Geographic

Track OpenStreetMap diaries through RSS

A year ago I was really interested in seeing the community aspect of the OpenStreetMap website improve, and the recent update to Rails brought a lot of the functionality that I was looking for, with space to be tweaked and improved upon. Since I started to learn Ruby on Rails recently, what better way was there to help, but build on the functionality that others have put in already.

I outlined some ideas on the wiki and decided that some of my first priorities would be adding RSS to the diaries, making them easier to post to, improving the user profiles and also the messaging interface. I've added a few small changes over the past few days, but today saw the release of the biggest one so far: an RSS feed for all diary entries, so you can now subscribe to updates of everyone mapping on OpenStreetMap. Over time I'm also hoping to add other feeds for individual diaries, for your friends and also for those mapping nearby.

If you haven't used OpenStreetMap's diary feature, now is the time to give it a try and let people know what you're working on mapping at the moment. Right now, you can post to it by viewing your own diary (through your account page) and clicking on 'new post', but I'll be looking to make it easier for users to post as well.

Update: looks like it needs a little tweaking still, but the basics are there.

Google embeds rich data in maps

Google has just started embedding rich transport data into their maps, allowing you to click on a transport stop (train station, bus stop, ferry berth, etc.) and see - depending on what information is available for that city - a link to the transit company's website (e.g. in Stuttgart), the services that stop there (e.g. in London), and even the next few departures (e.g. in Manchester or Zurich).

The big G aren't the first to do this, but they are the first that I am aware of to embed information without making it obvious that it's there. Multimap has been allowing their users to overlay local businesses and POIs for quite some time. It perhaps wasn't the best integrated feature in their original site but with the release of their nice shiny new site, it is much better integrated, with the ability to turn on and off different layers of information. Unfortunately it doesn't quite go as far as upcoming departures, but with more and more local authorities providing this information in standard(ish) formats it's something that we could see more of on mapping sites in the future.

Subtly introducing more and more rich information into maps without overburdening the user with information will be a great way forward for online mapping, and something that I'd love to see happening in OpenStreetMap as the database grows.

The State of the Map

This year will see the third anniversary of the OpenStreetMap project. It started as a rather ambitious undertaking, something which many didn't believe in, yet three years on it's thriving (as I may have alluded to previously).

Coverage has been steadily spreading outside the project's roots in Britain, through Europe, to a number of other corners of the world, and hopefully will continue to spread as word gets out about the advantages of open geodata.

The project has grown considerably in size, from just a few people back in the day, to over 6000 contributors today. Last year saw an anniversary party to celebrate the project's second year, with around 30 people turning up to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the first official OpenStreetMap conference, aptly named The State of the Map, will be upon us in just a short time and has a great lineup of speakers from academia and the geographic information industry as well as people from all sorts of other walks of life.

The State of the Map conference in July will be keynoted by Ed Parsons, ex-CTO of the Ordnance Survey and now Geospatial Technologist at Google. Other speakers will include the founder of Multimap, the chair of the Society of Cartographers, the architects of the current map visualisations, those coordinating the Dutch and Spanish mapping efforts, and still many others.

From a personal point of view, it's great to see that Muki Haklay - my old MSc in GIS course tutor from the Department of Geomatic Engineering at UCL - will be presenting, and that the conference is being hosted by the University of Manchester's School of Environment and Development, where I did half of my BSc in Computing and Geography.

Anyway, enough of my waffling.

14-15 July in Manchester is shaping up to be a great weekend, showcasing the bleeding edge of geographic information creation (and I don't just mean from the blisters you can get from walking around a city with your GPS).

If you haven't reserved your place already, admission is cheap, so register today for your chance to see the future of mapping you'll actually be able to use. See you there!

Finding Drupal sites from Google Earth

I love finding new sites that use the Drupal KML module, and seeing what they're doing with it. The great thing about it is that it can be used for absolutely anything that has associated location information, so every site out there can be a site about something completely different to the previous one.

The site I discovered today is an Ontario real estate website, listing houses for sale and their locations, but also events and other such things. Not only are they able to add a 'kml' link to each relevant page, allowing the user to click through to Google Earth and see the location, but they are also able to have people find their properties through Google Earth itself.

