Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Benchmarks - the return of

As regular readers will know I tend not to use this blog as a vehicle for emapsite related happenings and offerings and to a broad extent this post continues this approach.

However, as someone who almost ended up a surveyor - it is thanks to UCL for putting me on hilltops in Wales and the subsequent opportunity to look through a theodolite for 6 months in the desert that brought me to my senses - I have something of a paleotard fondness for related features in our landscape, notably Trig Points and benchmarks.

I am equally aware that the arrival of GPS signalled the ultimate demise of such man made features; we simply don't need them. Try telling that to the legions of surveyors, chartered, engineering or other, who it seems from the flurry of requests, enquiries and complaints we have received, following the withdrawal of benchmarks from OS MasterMap, expect to see benchmarks on their mapping.

It would, indeed is, easy to make the case for ignoring them - benchmarks are not maintained and in fact most have had little consideration for more than 30 years, the site has been redeveloped or a road widened, the physical site has eroded, they are sometimes deliberately moved, ground heaves or collapses etc. In other words they (there are around 500,000) simply can't be trusted any more.

Benchmarks and trig points do seem to have a hold though on the psyche of those that ostensibly have no use for them - part luddite perhaps, part emotional symbol of a technocratic past perhaps, hard to tell.

Benchmarks (BMs) are the survey marks made by Ordnance Survey to record height above Ordnance Datum. BMs are usually found on buildings and other typically man-made features. They take the form Benchmark image on the ground with similar cartographic representation; strangely the recorded height had to be purchased from OS but is recorded on many maps too.

Most benchamrks that we see still are lower order benchmarks derived from an original network of nearly 200 Fundamental Benchmarks to create a physical manifestation of our national height system, the Newlyn Daturm (or Ordnance Datum Newlyn).

Various organisations ioncluding the RICS have published guidance on how to adapt to the GPS world, for example the Virtually Level guide is the latest in a new series from the RICS Geomatics Mapping and Positioning Practice Panel (MAPPP).

Being a smart business these are not of course removed from the database just tagged appropriately and it is a simple matter to reinsert them into the various products and services that we offer. After much discussion and muttering about how their reinstatement presents risks to those who would utilise them it was decided that we would reflect customer demand both from the professional community (who should be educated as to their lack of utility) and to the broader consumer market seeking information about their communities.

So there it is and there they are - enjoy, get steamed up, find your local one....

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Watching the Detectives (pt 3)

I used Elvis Costello circa 1979 and a Cory Doctorow cover, Jerry Fishenden starts with Jeremy Bentham (godfather of UCL if I recall correctly) and continues so much more eloquently on the issue of data driven dystopia and the understanding required by citizens of the role and purpose of IT as envisaged by political parties. This is the domain in which those of us in location IT (and all that it encompasses, from the geoweb to the GIS, from spatial operations in the database to sensor webs) need to make our voices heard......

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Watching the Detectives (pt 2)

Can't believe a month has gone by since last post but then been busy as the world wakes up to new possibilities - can't talk about those obviously!

What I can talk about follows on from a theme in my presentation on the geoweb stream at AGI last week in which a call was made for the 'community' to become more relevant not just by talking amongst ourselves - "we're all geo" after all - but by talking to others, by engaging with them and becoming integral to their communities of interest. I prefixed this call with, what may have been seen as oblique, references to data driven dystopias and the surveillance state. But methods/madness etc....

And here comes the link to Elvis Costello (used at AGI too). There I was on the M3 on Friday, mid-morning, half empty, breezing southwards (for once not particularly swiftly) and lo and behold, a hidden speed cop (behind the bridge before the services), then a speed bike cop (Winchester services), then an overhead speed van (bridge at Junction 9 I think), then 4 speed cops lined up together on the slip road hard shoulder.

What are we to think - the M3 at midday on a Friday is full of crazies, the Lib Dem leadership is under terrorist alert coming the other way up the M3 or its nearing the end of the month and they haven't reached their targets? This is surveillance gone awry and while we can watch them watching us and can possibly make FoI calls to find out more this flagrant waste of police resources (not to mention the resulting increase in fuel use, brake dust, CO2/NOX/SOX emissions, increased risk of shunts etc from excessive braking etc) there is little debate under whose authority they are watching.

The link to AGI? If we are part of the wider dialogue and not still struggling to be mainstream (which despite protestations to the contrary we are not) then we have a voice of value not just in the enterprise (global, national, local, whatever) but in the wider debate about the sacrifices and freedoms that come with the information age, its sensor webs and ubiquitous presence and the transparency and democracy (or otherwise) and critically language that accompany them.

Geo is pervasive and is increasingly embedded in the data cornucopia available to governments and the commercial sector alike; with the analysis tools that support the mining of these repositories now in the database it may be that geo is mainstream but that the GI and geoweb so vocal in our own company at geo events are not. We need to be for if we are not we will forfeit the right, the freedom, best expressed by Marlene Dietrich, 'to be alone'.

And to think I held on to that rant for 72 hours....

Monday, 31 August 2009

Summer's ending - where have I been?

