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Towards an Open Geolocation Database 74

Posted by kdawson
from the lat-lng-is-the-new-address dept.
theodp writes "With the location land rush in full swing, TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld declares it's time for an open database of places and calls on the Big Dogs of location — Twitter, Google, Foursquare, Gowalla, SimpleGeo, Loopt, Citysearch, et al. — to make it so. An open database that maps latitude and longitude coordinates to businesses, points of interest, and even people's homes should just be part of the basic fabric of the mobile Web. Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley was enthusiastic about the idea (in a standing-up-at-a-cocktail-party sort of way), says Schonfeld, while Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was a little bit more lukewarm and cautious. Time for Larry and Sergey to invite the Families to a sit-down at 37.423021,-122.083739?"
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Towards an Open Geolocation Database

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:15AM (#31894492)

    For all intents and purposes, Google can implement this themselves and do whatever they want without the help of anyone else in the named list.

    When people start saying "for the good of all", they typically mean they want someone else to foot the bill. Of all the weirdo ideas I've heard, Foursquare has got to take the cake. It's really no wonder the CEO is enthusiastic about sharing this info; he stands to gain a huge database and backend for no cost. I suppose when you're bleeding money and you're known as the second coming of Gary Kildall, it might be to your advantage to act enthusiastic about everything and anything that might make your company look better than the crappy Web 2.0 service it really is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ultrabot (200914)

      For all intents and purposes, Google can implement this themselves and do whatever they want without the help of anyone else in the named list.

      I don't think they can. Google doesn't own the map data, they just license it.

      • by ncc74656 (45571) *

        Google doesn't own the map data, they just license it.

        You sure about that? Check the copyright message at the bottom of this map [google.com], for example. They've been building up their own map database, probably as a side effect of all those Street View vehicles running around. More info here [searchengineland.com].

      • by Sneeka2 (782894)

        Too bad this isn't about map data, but about geo location data. Google can easily build a database that maps -39.12412, 128.12351 to "Joe's Bar". No licenses involved. In fact, they already have, they're spidering the information right off of websites for $deitys sakes.

  • Big guys? (Score:3, Informative)

    by areusche (1297613) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:16AM (#31894496)

    I've never heard of Foursquare and Gowalla until reading this. As of now, I'm pretty sure Google has the ball for running and maintaining a central and heavily used mapping database in the United States. I see Google Maps being used all over the place on websites for various things.

    Heck Live/Bing Maps is being used for Weather.com's radar maps. So instead of some central authority, the De Facto services seem to be doing just fine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tomtomtom777 (1148633)

      I've never heard of Foursquare and Gowalla until reading this.

      Foursquare as over 2 million unique visitors per month [compete.com]. That is twice as much as /. So yes, it's a big guy. Never having heard of it before is kinda your problem here.

      • Being bigger than Slashdot is not my metric of success when talking about things on the scale of Google and Twitter.
        • But 2 million is still a really large number for this metric. In any case it is by far the biggest location based social network at the moment.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        What the hell is /.?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Openstreetmap already contains plenty of points of interest and businesses (not sure about homes yet), its editable by anyone. Lets use it as a framework for adding to this data.

  • OSM (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mordac the Preventer (36096) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:21AM (#31894526) Homepage
    In what way does OpenStreetMap not fit the criteria already?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by forand (530402)
      It hasn't been filled with all the useful information within the above mentioned companies databases.
      • Re:OSM (Score:4, Interesting)

        by solevita (967690) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:33AM (#31894594)

        It hasn't been filled with all the useful information within the above mentioned companies databases.

        If only there was some why they could add it to the database...

        I think the main reason that many businesses may not get behind the idea of adding their data to OpenStreetMap (although that is what they should be doing) is that if they do they will lose the ability to control the commercial monopoly on the data. If you really want an open database with all this stuff in (as the summary suggests), OSM is the best way forward.

        • by forand (530402)
          Of course. I think you and others have misinterpreted my statement. The OP asked why OpenStreetMap did not fit the criteria. The answer is that it doesn't have the data. Simple as that. WHY it doesn't have the data is because the data holders haven't entered it in.

          That brings up the question of whether OpenStreetMap is the best repository for the information in the eyes of those who wish to build businesses off it. I would suspect that it is not, at this point. They do not have the infrastructure to ha
          • by jadavis (473492)

            [OpenStreetMap does] not have the infrastructure to handle a twitter like traffic load.

            OSM is a database, not a hosted service where you can't access the data. There is no reason to throw a lot of traffic at their servers. Download the data and host it yourself.

