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Friday, November 03, 2006

OS mashes-up maps

Some words just don't go together. 'Fashion sandals'. 'Racing pigeon'. 'Modern jazz'. 'Express queue'.

These are contradictions, bordering on the oxymoronic.

So when Ordnance Survey - a company so steeped in geographical and geological expertise that not having a beard and a personal subscription to Geotimes is banned by its HR department* - announces it's getting involved in mash-ups, I nearly jumped out of my fashion sandals.

The Ordnance Survey 'OpenSpace' project will begin with a limited three-month experiment with 12 developers using a new Java API (application programming interface, for those of you without a beard) to create mashed-up applications using OS data.

The idea is to mimic the success of Google Maps in becoming a reasonably standard standard for online mapping. After all, letting any old publisher access your data in an integration-friendly way is a great way of upping your profile.

While Ordnance Survey and the crazy world of Web 2.0 seem to be at odds with one another, this announcement is great news for the citizens of the planet. I can't be the only one who's been sat somewhere on Earth (in my case, Battersea) wondering why the hell the map I'd printed off Google Maps is bearing no resemblance to the layout of the streets in front of me. Is that too much to ask?

But Google don't really care that I'm stranded in South West London by their rubbish mapping, because they're too busy fiddling about with other, more trendy things like YouTube and JotSpot.

The friendly chaps over at Ordnance Survey, however, would rather have their collection of modern jazz CDs set on fire than let me lose my way. They are the old guard of mapping - from a time when maps were maps and explorers relentlessly charted the globe armed with a sexton, a compass and a pencil just to see who could make more detailed schematics of the Isle of Wight.

Ordnance Survey's entrance into the online mapping arena will hopefully mean that the other providers pull their finger out and improve the quality of online mapping. After all, in Web 2.0 world, mapping is a killer app.

Now let's see if the experts can force Google into making a killer map.

* Not true, obviously

Also published on LEWIS 360.

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