Alternative Mapping Systems: Scribble Maps

It is a while since I have written about maps and mapping services. One of my themes over the last few years has been the impact that new technology will have over conventional maps, with the ability to create new maps from satellite information. I’m still convinced this is the future of mapping and that — over time- conventional map mappers are going to have a hard time.

This is the latest serve that I have come across — Scribble Maps.

Scribble allows you to create a variety of different types of maps, including topographical maps. the site now allows you to play around with demo software and to create your own maps. I created a map of the Cairngorms and — in an area like that — it might be ll you need.

we are some way off these becoming a real challenge to the Ordnance Survey and the like, but I suspect the real challenge is not so much technical as finding a business model that works!

There’s not much information about Scribble on their site — if anybody knows about them, get in touch.

 Scribble Maps

Calling Routebuddy Users

Paging anyone who uses Routebuddy on a desktop machine — Windows or Mac OSX.

I am currently producing some video tutorials on using Routebuddy and am keen to test them with some beta test volunteers.

If you would like to help, please send an email just indicating whether you are a Windows or OSX user. Emails to:

rbeta@andyhowell.info

Mapping for the Future

While it might be too soon to write off the paper map there’s no doubt that mapping is changing at a rate of knots. Here are a couple of pieces that I have picked up from the web over the last few weeks ago that I feel are worth sharing. 

Designing a Map for the Outdoors From the Ground Up

This is blog post from A J Ashton the lead cartographer at the Mapbox project. You may well have seen Mapbox products before. Mapbox produces highly accurate world maps that are powered by up-to-the-minute data from OpenStreetMap.  Anyone can use Mapbox to create their own interactive maps by simply uploading a range of data files.

The blog post looks at how computer automation and animation is allowing us to think again about outdoor maps. It’s worth reading this. Why not have a go at creating you own map using the service?

The end of the road for Ordnance Survey?

This is a Guardian article by Rachel Hewitt who,a  couple of years ago, published Map of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey. This is a cracking read: my review of the book is here.

Hewitt’s ideas and opinions are worth taking seriously not least because she seems likely to be close to the technical developers at the OS.

Strip the article down and what you find is a piece in praise of the paper map, sentiments that I would certainly echo. I do suspect this is yet another attempt to deal with the poor publicity and goings-on at the OS over the last year or so.

Hewitt polices the OS where it really should be. At the centre of the lives of outdoor enthusiasts.

Government Takes Decisive Action to End Chaos at the Ordnance Survey

Even for those of us who have been following the debacle that has become the Ordnance Survey the last days have been quite extraordinary, culminating in the announcement, today, that Director Vanessa Lawrence is to step down from her role within a few weeks.

So, what on earth should we make of all of this?

[Read more…]

What on Earth is the OS Doing?

OK. I’m not obsessive, really I’m not.

The revised OS Mapfinder app went live at the end of last week and was pulled again yesterday!  I don’t think I’ve ever come across an app that is pulled as frequently as this one.

It makes you wonder who is writing the code.

Ordnance Survey En Route to Privatisation: Gains and Losses.

Last weeks pieces on the latest troubles of the Ordnance Survey prompted quite a response from readers, some who passed on articles and information that I had not come across before.

It is now clear to me that the privatisation of the OS is a real possibility in the near future. Privatisation seems to be regularly discussed with government and although this has not yet been sanctioned there are clearly those who believe that this would be the right way forward.

In this piece rather than simply attack the notion of privatisation I want to take a look at the organisation’ development over recent years and consider what benefits and losses might result from such a move. And how might these affect us as mapping consumers, or users?

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The Scale of the OS Share Sale … £3M plus

Screen Shot 2014 01 15 at 15 28 58

 

This is the relevant section of the OS accounts.

You can see that almost £4M of shares have been shared of the waiver of inter company debt.

Think about it. That’s £4M of tax payers money that has been used to fund the development of services that don’t really work. The government must have taken heart from the Post Office sale!

The OS have been easily advertising their mobile services over the last few months and I fear, because of this, we won’t see much coverage of the in the outdoor press!

Ordnance Survey’s Trading Wing Could Well Be Being Prepared for Privatisation!

