Archive for July, 2007

UK Flood Mapping

This thread about UK flood mapping on the OpenStreetMap mailing list demonstrates that OpenStreetMap is one of the best angles to approach mapping for disaster response. Even here in the UK, there’s surprisingly few resources giving a comprehensive, up to date, spatial view of the events.

BBC Berkshire published a Google MyMaps of the floods and correspondents reports. Simple tools and easy to keep up to date. Possible to launch a collaborative version, if there was a suitable center of gravity (BBC certainly has this). However pins on the map soon overwhelms the interface, and the number of annotations is limited by GMaps memory limits. Conceptual tip of the hat to Richard Fairhurst’s talk on Cartography vs. Mashups — and the BBC flood map definitely illustrates that some information belongs deeper in the base layer (like flood warning areas) and that toggled layers are crucial for filtering data in mashups.

If this sort of data is stored and visualized in the base layer, Frederik Ramm explores the implications for storing temporarily limited data. While OSM is a wiki with an archive, it doesn’t really handle change connected to specific moments in time. Roads are flooded for only so long. Here in Brighton, one of the core roads is reduced to one lane for a year while the Victorian Sewer is replaced. The changes need to be marked as impermanent. Also an issue in representing historic maps — I’m interested in producing historical literature maps of London, and that data needs proper tagging to show validity in only certain time slices.

The floods again highlight issues with closed government data. The Environment Agency has come under criticism for restricting use of flooding data after the floods last month in the North. Information about places likely to flood, houses built in flood plains, is crucial for individuals and society to prepare for and prevent disasters. This is the crucial Analysis phase so ignored in neogeography approaches.

And, pure crowd sourcing with flickr maps does bring up impressively accurate and informative results.what is secured loanday pay wide loan worldloan william ford d forgiveness federalwendy wilson school sloan countywisconsin va loans schoolloan payments work outclass world inc home loansworldwide loans personal Map

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What to do with .. Open Data

Richard has produced a data dump of PlanningAlerts, 27678 applications (pretty large), collected over the last half year. What to do with it?

One of the central conceits of the “open data movement” is that someone out there has a better idea about what to do with data than the data holder themselves, especially government data, and there’s very little cost to simply posting database dumps for download and no need to conceive of any plans for structuring and serving that data — if there’s truly value in it, then the civil “information” society will find some practical or creative use for it. PlanningAlerts gives a good example to follow, and in those planning applications, there’s a mountain of data to mine, statistics to extract, and enlightening visualizations.

Another great one. Julian produced a creative slice from the data he scraped and collected in UNDemocracy.com, producing a timeline of disasters over the last 13 years by filtering out official condolences in the General Assembly. As a commenter said on the web4dev list, “imagine if these guys had proper access to our data”.

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State of the Map!

Posted my slides and notes from my presentation at State of the Map, “OpenStreetMap: A Disaster Waiting to Happen”, on an OSM approach to disaster response. Audio recording of my talk, along with recordings from all talks at State of the Map have been posted.


photo by Chris Fleming

I said at the start of my presentation that I wasn’t talking about OSM itself as a disaster, though it does sometimes feel on the brink of collapse. Just as often it feels on the brink of total success. After last weekend, much much more towards success!

We’re nearing consensus in the nature of the challenges facing OpenStreetMap as it’s growing, the approaches to take, and bit by bit heading towards solutions. Even the extremely contentious legal debate is moving towards actions — drawing up a concise list of questions for presentation to a (paid for) lawyer. The foundation is starting to get more financially comfortable, so there’s also money for servers and a recognized conduit for donations. It’s recognized that maintenance of a complete data set moves OSM into a very different phase of social and technical work. And issues like managing tags, usability of the tools, database performance, cartography, routing are all in capable hands.

Sean Phelan, Ed Parsons and Etienne all gave lucid talks on the high level position and issues of OSM, and fit OSM into it’s historical role.

The challenges are more than balanced by the successes. Two great cheesy news pieces on OSM, from Cambridge and Spain. Use of OSM data for routing, in mobile devices, for transport, for print. And most impressively, Barry Crabtree’s wiggling and beating street networks .. hoping he posts those, really bizarre and great stuff!

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Returned from India

..and life here didn’t stop while I was away. Had a great stay in India and I’m looking forward to processing and creating some internet transmittables .. maps of course! Right now, just catching up with life..

Planning Alerts is a finalist in the New Statesman New Media Awards in the Information & Openness category! We find out if we won July 24. Favorites like Neighbourhood Fix It, elgg, and LiveBus (James Whaere) are among the finalists too!

OpenStreetMap kicked off a bit these couple weeks. AND donated all of the Netherlands and the (VMAP0 derived) China and India road networks (I have some detail to fill in there!). Again OSM is propelled to another level .. with an entire country (to be) uploaded, the technical and social problems of OSM start to shift .. how to manage change once an area is nearly complete? The wiki and social networking angles ascend; the need is to visualize and track change (geographic diff), rollbacks; the tools need to simplify even further, so newcomers to OSM can do something, even if it’s just to alert someone else to make a change; and with a widening user base, trust and reputation becomes very important to help scale. And it signals that the real transformation of the geodata industry is happening, and OpenStreetMap is at the center of that.

I also just reported that Yahoo! will now allow their API used in JOSM. This saga has had extreme ups and downs, and I’m glad to see a sweet resolution. Like the AND data and mappam, Yahoo has brought up lots of existential issues for OSM, particularly with how “OSM” interacts with external entities. Etienne gives a most coherent, developing view on how the OSM community and foundation function.

It is important to understand that the OpenStreetMap Foundation is *not* the same thing as the OpenStreetMap project. The Foundation does not own the OpenStreetMap data, is not the copyright holder and has no desire to own the data. Anyone can setup a few servers and host the OSM data using the same or different software. In this respect the Foundation is an organisation that performs fundraising in order to provides servers to host the project. It’s role is to support the project not to control it.

Something which I think needs further definition is how any individual or group is empowered to work for and on behalf of OpenStreetMap. Discussions for AND, for Yahoo, for funding in the Netherlands and other governments, sponsorship for State of the Map and mapping parties, and many other past, and yes future, collaborations and partnerships, by necessity can’t take place completely openly in the beginnging. This does apparently conflict with principles of openness .. but importantly, the ability to push forward external interactions is open to anyone. And I think some guiding principles or statement might be necessary here, and the coming anniversary of the Foundation might be a good time for this.

The Legal Panel at State of the Map may cover some of this ground, and I’m sure promises to have all the fireworks of talk-osm in real life! I’m heading up to Manchester tomorrow morning, and working today on my presentation “OpenStreetMap: A Disaster Waiting to Happen”, on an OpenStreetMap approach to disaster response.

And there’s other things I can’t talk about yet, but soon, with Mapufacture, and another still secret mapping project. More to come..

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