Ordnance Survey OpenSpace API using OpenLayers

From the mailing list:

Tomorrow Ordnance Survey (Britain’s national mapping agency) is letting a group of developers preview a new mapping API named OS OpenSpace. We aim to launch this to the public in January. We have used OpenLayers as a base for the API and have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with such a comprehensive library.

The email goes on to say that they’ve added a number of features to OpenLayers… but offers no indication that there is likely to be any likelihood of sharing the changes back with the OpenLayers community.

Of course, this doesn’t really come as surprising: a number of aspects of the effort are somewhat misguided. Very low request limits, “we own all your derivative work”, etc. However, there is one thing that is interesting, brought up on the OpenStreetMap Mailing List:

4.4 In the event that you or any User creates Derived Data, such Derived Data shall be owned by us, save that if any Derived Data is created which is a severable improvement (as defined by Commission Regulation (EC) No 772/2004, known as the Technology Transfer Block Exemption) of the Ordnance Survey Data then such Derived Data shall be owned by the person or entity creating the same.

The interesting bit is the “severable improvements” bit, which Richard Fairhurst (a member of the OSM Foundation) delves into a little deeper:

In practice, then, I read that to mean that if you use the Sustrans webmapping to find out where the routes go, this information is solely copyright Sustrans (who might be more willing to give permission) and not OS, even though it’s delivered through the medium of a derived work. So, if you had the wiggly lines already (whether mapped by GPS or NPE), you could tag them as NCN routes if Sustrans were ok with that.

Certainly brings an interesting development into the world of ‘derived works’ based on OS Mapping for the free data crowd.

Regardless, I must admit some level of frustration with users who bother to email and say “Thank you”, but not to contribute any effort into further development of the software they’re using. I suppose it’s better than ignoring the project entirely, but some of the things mentioned in the email are things I would love to have in the trunk — and there wasn’t even a consideration given to the mailing list as to whether we were working on some of these things.

I wonder if the OpenLayers community is scary in some way. We really do try to be open and welcoming. Maybe I’m just too much of an ass to people on the mailing list, but I try not to do that to people who actually want to help…

7 Responses to “Ordnance Survey OpenSpace API using OpenLayers”

  1. Barry hunter Says:

    The OS is a ‘corperate’ entity, basically under goverment control – and the project has been very closed and almost everyone involved would of been under NDAs. I find it very progressive that the project has actually used OL, and have acknowledged its use, which is a sign of a changing (local) culture. I am not trying to defend it, merely offer an explanation that you shouldnt take it personally. Baby steps, baby steps….

    Anyway if this is anything to go by (and I not suggesting it is)
    Then it’s it going to be open source. 😮
    (and if it isn’t then there is strong argument for them to make it so…)

  2. Sean Gillies Says:

    Wait, I thought OpenLayers was BSD(ish) licensed precisely so that people could do practically anything they wanted to do with it without any legal or social compulsion to give back.

    All the same, you’re absolutely right that it’s better to be exploited than to be ignored.

  3. crschmidt Says:

    Legal? Yes.
    Social? Nope.

    If I wanted legal recourse against OS, OL would be GPL licensed. I don’t. And if they’re not willing to be compelled to contribute socially, then they’d likely have just rolled their own. I’d rather have them use OpenLayers than do that.

    There is still, in my opinion, a strong social reason to participate in Open Source projects. As an example: if they had asked, we probably could have provided the projection support that they need in the core, rather than them rolling their own. Now there will be two different sets of OpenLayers projection APIs, and that’s a frustrating position to be in for *both* projects.

    It seems clear that they are (at the very least) willing to offer thanks to the community. In that case, I’Il think that they should have considered mentioning it to begin with — they’d probably have gotten some help out.

    But hey, such is life.

  4. Paul Ramsey Says:

    Perhaps the true test is if, now that they are “out of the closet”, they move to be more involved in the community. I can understand the difficulty of working with an open community when the project you are working on is supposed to be Double Top Secret, Code Ultra-Black.

  5. crschmidt Says:

    Agreed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes some time before we get to that stage. Bureaucracy is hard to fight. However, I’ve found through long experience that the squeaky wheel gets the grease — this is me squeaking.

    I’m still pondering what a response on the mailing list itself should say — when I respond on the mailing list, I’m typically trying very hard to do it as “Member of the OpenLayers PSC”, as opposed to in my blog, where I’m just Some GUy On the Internet 🙂

    It’s good to see them using the software. Well, hear about them using the software — I’m still waiting to “See”, as it were. It would be even greater to see them contributing back to the software — or at least contributing requests for improvement to help lead our direction of development.

  6. Rob Booth Says:

    I understand your frustration, and as an OpenLayers user, share your disappointment that their modifications won’t be released to the community. But it must also be quite flattering that Ordnance Survey have selected OpenLayers to base their future on. I think Ordnance Survey really need OpenSpace to be a success, especially in these days of mapping mashups.

  7. Harry Wood Says:

    The first link to a mailing list post is now wrong. I’ve noticed Mailman archives getting re-numbered like this before.

    I guess you should be linking to ‘Ordnance Survey OpenSpace using OpenLayers’.