I reckon I have spent more time away from the office this summer than in any time since leaving someone else's gainful employ back in 1993 - reflects strength of and confidence in team and business despite the recession. As ever time away from the office is thinking time, which will please some people (you know who you are!).

Plenty of time taken up pondering the dreaded school selection procession for Son #1 and now everything focused on filling in forms correctly by October 23rd - horrible, necessary.

Wakeboarding (just, boys waterskied better), swimming and tennis in Menorca ; should have gone sailing given the incessant wind and what was coming next.....

The real 'excitement' has been the practice for, build up to and participation in the RS400 Nationals at Mounts Bay Sailing Club this last week. Towbar fitted - check, quality camping - check, surfing lessons for boys - yep, wave sailing rehearsal - whoops, excellent weather forecast (means F2-3 gusting 4) - oh dear oh dear. Without going into detail, it was too much for your flat water light weight team and while we did finish 6 races we retired on the final day having scared ourselves rigid (repetitive rolling of boat, trapped underneath, exhaustion, big swells and so on) - living with demons. Ended up 64th of 66 -very disappointing to say the least as the flat water stuff had been going so well......Inlands next, Queen Mary.

Along the way had to produce a 'stack' and paper for AGI - job done - and keep a weather eye on spatial 'stuff'. Is it just me or has it been quiet - I read the Location Strategy stuff that seems to have crept quietly out and am looking forward to taking renewed energy into the office tomorrow!

Where, to their (and my) surprise they will find me at the top of the fantasy football league - sadly kids football has also already started - Son #2 runner up yesterday after ....6 hours! The autumn is all but upon us....

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Neologism?

Interesting to see that Wikipedia considers the neogeography entry to be a candidate for removal owing its potentially neologistic nature - despite use of the term dating back in one context or another to 1922 - not so neo after all!

Recently the term has founder common currency more as the rather more web 2.0 corollary to the implicit term of (generally rather gentle) upbraiding of those not aligned with its certain actually rather broad sensibility - the 'paleos' - in that 'if you're not with us...' etc.

I'm not going to endeavour to (re)define these terms or to broaden the scope out to include GIS or geoweb or cartography or spatial analysis or, remember this one, remote sensing. It's an irony of the internet's amateur publishing paradigm that the implicit polarisation of different schools that sustains the debate is on the one hand an illusion (in that most commentators are sufficiently familiar with the subject to recognise the shades of grey on the ground) while on the other a meritricious tool in leveraging a given perspective. You would have to be from a flat earth not to recognise the sometimes less than nuanced devices lobbed onto this field of play.

Coming over all pacifist (again!) the 'problem' with all this navel gazing and grandstanding is that the real opportunity continues to pass by on the other side, tired and neglectful of the squabbling and desirous of someone who speaks their language to solve their problems. And we know this too!

On these terms perhaps Wikipedia is correct and geography (cf Michael Goodchild) is eating itself?

Monday, 27 July 2009

Baby/bathwater - two tribes

Following Steven's post (http://giscussions.blogspot.com/2009/07/digital-paper-divide.html) and a recent LinkedIn discussion topic on web 2.0/social networking tools (I think you'd have to be a member of the ASPATech Discussion Group), we are becoming better I think at articulating the 'digital divde' though not necessarily at bridging it.

'Yoof' culture is entwined with converged digital tools in a way that remains baffling to many over even 35; the blogosphere is allegedly already in decline as bloggers migrate to the instant 140 characters of Twitter; the digital literati to a great extent exist in their (our) own self-fulfilling worlds of filtered, customised content streams; 'free' is the future and our right; a new supplier is just a click away....and so on and so on.

On the other hand, news stands, bookshops, DVD rental and even music shops continue to exist (but for how long I hear some holler); 140 characters does not a valid opinion make; everyone has a right to eat; businesses are hungry to employ people with ingrained technical literacy; loyalty and inertia do not a fluid market make.

As ever, it is always far more complex than the black and white often painted by both conventional and online mediarati. And this is what I think is beginning to change. With time as polarisation dissolves so a greater understanding emerges and from there social, economic, cultural and political models will evolve and adapt to the opportunities and mitigate the threats. This is not to say that the private or public sectors have sat idly by far from it; whether you like the current government or not their efforts at digital engagement across many areas will not be unravelled by whoever comes next. And the mushroming of innovation in business, from the rightly maligned City to the now connected rural fringes (our office is by a trout stream on the Hampshire borders - and why not?!) to the 'always on' bedroom coders, underpins our digital economy.

We really don't have the time to wait for the 'digital natives' to transmogrify into conventional 'leaders' and we can't leave the 'don't get it' leaders to continue as they are. Different communities and interest groups have a great deal to learn from each other - this is not a one way street. Recognition is a key step, language another vital key - dismissive commentary and noises off are unhelpful - dialogue is essential, familiarisation breeds confidence, barriers are lowered, rapprochements are made. Its not that hard, requiring curiosity and an open mind.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

PSIHs - a change of tack required?