For a while Google has been indexing KML feeds (ones from Drupal included) and allows their content to be searched in Google Earth. To take an example, there is a $300k townhome in Newmarket, Ontario for which the realtor has added location information to the node in Drupal. Try doing a search for 'townhome in Newmarket' whilst in Google Earth, and you'll see that property show up as the first in the list of web search results.

The KML module can help bring your information to a completely new set of users, or potential customers in the case of the Jasmina Homes site.

How do I know about what sites are using the module? Well, I've started keeping track of of them through the Google Alerts service, monitoring any site that has links with kml/node in them.

Wikipedia gets Manx road maps

Isle_of_Man_TT_Course_%28OpenStreetMap%29.pngIn just over two weeks the Isle of Man will be celebrating the Centenary of the famous Isle of Man TT Races and Wikipedia's section of articles around the topic of motorcycle racing on the Island has been quickly expanding, reflecting the interest in the event.

With OpenStreetMap's map of the Isle of Man improving, I offered a little while back to create a map of the TT course to help illustrate the articles on Wikipedia.

It turned out not to be quite so simple, however. The course itself is covered on OpenStreetMap but the location of points of interest around the course is not. The information about milestones, viewing points and other points of note around the course is available in part on Wikipedia, and more so on other sites, though nowhere is it available in the public domain or in a reusable fashion.

I'm ever hopeful that I might hear back from the Department of Tourism at some point, allowing the use of this important location data, or perhaps from someone who's actually travelled the course and collected this information for themselves with their GPS. In the meantime I've gone ahead and created a basic overview map of the course as a bit of a teaser.

When I get back to looking at this, I also need to find a more efficient way of taking OpenStreetMap data of the Isle of Man, filtering out the bits I want and highlighting them on top of a faded base map. I'm a little embarassed to admit I just used GIMP to make this simple overview map.

Manx Government helps OpenStreetMap

When I wrote my last post about the difference between Google Maps coverage of the Isle of Man and that of OpenStreetMap, I hadn't realised that the OSM version could have been even better without too much more work.

I discovered it only recently, but two weeks prior to my post, Nick Black had posted to his blog about mapping the Isle of Man as well. Nick had been in touch with the Isle of Man's Department of Local Government and the Environment (DLGE, or DoLGE) to see if OpenStreetMap could benefit from any of the mapping data that the government own the rights to. They responded positively to the request and offered a licence to freely derive information from their 1:100,000 map of the Island for use in the OpenStreetMap project.

In doing this, the Isle of Man Government is one of the few cutting edge (a term I wouldn't normally find myself applying to government) organisations leading the way in contributing its data - even if only a subset - to the world of open geodata.

At a scale of 1cm on the map to 1km on the ground, the geodata is only a very simplified version of that collected by the government, yet it can still help tremendously. As Nick pointed out in his post, the Isle of Man did have a fair number of roads covered on OpenStreetMap already, but the coverage was by no means thorough or complete, which is where the new data can help. It helps fill in gaps where roads had not already existed in the database. It helps in the classification of roads between primary (A-roads), secondary (B-roads) and others and helps with assigning the correct reference numbers (e.g., A1) to the roads. The data also helps with the perhaps more difficult to map features such as plantations, peaks, rivers and reservoirs.

Nick has spent some time tracing from the map, as have I, and the open geodata map of the Isle of Man is starting to be beefed up (switch to the Osmarender layer to see the latest map data, though you'll need to zoom in) to include more roads as well as everything else we can derive from the map.

Due to the scale of the government map being used to derive data from, there will be issues in data quality and accuracy, but it is a great start and gives us a broad base set of data to work from, all of which can be improved over time. And it can be improved by anybody who is willing to help. This is still especially important in the towns and villages of the Island where the mapping will still require a lot of work, partly because generalisation on the 1:100,000 map means that many smaller roads are excluded but also because street name data is still something which needs to be collected in other ways - the best of which is by people on the ground who have knowledge of the area.

