Thursday, December 18, 2008

Faulty Sat Nav causes mid air collision

When an employee of a well known global parcel delivery service was involved in a mid air collision with a passenger plane he claimed that he was following the sat nav instructions .......

A bit off topic but it is that time of year. 

Seasons greetings to friends and colleagues. May your lights shine bright in 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tomorrow the world with Google

Brady Forest has a slightly disturbing article on O'Reilly Radar about the extent of Google's investment and coverage in geodata.
Google has been investing lots of money in geodata acquisition. Some of the money is being spent externally: they've inked an exclusive satellite imagery deal with GeoEye and a data sharing deal with Tele Atlas. And some is being spent internally with Mapmaker, Street View and the web.
Mapmaker is apparently being used in 164 countries and must be a concern to Open Street Map. it seems unlikely that people are going to take the time to volunteer their contributions to both OSM and Google. Unless I have missed something Google are not offering to make the Mapmaker user generated content freely available for reuse except through the Google Maps API.

Exclusive satellite content, deals with TA etc. Google are piling their cash into acquiring and building geodata. is this just to create some stickiness to support their advertising revenue model or is there another agenda?

Is it just me who gets a shiver down my spine when I look at this map of world domination by Google? Are we going to wake up one day and wonder how we allowed Google to overwhelm this space? Or maybe they are lovely cuddly people who have our best interests at heart and we have no reason to be concerned. At least with the dreaded Microsoft (the one we loved to hate) I think I know what their business model is!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Does a declining Royal Mail matter to UK Geo?

The review of the Royal Mail business is due to be announced tomorrow, options include a partial privatisation and the removal of the universal service obligation. Apparently postal volumes are currently declining by 6-7% per annum and that is before the impact of the current recession. At long last the switch to e-mail seems to be really gaining momentum backed by paperless billling initiatives and the declining effectiveness of mass mailshots however well targeted (aka junk mail).

Does this matter to UK Geo? Perhaps if the changes impact postcodes. One option which would no doubt please many would be for the postcode dataset to be put into the public domain as part of any partial privatisation and reduction in universal service. Another option which might cause some concern would be if a new private sector partner decided that postcodes weren't to be the basis for sorting and delivering mail, after all most other countries successfully deliver mail without maintaining close to 2 million postcodes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Recession and geo businesses

A few days ago Sean Gorman asked the question "Does the Geoweb need a bail out?" which seems very prescient when yesterday Piney Bowes MapInfo announced 128 layoffs. I doubt they will be the only company to be reducing costs over the next few weeks/months.

Which companies will fare best or worst through this difficult period? I expect that those businesses that have a high proportion of their revenues from the public sector will out perform the more commercially focussed businesses whose clients will be most extreme in cutting back on non essential IT expenditure.

Is this a good time for a startup? Absolutely, while the big players are trying to preserve their diminishing profits with cost cutting and caution there have to be opportunities for new players, new business models and disruption. But how you pick the winners remains the $64,000 question.

StreetWire - what's happenning here then?

StreetWire is a new service from the team who created PlanningAlerts which provides hyperlocal information including planning alerts, crime and public safety, traffic, local news and postings to FixMyStreet like this one that I particularly liked: 
About 1 km away from FixMyStreet - Fixed, yesterday

Large exentendable dining table has been dumped here. It looks in reasonable condition (so could be useful for someone), but in any case needs to be removed.

You can also post details about local events and meetings, I saw a message about a missing cat for example. 

The combination of public sector information and locally created content makes this a potentially very useful site. Hyperlocal is going to be a contributor to building stronger communities.

If this is what Freeing Our Data does - bring it on.

What happened here then?

INSPIRE mandates the cataloging and sharing of a wide range of environmental data sets. Hopefully in time we will have access to a geographically complete and broadly themed data resource across the EU. But to understand the impact of human activity on our environment or for that matter on other societal factors we need to have access to information on change and this implies a resource that includes historical data. 

Jump back to what many believe to be the the very first land use and ownership survey of England - the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta has been preserved as an original source document and is also now available to researchers both as a scanned version (avoiding exposing the original to light and atmospheric contamination) it has also been partially captured digiitally allowing modern day researchers to undertake analysis within a GIS. The Magna Carta has been described as a unique insight into mediaeval English history at a critical juncture in English and European history, imagine if it had not been preserved. 

So that leads me to the incredible volumes of digital geoinformation that are being captured at an ever increasing rate (particularly remote sensed). Currently we do  not have a policy on the archiving of the data covered by the directive, surely we will need to in the near future? Longer term however the challenges of indexing and archiving geoinformation will require both innovation and commitment -

  • how will we ensure that data that has been archived can be read by the devices and systems of future generations?
  • what data should we archive and at what frequency?
  • is all data worth archiving because someone sometime may have an important use for it?

In 1986 the BBC initiated the Domesday Project in which school kids created a digital video/audio record of modern day life for future generations. The project was published onto 2 12" video discs, less than 20 years later these discs had become obsolete as there were no working players remaining. Fortunately the national Archive and partners were able to extract the project and transfer to a (hopefully) more long lasting medium and format. 

Hopefully geospatial data can be archived for future generations/millennia more successfully.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Smartphone sales flatten but iPhone soars

Gartner reports that smartphone sales are flattening out with growth of only 11.5% in Q3 '08. 

