oh well, limits are so 20th century.

Interestingly, we did have a lot of discussion back then about public bookmarks. This wouldn’t have been so much like, but a kind of searchable uber-directory, available perhaps only to friends in Yahoo Messenger. I don’t know, it wasn’t well thought through, and would’ve been a big mess .. the web hadn’t figured out how to share things on that scale. And there was still a wariness about user contributed content, one of the reasons why Yahoo didn’t jump on RSS immediately.

Pretty incredible to see how far Yahoo and the web have gone since those days.


Making the Nestoria Tiles

I’ve braindump’d the work that went into producing the OpenStreetMap in Nestoria tiles in the OSM wiki. Could be a useful post-mortem for similar projects.

Making the nestoria tiles


mashup the whole space

The UK Geospatial Mash-up event was really about the mashup of an industry, rather than building It seemed like the whole spectrum of commercial mapping services, web 2.0 companies, government users, public interest groups, hackers, etc were represented, and with the focus on a single nation, the discussion (ie heckling) quickly honed in on the key issues of GeoData — how to acquire, distribute, license, utilize in a way that is fair, free, efficient, democratic, timely. I’d like to see more national and regional focused geospatial events.

Many people pointed out that there’s nothing particularly new about the mashup concept of combining components in another fashion (and with luck the word mashup will start to dry up now). The new fluidity of data is what’s important, leading to a Geospatial industry in a very unstable state. So, you get the OS announcing a non-commercial, slippy map API for their Explorer Series (excellent news for countryside applications), admitting that it screen scrapes to geocode postcodes, and infringes a commercial service, and a commercial company using OpenStreetMap. What’s next?

One thing, seemed like no one could really defend the state of the postcode and address database in the UK. Contrary to the OS, the Royal Mail can’t really defend it’s licensing as cost recoup, since the point of their postcode system is to deliver mail, not to supply data. So I expect Free the Postcode to ramp up, especially with the entire New Popular Edition enlisted to help.

My presentation slides are here. As usual, I learned of a couple new GeoRSS feeds on the day, from (which uses “featuretypetag”!) and Weather Feeds from the BBC.

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the OpenStreetMap / Mapstraction UK launch extravaganza at the Geospatial Mash-up

Here today at the Ordnance Survey for the UK Geospatial Mash-up. I’m speaking on GeoRSS, and there’s a very interesting cross section of folks, ideas, and software here .. more on that later. The big big news for OpenStreetMap and Mapstraction is a trio of interweaved launches…

OpenStreetMap in Nestoria UK Real Estate site Nestoria is using OpenStreetMap tiles over the Isle of Wight. This is OpenStreetMap’s first 100% complete region, in its first commercial use.

OpenStreetMap in Mapstraction OSM is an API option for Mapstraction. It’s never been easier to Switch…

On-the-fly switching in Mapstraction ..except now it’s even easier to switch, on the fly, while viewing the map!

I’ll follow up next week, with some insights on the technology and techniques that went into all this.

Big hardy hoorays go out to Etienne for work on the tiles, the team at Nestoria for being so damn cool about open data and open apis, and Steve & Tom and the OSM/Mapstraction posse.


Back to San Jose. We need Metadata.

In June, I OpenStreetMap’d suburban development in San Jose. I haven’t been back physically, but can check out the state of San Jose’s digital geography.

Reverse engineering the update schedule, provider and time source of imagery and vectors has become a kinda of amatuer geographer sport. Following Google’s last imagery update, construction cranes and shadows yielded, with fantasticals, a pretty precise date. Analysis of G-Y-M US Streets, with knowledge of Navteq/TeleAtlas data distribution, put Yahoo at 1-2 quarters ahead in street updates. In San Jose, I reckoned that someone on the construction crew could date the aerial imagery to the nearest week, based on how much orchard had been transformed into suburb.

There’s so much usefulness in knowing the temporal state of geographic data, people are willing to exert heroic geek effort to derive that metadata. However, it’s just untenable to reverse engineer the planet, especially when this information is well known to the data providers. This metadata needs to flow through the entire chain.
I was wandering Google Earth around Hetch Hetchy Resevoir, where I spent a week backpacking years ago. Multiple updates overlap this area, so summer discretely breaks to winter. Now this is almost accurate, we had a late spring snowstorm midtrip. But wouldn’t it be useful to see just summer, or just winter. It’s also necessary to have access to past data, to analyse change, the seasons, the global warming.

Back to San Jose. Yahoo is in the lead as well, with the streets as up to date as when I visited. However, they only updated their Map Layer, not the Hybrid view, where it’s still incomplete. And there’s still an error, showing the corner of Fowler and Yerba Buena Rd as passable, when it’s been blocked off. The aerial imagery hasn’t updated.

Old Farm Equipment and New Houses

Google is exactly the same as June, no road or aerial imagery update. MSFT is about the same, except they’ve added Bird’s Eye imagery for the area, so you can just about look underneath the trees adjacent to the old rusting farm machinery I photographed.

So generally, OpenStreetMap still reins for timeliness of the data, and transparency of when it was updated.

Timeliness, transparency, and responsiveness. It’s the biggest complaint of users and the big data producers are starting to see the light on user contributions. And people, in San Jose particularly, are starting to exert the democratic rights to knowledge of their world. Add in the question of cost recovery, it seems the only reasonable way to move ever growing public geodata needs forward is OpenStreetMap and GeoRSS.


Mapstraction in Nestoria

Mapstraction, our abstract library for the G-Y-M mapping APIs, has been integrated into UK real estate site Nestoria. This is a big step forward, the first commercial use of the library. Of course it’s still completely free and open. Steve gives his take on OpenGeoData blog.

This is the first of a few big announcements over the week or so. Feel free to tremble with anticipation.


MyY 2 RSS is finding itself

Yahoo changed their authentication scheme last month, and introduced Browser Based Authentication. This has broken myy2rss, the service which converts personalized My Yahoo modules into RSS feeds.  At some point I hope to get the service back up and working. Perhaps in the mean time, Yahoo will open up an API to MyY, as they have with so many other great services.