With all the clamour over PSIHs in recent months, one TF has been in the spotlight. One can debate the reasons for this - another time. This has rather 'allowed' others (of the PSIH ilk) to carry on apparently regardless or oblivious to the changes going on around them. Say what you like about OS but this is far less true of them and they should be priased where praise is due.

But, wherefore the others; if I were them I would be sharpening my channel engagement, developing more attractive licensing and pricing terms, honing my knowledge of social media, looking at metadata dissemination and generally trying to mitigate future onslaught of interest in my behaviour.

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places but I sense a head in the sand approach by most - channels are being undermined, licence development is out of kilter with licence agreements, screen scraping has become the modus operandi of choice for many fed up with the vacuum and social engagement is limited to 'contact us'.

I really think it is about time that vocal proponents of 'libre' data turned their attention to the '000s (Cameron said more than 10,000 - he should publish the list for starters!) of PSIHs large and small (from local government to executive agencies) that actually represent the true value of tax funded data. The demand should be for mandated metadata capture and publishing - there are a number of exemplars already that provide effective levers with which to acheive this goal. Value can then truly be in the eye of the beholder.

ps As I said I love maps and they are the best contextual tool and have their own value in relation to the use to which they're being put; but, generally that use and therefore value depends on the other data being contextualised/hacked/mashed and the scale at which that is most effective. The evident need is for other data....

Monday, 6 July 2009

Activate09 - wow - some musings

Thought it best to digest the day and reflect on what was almost (sorry Adam, that was the second time I've watched you read a prepared script, off the cuff humour not withstanding, iti all felt sooo 'qualified') without exception a staggering succession of speakers with topics and ideas to match.

Others have already done an excellent job in 'reporting' (for example, http://rooreynolds.com/2009/07/01/guardian-activate-09/) so will confine myself to stuff close to my heart, personal and professional.

The stand out piece for many would have been Gerry Jackson's harrowing account of broadcasting under repressive, hostile and down-right life-threatening circumstances in Zimbabwe. Having been caught up in two mostly unreported civil wars (I am lead to believe that one of them had one paragraph in The Times once) before the rise of the digital age (there was short wave radio and one telex machine in Hargeisa!) when reporting such things required genuine 'Salvador' type commitment to want to go, get in, get a story and then get out again, Gerry served up compelling, brutal, ugly, essential reasons why and how the convergence of 'genuine' journalism, crowd sourced messages and media, social networks and information systems present such a threat to political systems, good and not so good, and why we should support and enable them.

Hot on the heels of John Simpson's throw away line about how few journalists there were in Tehran (all the 'serious' ones were leaving and 'the crowd' still seems to have to earn its place in some areas of the media) it reminded us that however liberating the tools and technologies that we usually take for granted can be, it ultimately takes a combination of nerves, cojones of steel and that very familiarity that we take for granted to apply them.

Ironic too because of Obama's intervention to ensure Twitter access for Iranians while Google is busy trying to get services accepted in China and the level of intervention or 'web filtering" governments and their agencies already make to 'secure' us from digital threat - Green Dam is only the most visible.

Apposite then that indirectly many of the key speeches of the day were about education and the challenges faced in defining and bringing that education to those most in need, both formally and, where community, social networks, the cloud and the crowd collide, informally. The capture, sharing and dissemination of information and knowledge whether by peers round a 'hole in the wall' PC, through retirement age blogging (great presentation by Will Perrin), taking advantage of open education initiatives or through the ability to mashup data from official sources (I think there was only one mention of metadata on the day) provides both armour and weaponry for the citizen in equipping us to enjoin governments and international agencies to better reflect our will.

Of course, 'followtics' is a blind alley and we should expect our leaders to, well, lead. Some of the red top headliners are no more than a sop to the hang 'em high lobby but are doubtless monitored by the masters of spin for their own ends. If you build it, they will come and may we reap the whirlwind. While it could be argued that even others, such as FixMyStreet afford 'digital natives' greater 'volume' in the already noisy political lobby, the way in which the agency responsible acts in response reflects a more rational and tangible democracy. On this note, and slightly off topic, there is a corner on a hill near us where I have seen a contractor literally lobbing spadefuls of wet tarmac into a hole and letting the traffic flatten it, before driving off to the next one. One shower of rain and the hole is back, followed by the contractor - if they're being paid for holes fixed they must love it; if the council awarded a fixed price contract to the lowest bidder no one wins. Given that unsurprisingly government regards such contracts as commercially sensitive (e.g. http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2009-06-24b.279322.h&s=%22commercially+sensitive%22#g279322.r0) the whole £25k expenditure transparency spin is moot. More to the point it reminds me of unmetalled roads across much of Africa where the local young men and boys are often to be seen with basic tools filling holes in the tracks near their willages and asking passing drivers for a shilling for their efforts. Only difference is that what you give at the 'go slow' goes straight to them.

