GeoMashUp at UK Ordinance Survey

About 100 attended the first GeoMashUp event in Southampton, UK last month (for an introduction to mashups see last month’s editorial). Speakers from Google Maps, Multimap, the Open GIS Consortium and others showed how the lightweight ‘Web 2.0’ technologies are changing GIS.

The first ‘GeoMashUp’ event, held at the UK’s Ordinance Survey’s offices in Southampton, showed how lightweight ‘Web 2’ browser programming can be used to merge data from a variety of sources to create new applications. It can be argued that this technology is the first widespread demonstration of the success of the open, web services paradigm.

Google Maps API

The geo mashup phenomenon was sparked off by the introduction of the Google Maps API as Doug Ricket, (Google) explained. A couple of years ago, as soon as Google Maps (GM) was released, hackers reverse-engineered the API and began to produce composite applications embedding Google’s mapping services. Google went with the flow and said, ‘OK, we’ll support that’ and the Google Maps API was born, allowing developers to leverage Google’s Javascript. Typical uses are the tube journey planner ( and real time weather from

Invest and hope ...

In answer to a question on Google’s business model Ricket stated that ‘Google’s philosophy is to invest and hope that a technology will become profitable.’ For corporations, Google offers an Enterprise edition of the GM API which offers support will ‘always be ad free.’


Sean Phelan ( traced the history of blending GIS with enterprise data. In 1980-1999, you had to buy and deploy a GIS from ESRI. From 2000-2005 it became possible to have browser-based access to intranet/extranet GIS service providers. From 2003 to the present companies use web services and server to server XML. Looking forward from 2006, the picture is one of AJAX, ‘Web 2,’ mashups, client side integration and ‘B2B2C’ (business services for consumers.) Mashups promise rich and extensible functionality that is cheap and easy to deploy thanks to a client-side API – in other word, the Holy grail.


In the context of mapping, data ownership is a big issue. According to Steve Coast ( geographic data is in general, neither free nor current. To counter this, Coast founded OpenStreetMap (OSM). OSMap members equipped with a GPS build maps as they travel around the country. Tim Berners-Lee calls this ‘grass routes remapping.’ This idea is to make cartographic quality results from trips. Coast reckons that the whole of the UK will be mapped by 2008.


Mikel Maron ( believes that data is the ‘missing link’ of the mashup. Enter RSS, which Maron describes as the Unix pipe of the Internet. GeoRSS adds geographical information to RSS. GeoRSS has been adopted by the OGC as a lightweight standard. GeoRSS examples include the USGS earthquake alerts feed, the EU’s online tsunami simulator which calculates a tsunami’s impact in under 15 seconds, mashing the USGS earthquake feed to produce targeted warnings. The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) also ran. Other projects monitor geographic wikis, mobile devices, sensors, providing time-based GIS. The technology is ‘tearing down the walls.’ is Maron’s idea of ‘what it’s all about,’ letting users answer mission critical questions like ‘How’s the weather for house hunting in Islington?’


Raj Singh spoke on behalf on the Open GIS Consortium—which he described as ‘the old guard’ of GIS. Singh opined that people have been mashing up for years, with Mylar overlays. Today the OGIS’ web map services and web feature service offer standards-based ways of ‘getting maps into mashups.’ But somehow one gets the impression that the OGC has been a bit overtaken by events here.

Commercial benefits

Norman Barker’s presentation highlighted the commercial benefits of mashups and open standards. Barker’s company, ITT, writes image software for defense and intelligence. ITT’s specialized services are distributed as mashups along with served geodata, typically from Google/Yahoo Maps or Microsoft Virtual Earth. This represents a new paradigm for both ITT as developers and for its end users. Before mashups, ITT would have built desktop apps supported with standalone server solutions. ITT’s mashups leverage the above popular clients, hiding complexity from users.


An ITT VIS mash up of the GeoINT tile server was used for a KSAT/Kongsberg ship iceberg awareness solution in polar regions. The technology was also used in the ESA flood alert for London.

Digital rights management

Some technology issues remain along with with digital rights management (DRM), service level agreements for server downtime, business models. Barker asked enigmatically, ‘What happens when another company goes bust a la A9. Barker concluded his talk with a ‘fascinating fact.’ Apparently, some 10,000 containers are pushed into the sea every year to stabilize ships in storms. As yet there isn’t a mashup showing them bobbing around in the ocean—but this is just a matter of time!

Panel discussion

There was a sluggish debate on what would ultimately be the business model for the mashup of data from different owners? In other words, ‘What happens when Google gets bored with this game?’ Conspiracy theorists saw this as an ‘arms race’ between MS and Google. With Google way in the lead following its acquisition of Keyhole (now Google Earth). The geolocation community is concerned about the availability and cost of street level data, teleatlas, satellites etc. Who is paying for all this? The open source brigade sees OpenStreetmap (above) as playing the role of the open source Apache web server in the geolocation space. But someone pointed out that extending the ‘GPS on a bike’ paradigm to satellite observation was an improbable notion. Free availability of data would also upset the business model of the hosts, the UK Ordinance Survey. But a representative from the British Geological Survey stated that the venerable organization was indeed thinking seriously about giving its data away as a public service.

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