The governments ‘snap’ decision to free OS data seems to have taken many by surprise, and according to reports, the list of those surprised would also include the incumbents at Romsey Road – but to anyone some distance from the small world of UKGeo, what’s the big deal?
To Joe Blow, the OS is best known for its pink Landranger paper maps. Twenty years ago, anyone in Britain could pop out to the high street on a Saturday morning and pick up a large-scale map of their county for the reasonable sum of £5. Children could buy a map with their pocket money, moreover, they could use that map pretty much however they liked, for example, making nice collections like this one:
Well the kids grew up…they got a spectrum, a 520ST, a 486 and then a MacBook – but they could no longer get their map, well, not on their computer, OS maps were now rather expensive (or came with a lot of restrictions).
How this came about is subject to conjecture, but during the period since the £5 map, something changed. In the mid-nineties her majesties government tasked the OS with a new purpose, namely, an annual 5% return on investment (of which, they’ve done a good job) – perhaps the easiest way to deliver ROI is to sell to as few as possible (i.e. lower investment), for as much as possible (i.e. high return) – who could blame them?
Look to the Landranger – how did it work twenty years ago, sell a few, to the many.
Now anyone who has purveyed the OS accounts will shout “but paper map revenue is tiny”. True, but perhaps that’s because it’s no longer the desired medium? Sell digital data to the masses, people, especially Brits, like to own, so sell them their digital property, there’s upside – have you seen house prices these days? The serious point being that consultancy (e.g. a value added data service) is like prostitution, you’re limited to the number of hours in a day – you need something that scales.
Look to the banks – don’t stop at your borders, grow too big to fail.
In his new blog Thierry Gregorius notes the crude way in which data has been dumped, it would be nice to think this was by necessity (short notice) and not design, but this needs to be improved – quickly. Yahoo has tried, and GeoNames are succeeding, in building a world gazetteer, but the OS has the brand to make it happen. Position yourself at the heart of the ‘geoweb’ – yep, that means codepoint in WGS84 and a restful end point for every toid! Don’t get hung up on how you will fund it, just do it.
We don’t know quite how it happened…perhaps it was an epic press campaign, the weighty voice of Tim Berners Lee, or even a combo of lobby groups and cabs for hire, but make no mistake, UK geospatial data is free, and it’s a game changer – time for Micro GIS!