If I have one constructive comment to offer, with Chris Anderson's new book 'Free' launching this week, it is a pity that so little was given over to the economics of this envisaged digital universe. However you look at it, the world of volunteering (essentially it is about time given, whether that spent distributing food or writing and distributing open source code) is finite, dependent on the largesse of citizens, HNWIs, corporations and even government (through the regimes and incentives they offer). Ultimately we all have to eat and no one is suggesting bartering - LETS were all the rage a few years back - or that a model can be created whereby advertising pays for everything.

In fact, the throw away line of the day from Bradley Horowitz, VP Google Apps, juxtaposed a world in which, if we accept ads at all they have to be exactly what we want when we want with that of a world hostile to anyone knowing any more than we want it to know. The world is hostile enough to Phorm already but the ad platforms want deep citizen knowledge to target high value ads while the citizen wants to take back ownership of 'their' data - what, the ad model doomed or preparing us for more paid for Google Apps? In a world where marginal cost of (re)production of digital products is (very) close to zero, an examination in one of the plenary sessions of emerging and tomorrow's business models would have been welcome. Andy Baio and others touched on key areas such as usability with respect to customer retention and customers are willing to pay for 'whole product' services but there didn't seem to be an undercurrent saying that future digital economics were a 'given'. I look forward to the Activator events where doubtless such things will be taken up with gusto.

Hopefully at those events a proactive approach to delegates will ensure inclusion (if not attendance) of key individuals from the sectors seemingly absent last week - the procurers and deliverers of what are suppposed to be citizen centric services. Civil servants paralysed by indecision, inertia and buck passing need to be involved, as do the commercial entities at the heart of current service provision. The latter not because they are entitled to anything from a paradigmatic shift in delivery model but because we as citizens are entitled to challenge, educate and inform to speed the shift and because whoever is in power the PPP/PFI model at the heart of much existing provision is unlikely to be thrown out or dramatically reshaped. New models require new partnerships and perhaps the Activate banner will become that under which such teams are forged.

In the meantime all credit to the Guardian team that thought this up, put it together and underpinned it with a top class delivery team. Roll on........

ps for those awaiting a 'data' review, may blog separately as time allows

Monday, 29 June 2009

CPS - Our Data, Big IT - another missed opportunity

The entry of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) into the "free"/"open" debate is not surprising (http://www.cps.org.uk/cps_catalog/it). It feels though like another missed opportunity to move the debate on hampered as it is by political point scoring.

Varney has it that the government needs to hold “...a ‘deep truth’ about the citizen based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs, needs and rights”; the CPS report argues for something they call "Government Relationship Management" at whose heart lies choice in the location of your personal data and access to it based on standards (and, not mentioned, rights). Whether or not data "belongs" to the individual, that data should be exchanged using open standards - the web services and metadata chestnut. Hence my interest.

The report focuses on cost, ownership and security and that the solutions to this lie with a change to the model. From the perspective of opening up access the report actually offers little in the way of new ideas above and beyond the central thesis that who holds our data should be our choice.

Of course many private sector entities hold data about each of us. Are they any more trusted (fallible humans account for most mistakes) or cost effective (consider the long run case for PPP/PFI and that government will have to run the same infrastructure anyway before answering!)?

Innovation with new tools and technologies is generally far more rapid in the private sector and there are good lessons and cost savings assuredly for government IT regarding all manner of these from the cloud, to SOA, APIs, usability etc.

The report bemoans data replication (as it is easy to do from an armchair) but storage costs continue to tumble and techniques such as automated de-duping provide further savings. It also bemoans data sharing which is in part the flip side of the same coin. This is not where major cost savings lie either and suggestions of 50% are “vague” anyway admits the report?

But cost savings there can be for sure; mechanisms that drive value to the citizen and ease service provision should be at the core of the debate not point scoring phraseology and impossible to substantiate claims. So where might that value derive?

The CPS report rightly endorses (increasing) adoption of SOA and the cloud to spur efficiencies and the big providers are on this already. We are beginning to see ‘vertical market’ and ‘localised’ interfaces for a range of ‘use cases’ from citizen through service provider to analyst. Private sector experience is that these approaches deliver significant downstream IT savings whilst embracing outsourcing, providing greater flexibility and speed to market for service providers. At their heart lies adoption of authentication and authorisation standards and technologies that deliver rights based access to data and functionality depending on the user and other factors. All power to that elbow as it deals with both the replication and sharing arguments when implemented correctly.

Government would point out it needs access to a consistent data set so that government's (presumably outsourced) analysts could compare apples with apples - without a level playing field what hope for the postcode lottery? A fertile imagination will see risks in an online privatised ID!

Like other recent reports (including POIT, UK Location Strategy) those close to Whitehall (which policy wonks, analysts, civil servants etc inevitably are) sometimes appear reluctant to recognise what distributed architectures bring to this debate - it doesn't actually matter where the data is held as long as it can be discovered, accessed, exchanged and so on.

There is of course a debate to be had about what data should be held, who should collect it, who should have access to it, where it might be stored, what rights management apply and in what circumstances and so on.

However, what has got lost in the wash is some definition or acknowledgement that what is in essence under discussion is ‘data for the “public good”’, be it through aggregation or for the individual citizen.