I wonder if other governments will step forward and offer a helping hand as well?

Google Maps vs OpenStreetMap

Some of the cartographers on the OpenStreetMap project (which includes the chair of the Society of Cartographers in the UK) got together a few weekends ago for a cartography discussion day to try and clean up the rendering of free geodata from the project. The results of that day are now starting to appear on the maps, with much of the extraneous detail being stripped until you zoom further in, revealing more on each zoom level so as not to clutter the smaller scale maps.

With the changing of the maps I wanted to see how the Isle of Man was looking. I have to say, it's looking even better than the previous big update to mapping.

When I first learned about OpenStreetMap at the Open Geodata Forum I wasn't entirely convinced it would take off, though I was intrigued by the concept. Almost two years down the line and my opinions have definitely changed on that, as have the opinions of many others, including people in the geographic information industry.

To see why my opinions have changed, just compare the open street map of the Isle of Man to the Google Maps version which shows nothing except its name and an outline of the Island (with the Calf of Man joined at the bottom as if a bridge had been built to the islet).

With open geodata anyone can just go in and add new information or alter existing information if there are errors in it (like the link between the Calf and the mainland, for example) but you can't do that on Google Maps. Admittedly the Manx map is still somewhat lacking in certain areas, but it's a work in progress and it's getting there, slowly.

1 ©2007 Google, TeleAtlas, used under fair dealing clause

2 ©2007 individual contributors, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

Geo brings people to Drupal

I recently discovered the iCommunity.tv localised video news site (via High Earth Orbit) and was especially interested as it was being run on Drupal.

This was one of the first places out on the internet that I'd seen Drupal's KML module being put to good use, for example to be able to view in Google Earth all of the citizen journalist videos from YouTube that are tagged as being from the city you're interested in (e.g. Stuttgart video news and its associated KML feed of Stuttgart video news). Grass roots journalism is only useful to readers if the content is filtered to your needs, if it's in the area you want to know about and it's the type of news that you're looking for. The iCommunity.tv site does that by tagging videos by location (both coordinates and the name of the nearest city) and by topic (politics, community life, arts, etc.) and lets you filter by a combination of those*.

I heard back from Chris Haller of iCommunity.tv after posting a comment on his announcement of the site. He told me that he was previously a Mambo/Joomla user, attracted to Drupal both by its flexibility and by its geo-capabilities. It's great to see that happening, and someone told me exactly the same thing yesterday too. It's also great that organisations like the Open Source Geospatial Foundation are using Drupal as their platform of choice.

Its good to see Drupal becoming more and more of a GeoCMS and people taking the tools and finding ways to apply them in useful and practical ways.

* KML feeds for multiple tags do not currently work in the KML module, as I've just discovered

Russian 1:500,000 mapping of the Isle of Man

isleofman-russian500k.jpg

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, they put a lot of energy into mapping the rest of the world, at small scales like the section of map above, but also at larger scales for certain places of key interest to the Soviet government at the time.

The more detailed larger scale maps were deemed by the Ordnance Survey to be copies of British mapping and so although the maps are copyright free (Russia didn't believe in copyright when these maps were being produced) it is questionable as to whether they can be reused in the UK*.

isleofman-russian500k-crop.jpgYou can read much fascinating information about Soviet mapping on John Davies' Soviet Military Maps of Britain site, but I just wanted to share this interesting Soviet cartography of the Isle of Man with names transposed into Russian.

The original map image is available from the Poehali website.

* The OS specifically call out 1:25000, 1:50000 and 1:100000 mapping, so I hope posting this 1:500000 map extract of the Isle of Man won't cause any problems.

Maps of Stuttgart

Landkarte von Schwarzwald
Taken at Buechsenstrasse 54, Stuttgart, Baden-Wuerttemberg, 48°46' 45" N, 9°10' 15" E

The state surveying office (Landesvermessungsamt Baden-Wuerttemberg) here in Stuttgart has a display on the outside of their building showing satellite imagery covering the length of the Rhein with a number of examples of maps from the places across the region over time. This old map shows some of the area around the Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, just south of here.

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