Market leader Nokia have actually seen a decline of 3% while Apple has soared with 327% growth into 3rd place still a bit behind 2nd placed Blackberry maker RIM. 

If "maps on a mobile" is  a killer app then Apple's interface to Google Maps complete with Street View and Traffic must be a factor.

AGI GeoCommunity '09 starts here

'08 is only just over and we are already starting the planning for next year's event.

We have a new conference team with a comforting balance between experienced hands (including me) signed up for "just one more" and several new members who will bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the third GeoCommunity event. 

We have taken note of the feedback survey that delegates completed after the event plus the ideas of the team about what we could improve. Now is your opportunity to contribute ideas for themes and streams within the conference - just leave a comment to this post or if you prefer mail me through the Kontactr link on the blog.

GeoCommunity is your GI  event - help to shape next year's agenda

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Crime Mapping - not quite as simple as you might think

My old employers, MapInfo have just published a good Best Practice Guide on publishing crime maps.

Sir Norman Bettison, from the UK Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPo), is quoted:
“My own police authority in West Yorkshire started two years ago to make available crime mapping data to keep the public informed about local incidents and trends. This fulfils the key responsibility to give information to communities in order that they can see the real level of crime and help the police address it.”
PBMI have published their Best Practice Guide because
"There is, however, some considerable concern amongst geographical information experts about how this crime mapping initiative is put into practical action. As with any such project, there are very considerable challenges in producing the desired outcome - objective information which truly informs the citizen about crime in their area. There are issues of data quality, data comprehensiveness, how crime is recorded, the axis between reported crime and its attribution to particular criminals, and so on."
The guide then sets outside a lot of useful advice for Police Forces which those who seem to think that the only thing preventing the publication of crime statistics is Ordnance Survey's licensing or police reluctance to be held accountable would do well to consider.

I guess this is the work of Ian Broadbent, who used to be head of analysis at GMP. Well done Ian a valuable contribution.

Business Intelligence and Location Intelligence - a mismatch?

Many in our space have been evangelising the benefits of location within Business Intelligence applications for a long time. To us it seems so obvious, a picture beats a 1000 words, a map beats a 1000 spreadsheet lines. So why is it taking so long for this opportunity/application to take off?

Perhaps we need to step back a bit and question the ability of high volumes of BI users to gain any actionable "Intelligence" from map representations of BI data, unless users have an intuitive understanding of how to read and interpret thematics, heat maps etc they may just see them as interesting rather than essential.

Cost of deployment may have been a problem and complexity of implementation (tying together geocoding, software and data). 

The main BI suppliers have all cooperated with the GI players but they have not adopted geo as a killer feature in their product suites (except perhaps Oracle who have been coupling their platform wide spatial capability with their BI tools) which suggests that they haven't bought the LI story. 

If/when LI takes off within the mainstream BI world, what betting Google scoop the pot?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Why businesses should twitter

This morning I listened to a great podcast on how Directions Magazine and All points Blog are using twitter feeds to provide very "to the point and immediate" updates throughout the day to their readers. That prompted me to read Tim O'Reilly's post on Why I love Twitter 

Twitter need not be just an alternative social network to Facebook, it can be the basis for a business dialogue with clients. If you are a software vendor there will be occasions such as a new software release or a bug fix where many users will be anxiously seeking status updates in a fast changing situation. The run up to the roll out of the Traffic Management Act in the UK is a good example, the period around midnight on December 31st 1999 and the Y2k panic was another. As businesses move to SaaS models customers will want near real time updates on service availability and predicted downtime. 

At the moment you can declare your location in a twitter which enables others to search for public feeds near to them. It will only be a matter of time before you can manage which people following you receive a twitter based on their location, then utilities and other service businesses will want to start twittering.

I expect that commercial twittering willl become the norm within the next year much as company blogs have become a recognised communications tool. But it is no good waiting until you need to use a twitter feed to talk to customers, you need to start establishing the dialogue now.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Place Matters - a fair start

Inevitably the recently published UK Location Strategy has disappointed some people. I think that some of that disappointment is based upon unrealistic expectations after all this is a strategy and not an implementation plan. It was also not the role of the strategy drafting group to seek to resolve the longstanding issues of Trading Funds, Derived Data and the like.

This is a strategy for Government Geographic Information, there is little mention of the private sector and it doesn't appear to have been a focus for the participants in the GI panel. I think that this is a strategy for the effective deployment of Geographic Information across all levels of the Public Sector and will establish a framework for cooperation and sharing that should avoid duplication and expand the usage of GI and its benefit to the public and private sector. The Location Strategy builds upon the UK's implementation of INSPIRE (which is primarily focussed on environmental data) to incorporate all public sector GI and also to establish a Location Council to provide leadership, drive the implementation of the Strategy and interface with other government information and technology initiatives. The recognition of the need to broaden the understanding of GI and build our skills base provides exciting opportunities for those already working in this area. 

The publication of the Location Strategy should be welcomed. Getting ministerial support, funding (even if not all of it at the moment) and government wide recognition of the importance of Place is an achievement which should not be underestimated. 

The Location Council held its first meeting last week, hopefully the wider community will be consulted and involved as the LC plans the implementation of the strategy.