Under this world view ‘public’ would be defined as discoverable or searchable and to be those things you need openness, interoperability, web services and above all a mechanism that integrates authentication and authorisation into the solution via the construct of metadata and rights management. Mandating metadata capture and discoverability (publishing) would provide much of the enabling framework and dissipate the faux concern over whose data it is.

It is easy and correct to point the finger at ineffective and poor value government IT projects (I'll give you some less familiar - £50m for RPA's SPS so far, £7.2m for planningportal architecture alone over 3 years). But to intimate that a vague and unpalatable solution offers some panacea for these failings is an incoherent leap based on a narrow philosophical outlook and narrow technical thinking. The promise of the distributed discoverable semantic web fits far better with the sought after vision but has been mostly missed.

ps Attracting advertising spend requires the advertising portals (sorry, search engines) to harvest ever more granular data about their users in order to 'segment' and then 'target' the adverts accordingly to garner the greatest revenues. They seek a ‘deep truth’ about the citizen based on their behaviour, experiences, beliefs and needs and how to get click-throughs for advertisers.

Sounds suspiciously familiar no? Only difference is the absence of rights - a consent easily given and hard to wrest back – the government has been notable for its ‘light touch’ regulatory environment with weak regulatory, governance and compliance - you would likely be astonished at the permissions you have given the business to whom you have in effect licensed yourself. ‘Minority Report’ was an exemplar to Dubya not the savage warning that Mr Dick intended.

Geo (Digital) Rights Management - love and hate, love to hate?

I would have liked to have gone to last weeks OGC event about which Adena (http://www.directionsmag.com/article.php?article_id=3202) and Ed (http://www.edparsons.com/2009/06/the-tla-nobody-likes-drm/) have recently reported/blogged. Didn't go to Glastonbury or Hyde Park either but Springsteen honouring Strummer worth the nod of the title I think.

As you can imagine as a geoportal understanding licensing, sub-licensing and licence management, provising licence advice and so on are key competitive advantages for emapsite. However, we all know that getting to grips with licencesis something of an on-going challenge, be they public sector or commercial licences. We like to think we're on top of it and have worked very hard to provide appropriate components to the control module of our 'emapsite inside' web services platform (http://www.emapsite.com/corporate/Solutions_and_services-emapsite_inside-Overview.aspx).

Talking over the years with Graham Vowles, who heads up OGC's GeoRM activity, is always interesting if often conceptual and I do think that the work being done and published to date offerrs something of a road map for GeoRM implementation be it by geoweb specialists as part of their own services, by integrators, by technically literate mashers or even as stand alone on demand services in their own right.

Licences are essentially a set of rules - whether one likes them or not, if the licences are drawn up unambiguously (and they often aren't) they will (or should) be robust as far as the licence holder is concerned. The degree of ambiguity determines whether or not the legal 'encoding' can be formally computer 'encoded'. Thus, and as long as all the other licence dependencies (rules) are also captured in the licence then, as these details are effectively metadata, in a perfect world it should not be very difficult to deploy tools/technologies in a licence 'engine'. Such an 'engine' can for example ensure that users understand the implications of agreeing to obtain (and comply with) the rights they seek; even better a licence engine can advise users as to the 'correct' licence for a given scenario.

With web services (WMS or WFS) then implementation of the agreed licensing can be seen as a metadata conformance tracking (provenance is key for both licensor and licensee) component and can be reported equally unambiguously (enforcement always a dirty word in this arena).

In an other than perfect world, it is where licences are ambiguous or disingenuously linked to other licences that life becomes more difficult, legally and formally.

(Automated) rights management is essentially about ensuring that the mechanism by which a resource is processed into a deliverable (input-action-output) is 'permissible'. If any part of the request is not then there is no deliverable - by geography, by time, by user, by use or usage, by platform or by some other measure the request does not pass a series of comparisons relating to rights (ISO 21000 defnes 5 broad sets of rights that such tests would cover) within the agreed licence.

Sounds so simple! Especially as much of this can be built into user profiles associated with the authentication and authorisation integral to enterprise solutions. And GeoRM has a rights expression language (REL) to do this already.

This document can seem intimidating - http://www.opengeospatial.org/standards/as/geodrmrm - but bears sticking with because as Adena says its not easy but it is not beyond the comprehension of anyone who is truly interested and I would argue is essential to anybody who is. Not understanding licensing and the options available for implementation is no excuse for abuse.

The licence holders set the rules; few yet see the licence/rules as metadata so there is ambiguity in public and prvate sector licences so it can be difficult to offer any kind of dynamic licensing mechanism. This is a challenge for mid/small scale data provision but as this is the kind where most of the pressure for 'simpler' licensing falls, unambiguous licensing should eventually prevail and would allow licensees to implement along the lines of the GeoRM model.

I think Ed's cart/horse reference must relate to ambiguity in geodata licences undermining the GeoRM model. My own take is that the vital need to formally encode geodata licences that a GeoRM model demands means that those drafting the licences need to ensure incorporation of unambiguous rights within the licence. The same might be said of all those 'catch-all' terms of use licences though! Paid for or otherwise users need to understand their rights - licence engines (in and beyond geo) based on formal encoding and clear language have the capacity to offer much needed clarification of a relationship between licensor and licensee that is oft mired in rhetoric.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Compromise in the air?

