Meltdown at the Ordnance Survey?

I know Twitter has its problems at the moment but at its most basic it is a fascinating tool for letting you know al kinds of things, quite simply you learn things that would have simply passed you by in the past. And so it has been that Twitter has brought to my attention some serious problems with the Ordnance Survey’s online map offering, Getamap.

On Monday 5th August the OS announced on Twitter that the OS Shop and the OS Getamap service would be temporarily down as they prepared for the launch of they new shop.  My impression was that ‘temporarily down’ meant the next day. Users were advised to place orders and print maps before everything went offline. There’s nothing unusual about this of course as all kinds of systems go down for maintenance, but these services were offline for al of the next working week. It was still down on the following Monday, the 12th.

Now I don’t use Getamap ad just assumed that the problems would have been fixed, despite not being very impressed. However, OS admitted yesterday (Friday 16th August) that there were still problems for customer trying to access there accounts. So, one day of planned maintenance has turned into 10 days of technical problems.

Twitter also allows you to follow queries to OS of course. A steady stream of users have been complaining over Twitter. One outdoor activity coordinator complained that he couldn’t access his premium account and was told to use the more basic and free version instead. The Coordinator responded that he needed to print out maps for his trips with young people and that the basic wouldn’t allow this; there seemed to be nothing that Ordnance Survey could do for him.

Now, before sitting down to write this I had a good look at the OS website. I can see no warning of there being continued difficulties. I guess I might not have seen a notice buried deep in the system but I think this is quid revealing. Users who have complained to Twitter have been invited to contact OS privately so that they might understand what is going on. This gives the impression that there might simply be a problem with individual accounts.

All of this is very disturbing. Can you imagine what would have happened if — say — Viewranger had been off-line for that long? The internet would be full of it. However, I suspect many OS users are not of the geeky kind who spend more time than is good for them online!

I am particularly interested in this as I wrote, sceptically, about the OS’s internet offerings a month or so ago:

Ordnance Survey: Biting the Hands that Feed?

The Strange Case of M & C Saatchi and Computer Mapping

To recap, OS have launched their own IOS app and soon to follow an Android Map. This was very similar in features to Viewranger. Viewranger is, of course, an official partner of the Ordnance Survey and have to a large extent pioneered computer mapping in this country.  I was somewhat bemused by this as Viewranger and others have been happily selling OS maps for some time. I was concerned because I thought the marketing muscle and brand of the OS would, over time, take away much of the everyday market of their commercial partners.  What I was absolutely clear about what that it is these partners that are the innovators in this area. If the OS offering effected their commercial bottom line then ultimately we the consumer would be worse off. Finally, I was a little worried that the OS internet offerings were being designed by an offshoot of a major marketing company; I suspected this would see customers being deluged by unwanted advertising,

I must admit to being slightly agnostic as to whether government agencies should be trading or not but was fascinated enough to continue my investigations, including the examination of the accounts of the OS trading wing — some future article may follow.  Things get very interesting the more you delve into them.

A few years ago the UK government issued guidance to trading government agencies that they should work with the private sector rather than against them and this alone makes the OS’s activities a little odd to me.

Other national mapping agencies across Europe have been in the same position. Nearly all of them now sell their maps — in computer versions — through a range small and innovative companies just as the OS do. However, all of the nations — except Switzerland I think — have not gone down the OS route of setting up computer mapping operations themselves.  My enquiries suggest that this has been a deliberate choice to protect private sector innovators. So, the OS seems to be out of line with its international counterparts.

This is a subject I shall be coming back to. The more I delve into this the unhappier I become. However, I hope the OS can solve its technical problems soon as it is outdoor enthusiasts, including those running Duke of Edinburgh and other outdoors schemes, who are suffering.

I have to say that if you are considering using computer mapping, or online mapping solutions, to plan routes and print maps you are probably best advised to stay away from the OS and buy from one of their commercial partners.

As outdoor enthusiasts and IT users we should be supporting the innovators and those who have a proven record in producing stable technological base for their products.

I have approached the Ordnance Survey direct to ask for them to provide a comment on these problems and have also asked that they provide a statement that can reassure customers as to the integrity of their ongoing service. I shall let you know when they reply.

Finally, I should point out that I have no commercial relationship with either Viewranger or any of the other computer mapping companies that resale Ordnance Survey products.


  1. Funnily enough I just published a post last night that I wish Ordnance Survey offered a map subscription service. Although I would rather someone else offered it, but can’t see who they would allow but themselves to do this..

    Like you I disagree with Ordnance Survey selling apps that are in competition with companies who are supposed to be their partners. They should stay map providers,

    I use their maps day to day under the PSMA agreement and recently asked how I could report errors, that was 2 weeks ago and still waiting for a proper reply. This leads to my follow up post I have written but not posted yet about using OpenStreetMap and “OpenData” to produce our own maps. I will post that in a couple of days, then the third post actually shows how to produce the maps using generally free programs.

    My current published post is:

    The other thing that really annoys me about them is the historic data, the out of copyright maps that they conveniently passed to Landmark information group who now charge a fortune for them. I wish the British Library did the same as the National Library of Scotland and published he maps for free online.

  2. I gave up on Getamap a while back after they ‘improved’ their service. Perhaps their ‘progress’ suits some users, not me.

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