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Route finding on the TGO Challenge

The latest publicity around the latest service problems that the Ordnance Survey have prompted a number of emails including one from someone who has been looking at the last set of accounts for the OS trading company.

The OS Trading company accounts show significant losses over their last two accounts, we’re talking huge figures here.

One of the things that was odd about this setup was that OS funds were being used to pump prime this commercial activity, activity which we have already established included against OS official partners. So, the OS mobile and consumer services were being developed by a limited company but one who’s major source of income was the government entity of the OS.

This situation couldn’t have been allowed to carry on for long as this would have been a clear abuse of a monopoly trading position. How many other mapping companies would have had access to such large amounts of ‘free’ capital?  The OS has been allowed to develop its commercial mobile apps using public funds. One thing that worried me when I last looked at this was that the Directors of the trading company seemed to be simply OS senior managers. So, who would benefit from profits should they ever get that far?

According to my correspondent the new set of accounts for the trading wing show that these major losses have be sold as ‘shares’ in the company. We don’t know who the new shareholder/s are but it would be a good guess, in my view, that this is the government or an agency operating on behalf of the government.

Such a device would mean that when the company is eventually sold the government would effectively get back its initial investment cash, in the most non controversial way possible.  The new OS trading company — now properly privately owned — would be in an unfettered position to take on all comers.

Just prior to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement I heard a number of commentators talking about further government sell-offs of privatisations. They mentioned the Ordnance Survey as one of the options being considered. Such an announcement did not come in the autumn statement itself but these developments might be the first sign in a very significant move. Just how a sale of the trading company would effect the OS remains to be seen but presumably much of the current operation would find itself in the private sector.

Will we have to launch a campaign to keep the OS public?

More Chaos at the Ordnance Survey

It gives me no pleasure to return to this topic but this week the Ordnance Survey if facing further, dramatic, problems with their consumer online services.

During the summer many customers of the Get-a-Map service found that they lost access to the service for much of August, the busiest month of the year for those working in the outdoors. Now the problems are back and this time they are even more fundamental.

Over the last few days the OS has been forced to pull its Mapfinder App from Apple’s iTunes store due to ‘unreliability issues’. This is not the first time that the OS has had to pull the App from the store. It looks as if these problems are going to persist for a while yet. There also seem to be problems with the main website and the Get-a-Map service, a commercial service for which people pay.

These failures — and the consistency of them — are quite remarkable and throw the light back on the OS’s policy to ‘compete’ in mainstream markets with existing companies who are in effect their partners.

I’ve pointed out before that (to my knowledge) no other national mapping agency in Wester Europe has decided to compete in the consumer market, in direct competition to the small and innovative companies who have pioneered desktop and mobile mapping applications. They seem to be happy to work hand-in-glove with innovative SME’s to provide new services to their users.

All of the companies that we know who work with OS have license and partnership agreements with them I’m thinking of Viewranger, Routebuddy, Anquet, Memory Map and so on. Since the summer, OS reps have made it quite clear to these companies that they survey will be competing directly with them. For me, this is represents a typical abuse of a commercial monopoly. Computer and mobile mapping has been pioneered by these small companies who are always looking to push the boundaries in terms of features and who are committed, as you would expect, to high standards of customer service. Competition from the OS will have an impact on the health of these innovative companies that have served us well.

I have no idea why the OS are having these continuing problems. Are they working with new contractors? Has internal line management changed? Are they simply bad at project planning?

Surely it is time for the OS to rethink its ITC strategies. The OS would be better placed in serving commercial and specialist markets and letting their ‘partners’ innovate in the consumer section.

If you are thinking of investing in a mapping service this year, either a mobile or a desktop service, you would — quite frankly — be mad to purchase that service from the Ordnance Survey.

Support those who have bought the services to you and who can afford to keep the lights on!

Video Review (Vimeo) Routebuddy Scottish Highlands Coast to Coast Map

Routebuddy Scottish Highlands Coast-to-Coast Video Review from Andy. Howell on Vimeo.

Some people have had trouble viewing this video, for some reason those using Chrome. Here is a version uploaded to Vimeo — video quality not so good but it works!