Started off rebuffing belief that shapefile is proprietary but then went a bit deeper into the article and re-read Mr C's speech - then had to filter to end up with something that linked (my) data (awful pun, apologies to Sir TBL); so worth cross-referencing here - http://www.freeourdata.org.uk/blog/?p=449&cpage=1#comment-120970

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

"better meta data now" in Digital Britain

Think we might be seeing some joined up thinking in government? Consider the OEP, the still unpublished Trading Fund Review, the OS Revised Strategy, the appointment of web-founder and Linked Data evangelist Sir Tim (as well as Martha LF in another parallel advisory capacity) and the Digital Britain report - consistent references are made (and this is my shorthand interpretation admittedly) to the value of digital content, both in its creation and its distribution and consumption, to UK plc.

As the economic profile of the creative industries rises and advertising revenues and the financial services sector suffer, there is creeping recognition that just because you can (copy and distribute digital content for next to nothing) don't make it right. File sharing and DRM are inevitably at the forefront of this debate for the consumer but, in business, enterprises value their integrity to the point of making such copying or use a dismissable offence (I've seen the noticeboards, believe me, compliance is a competitive advantage).

This has a serious edge because the search engines and ISPs are using tools and technologies that harness both private and corporate information, with and sometimes without your direct consent, combining it with third party data to aid, amongst other things, their advertising services where narrowly targeted highly granular adverts are of highest value. This is creating an opportunity for advert-less solutions based on open source tools. Often start-ups, bedroom coders and the third sector (that includes some so-called not for profits alongside genuine charities) are the key innovators in this area in the search for maximum bang for buck.

Which leads us to public sector information holders, seeing as they collect (sometimes in much the same way as search engines) reams of data about people, places and business that may (or may not) have utility and value to citizens, consumers, corporations and charities. Local authorities, government departments, trading funds, executive agencies, regional assemblies and their agencies, PCTs and SHAs and more, there are 1000s of possible sources of PSI. And for most we know little about what they collect, can discover less about what they publish and can't thus value or use.

Those that we do know about have attracted a great deal of attention over the last 3 years and following the OEP we now have a slightly less muddy idea of where they might be heading - down the principle of the user should pay (and Digital Britain has followed this what is in effect a a £6 levy on fixed lines to bring broadband to as many as people as possible over the next decade). These developments are not to everyone's liking and the devil as ever will be in the detail; the reality is that as the Digital Britain report acknowledges but which so many others have overlooked, developments in technology have already, and will continue to, lead to falling unit costs for access to, and for content carried over, digital communications networks.

Taking one area as perhaps the most visible and contentious example, technology investment has resulted in a near 40% fall in real terms of the price of the most detailed digital mapping product in the world, called OS MasterMap, over the last 8 years. Further investments will likely see this real terms unit price fall further, in part to demur to (very vocal) critics, in part as government negotiates a better deal for access to such data, in part due to new competition (re UKMap). It is entirely conceivable that the creator of this data (the much pilloried but changing Ordnance Survey) could find themselves in a position where they could "give" data to their colleagues across government and charge everyone else and still make a return on capital employed, eliminating the charge of "subsidy" and providing the much needed consistent location database on which UK plc can build (and charge for and pay taxes for) its services.

Already, users from consumers paying £15 or so for a map based planning application for a £40,000 extension to consulting engineers paying £000s for multi-million pound developments see both the necessity of such location information and the incidental nature of the cost of it to the activity in question. The acknowledged thorny issue of 'derived data' is set aside for now!

The current government's message seems to understand this and to promote the idea that digital data and content does have value, that those that collect it should be compensated and that those that use should pay for it. New business models are the order of the day - consider the "all you can eat" subscription deal from Virgin announced today.

The latter (alongside recent changes in PRS terms for example) aims to ensure that amongst other things way we can be sure that our creative industries are nourished and sustained while the former aims to ensure that digital content backbone upon which UK plc depends is itself guaranteed.

The missing part of the jigsaw as I have commented on other blogs stems not from an appreciation that standards should be used or that data shouldn't be available but rather what that accessibility might mean to its creators and consumers alike. Political parties of all persuasions are attracted by the term "with rights come responsibilities" (or similar) and the same applies to digital content. Recognition and in some instances reward are expected.

But, and here's the rub, unless and until digital content creators either choose (commercially) or are mandated (by executive order) to publish information about what they collect and can distribute and on what terms then we are all, as consumers, blind. Metadata, data about data including the rights and responsibilities associated with its use, is central to the thesis that we are an information economy and it is sorely lacking (as any screen scraping hacker will affirm) from all these reports and from most commentaries on the subject - please no more mention of central repositories, it ain't necessary and will cost a fortune.

So, "better meta data now" has a handy alliterative quality to it and I commend this phrase as an enabler for a digital britain.....as Ben Bradshaw didn't, sadly, say!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

To be or not to be a cadastre

Thanks to Bob Barr to his tweet alerting me to Ms Spelman's question and the DEFRA written response - http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2009-05-19a.275782.h .

I had the pleasure of working on a number of land information systems development initiatives in emerging economies back in the 1990s where the establishment of rights in land (and property) were (and remain in some countries we are involved in as I speak) a key plank in the transition from centrally planned to "western" economy. The focus tended to be on the creation of what mainland european counterparts would recognise as a cadastre - land demarcation and subsequent registration - recording, protecting and securing rights in land and providing a stepping stone for investment, entrepreneurial activity, sustainable land use practices, improved yields and farm-gate incomes and a market in land and property.

To this day I find it ironic that it was often British organisations with British personnel who were widely regarded as having world leading expertise in land registration in particular but also in LIS and boundary dispute resolution, despite the fact that the United Kingdom does not have its own cadastre.

The 2007 eurographics survey report (at http://www.eurogeographics.org/eng/documents/finalreportaugust20073pdf_000.pdf) kind of ducks this fact - to be fair I think their approach to the 5 baseline parameters mostly works - with England, Wales and Scotland being notable for their differences from other Member States in key 'areas' - pardon the pun (if you read the report you'll get it!).

In this context Ms Spelman's question looks a tad better conceived than at first sight - after all HMLR does use OS data to underpin its won transition to e-business. And the answer from DEFRA is technically correct - until these definitions are in place (and one can conjecture as to the lobbying going on in Brussels) any affirmation as to what data will be covered by the transposition and thus the organisations responsible would be less than judicious.

One final thought - to what extent are land parcels a necessary element of a European wide spatial data infrastructure whose initial motivation was for improved cooperation in environmental issues?

Monday, 1 June 2009

Malaria anyone? #2

Prescient or what - malaria is the coming story after all - swine flu "pandemic" dissipates in the heta of election expenses while the malarial parasite is revealed as becoming immune to one of the major prophylactics. And, one can only assume that because this was broken on BBC, ITN News for whatever reason chose to ignore it (this was last week in France and this was what was on!) - more brucisation of news, only from the opposition - very disappointing.

The time has (finally) come

It always happens - the gestation period, the testing, the iteration, the collateral...and finally, the release - it all takes longer than you think!

emapsite has been a 'dynamic' site, adding new content and functionality and altering usability to reflect new norms, embrace emerging standrads, assimilate feedback and so on. As such we haven't majored on new "releases" of the website.

However, on this occasion I do think that something more is merited as the site update includes a re-branding of the business, enhanced usability and a little lifting of the lid of our services platform - at this juncture in marketing and communications terms only but if you are interested to learn more you can....

So, if you are interested in or use digital mapping or if you are a user of broader digital geographic content or if you wish to embed location content within your business there are even more reasons to visit www.emapsite.com.

Absent friend

Just back from a fantastic 9 days away in La Vendee. Some who know me will know that good friend, co-boat owner, man who got things done and enjoyer of life Marcus passed away very suddenly in January leaving a vast hole in the lives of his family. The same friends with whom we have just had our holiday in the sun, sand and swimming pool (well the sea was a little cold still!) - I am not alone in missing a friend but I really really don't know how they do it - much loved, sorely missed.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Once more unto the breach.....

After a couple of years away I am returning to the OS Partner event this year, partly to present (of which more anon) and partly to participate in a community for the most part silent on the challenges and opportunities likely to emerge from the OS's new business strategy.

Far be it from me to lift the skirts on my presentation but if you were at the MapInfo User Group you'll have a sense. Somehow I have ended up in the technology innovation stream but as technology presentations tend to err on the dull side (or the "look at me" side which can be just as irritating) but that will only be the jumping off point to endeavour to link partners, strategy and technology.

As has been said this week on GeoReport (currently the site is down but typically found at www.geoplace.com) responses to the survey over whether government should fund geographic data collection specifically yielded some (to some) surprising comments of the kind that feed the debates that will I am sure in some instances rage over the next day and a half in of all places St Albans.

Wet and windy - two short tales

Last week, Force 7 in the Solent, Sunsail 37 underfoot and a scratch crew - sounds like things could go wrong - far from it, with a 4th in one race (12 starters) - and a great time had by all and but for a few salt splashes pretty dry all things considered - credit to the skipper there.

Roll forward to sunday just gone and as you may have noticed it has been a windy old week and their were white horses on the lake at Theale. Enough to bring a smile to a sailor's face, 5 ears now in (on?) the RS400, the good ship "Yellow Peril", should be quick and fun. Oh dear - great start, lousy decisions, huge gust - swim. It didn't get any better in the afternoon and were soon ensconced in the bar.....

Friday, 1 May 2009

LBS - Location Based State?

Is it just me or does there seem to be a flurry of geoweb and overlapping cultural-political goings-on?

Some of the more visible ones:

- reports into our surveillance society - http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/detailed_specialist_guides/surveillance_report_final.pdf
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmhaff/58/58i.pdf
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_full_report_2006.pdf
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_appendices_06.pdf
for the brief versions: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_public_discussion_document_06.pdf
http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/practical_application/surveillance_society_summary_06.pdf

- Firefox 3.5 chooses Google LS (Latitude) over Skyhook's Geode (http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/30/google-becomes-default-location-provider-for-firefox/ for example)

- LBS "is going to be huge" (lots of people very frequently for more than a decade)

- Home Office's "communications consultation"
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-2009-communications-data?view=Binary

- phorm's behavioural advertising service and associated shenanigans (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8021661.stm)

Until really quite recently we and our governments have typically thought about the data held about us as being something that might be interrogated "after the fact" for any number of reasons - marketing, health risk, "behaviour" and so on. Many of the real time data that we value (for example, intelligent traffic systems) are about place and not the "beneficiary" as an individual (yet).

However, it is clear that location is playing an ever more important part of every data architecture; location information of one kind of another exists within 80% or more of all data by some measures, a fact that can increasingly be exploited at the level of the database (Oracle, MySQL et al).

Only the other day my plastic card (with the same name as that stamp in your passport you need to get into lots of countries) was stopped in Milan airport - 40 frustrating minutes later I could get my euros - apparently we all have to call them before we go anywhere, for our own security! Like to see how their customer service teams would put up with the volume of calls if that were even partly true - I had used it in Italy not 3 weeks earlier.

Anyway, "they" knew where I was and used it in real time; they do the same in 24 and Spooks and Enemy of the State if you are looking for conspiracy. Plugging into calendars, booking systems, Dopplr et al and "they" could have known where I was going to be, I would have my Euros in seconds and be none the wiser as to the underpinning data flows and analysis.

The Home Office wants ISPs and others to "record" all communications for later retrieval where reasonable grounds exist to do so. It is not a very big stretch to see this as extending to every "presence" technology including those location enabled by Geode, Latitude etc .

The jury is still out on whether there is a genuine pot of gold at the end of location based services rainbow - most of the people most of the time are in locations that they know perfectly well; if they are not lost, we know they are not willing to pay you to let them now where is the nearest whatever or known unknown (sorry, social networking "friend") however targeted the advert. Question really is how big is the pot who are (willing to pay)?

But just imagine what government and their agencies and Ballardian proxies (i.e. private security structures - and with identity theft taxing the financial industry that includes them too) would make of a real time locational infrastructure........with apologies (of sorts) to Kitchener, "your country really could communicate with you"!

Insurance companies already offer reduced premiums if you install certain technologies in your car and are seen to adhere to the various "rules"; all kinds of commercial and control scenarios open up:

- "Betty, don't go near there" (from Good Morning Vietnam but equally applicable for public safety - floods, cliffs, old mineshafts etc though goodness knows where liability lies - and for conspirators everywhere for "public safety" - protests, festivals, queues)
- SMS alert "this is your private health insurer advising you of a rise in your premiums owing to your continued purchase of XXXX" (select your dietary/other habit)
- automated call "we believe you are on your way to an unlawful gathering"
- "you are going to be late for your train" (the next train button almost does this if you know where you are in relation to the station and your current mode of transport).

They would even pay for those messages to be delivered ..... making LBS pay!

Would of course backfire, think Minority Report - but I wouldn't get my card blocked so why would I worry.....

Or maybe it's all just a bit of friday lunch-time frivolity?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Malaria anyone?

The site of Fiona tut-tutting on the 10 o'clock news is bad enough at the best of times but over swine flu - 2,000 suspected cases globally, 5 on our shores, 7 dead in Mexico, 1 (child) in the US - is off the scale. Three million or so people, many of them children, most of them far from airports and cameras, die every year from malaria - oh yes, and with climate change we can expect that one (and others) to spread. We even went as a family into a malarial area on holiday in East Africa last year, shock horror! We can't give malaria to each other directly, mosquitoes are the vector, but we can get a mild form of flu from another human - oh dear, let's wheel out "pandemic" and watch the stock market shudder. It's not as if the world is short of bad news stories, some even related to preventable diseases.....Desperate Housewives saves me from further fury tonight!

A thought before leaving the office to watch football training and prepare for the big match.....

Given up on waiting

This looks like a first post but really it isn't it's just that what I've been offered from the backroom hasn't done what was expected and while I'm waiting for a replacement (that particular room being somewhat busy for reasons that will become apparent at some point) decided to take bull by horns.

Am sorely tempted to post retrospectively over many issues that have caught my eye on the water, the slopes and the web. However, I think that is probably not the right "tarteeb" (a word I use occasionally being a "Holmanism" from the late Mike Holman, adventurer, Marine, Arabic speaker, originally from the Arabic where it refers to "the correct order of things", specifically the order of the Nazool (sometimes translated as the sending down) of the Holy Qu'ran). I suppose (n)etiquette is an alternative but carries different baggage both old and new, so tarteeb it is!

No doubt many of the things I am interested in, from snow and wind conditions to the public sector information debate will not go away just because I've opened up a blog!

Written and posted from my desk while eating cold quiche!