    • It lacks data?
    • I have used open street map, and I was impressed with how much data they did have. I'm guessing that in the not too distant future, it will become the standard for geographic information as people add to it, much like Wikipedia has become a standard encyclopedia from people's contributions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rmcd (53236) *

      Openstreet map is terrific. What we need, however, is for municipalities to understand that it's in their interest to keep it up to date. If a city could update with information about construction, new developments, etc, it would make OSM at the least an important adjunct to the commercial mappers. Not a lot of work for any one city and a great benefit to all.

      I don't see why businesses wouldn't want their location in all available databases, but that's for them to decide.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by chdig (1050302)
        It is terrific, however some cities (ahem Toronto, Vancouver, and others.) are releasing their municipal border data under a different licence than OSM (openstreetmaps), which is possibly even worse than not keeping them up to date properly. If this continues, a developer will need to navigate dozens or hundreds of unique licences in order to display data legally. A serious problem, that needs to be nipped in the bud ASAP.
      • by josepha48 (13953)
        most of that information is publicly available. what you want is a mashup of the info from openstreetmap and local government information.
    • You just made my day.
  • Government data (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anspen (673098) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:27AM (#31894556)
    A good start would be the free release of postal code and mapping data by governments. After all this is information collected with public money, so it should be available to all citizens. The UK has or will release mapping [thenextweb.com] and postcode [bbc.co.uk] data. But most countries still only allow the data to be sold for hefty prices. The most ridiculous part is that in some countries the postal code date is the property of privatized former monopolies.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As a GIS Tech for a county in Michigan I can probably provide a little insight on this. While quite a bit of information is available free of charge at the state level (http://www.mcgi.state.mi.us/mgdl/) county/city governments (where the high accuracy data tends to be) tend charge for data for one main reason. The actual "Data" tends to only be requested by out of city/county, and most often state agencies. The Maps/PDF's/In office/online means of accessing the data are utilized heavily by the Local Tax

    • by krou (1027572)

      Rather than linking to an old BBC article, you're better off linking to OpenSpace on the Ordinance Survey's website, as the data has already been released. http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/opendata/ [ordnancesurvey.co.uk]

      I'm not entirely hopeful that the Post Office will follow any time soon: the postcode and address data is a real cash cow for them.

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:52AM (#31894688) Homepage Journal

    Time for Larry and Sergey to invite the Families to a sit-down at 37.423021,-122.083739?"

    Seems like an awfully dangerous place to sit. I'd recommend moving that to 37.42194, -122.08412 [google.com]. Less traffic to dodge.

  • by Grismar (840501) on Monday April 19, 2010 @08:58AM (#31894744)

    I hardly think an open database is the solution. Having an open standard to access any databases with geodata is far more important. That way, developers wanting to combine geodata in their applications can pick whatever they need and either aggregate the information on the fly or draw any information that is available under the proper licenses into their own database for speedy access.

    I'm sure someone around here will be able to point out what standards for this purpose are already around and could be used for such a scheme. If not, then that's the first problem that requires solving. Otherwise, these companies will just enter an endless debate about who owns what and why it should or shouldn't be them controlling such a database.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Look a bit up, OpenStreetmap has open data, with open formats.

    • by jadavis (473492) on Monday April 19, 2010 @12:57PM (#31898144)

      This makes zero sense.

      1. There *are* open standards.
      2. There *is already* an open database, OpenStreetMap.
      3. As someone already pointed out, that open database uses open standards.
      4. It seems bizarre to value open standards so much more than an open database. An open database is likely to become an open standard, or be converted if another open standard takes hold. The reverse does not hold true though -- proprietary information is likely to remain proprietary regardless of the existence of open standards (for instance, google maps is a proprietary database).

      • by SharpFang (651121)

        OSM is a map. Not a database of locations. No addresses, no details, no search by business name.

        Wikimapia is much closer to the ideal but still not there.

    • by matsoo (1524273)
      There is an open standard, infact several open standards and a complete standards organization [opengeospatial.org] for publishing geographical data on the web. How you access the various sets of data however is your problem. In the USA at least the goverment collected data is free, not necessarilly so in Europe.
  • Are they going to fix the accuracy issue where if I look up a street address it's off sometimes by half a block? I can certainly see this being a good thing later down the road but not for any application that requires accuracy.
    • We have an online ordering package for restaurants, many of whom what to do delivery within a certain "Radius" and they often wonder why we don't. They think "Oh well, you can use google maps!". Well, Google Maps can't pass the "My Dad's house Test". Which I show them where Google Maps/MapQuest/anything Teleatlas shows my dad's how is located and then where it really is one street over on the opposite end of the street.

    • by markhr (698400)
      Yea, I spent a good amount of time editing the markers on Google maps in my local area, and they NEVER accepted the changes, even though it was obvious I was moving them all to a more accurate location. They need to better utilize crowd-sourcing to make their map data better.
  • I prefer UTM (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Transverse_Mercator_coordinate_system). Once you get used to it, it's one HELL of a lot easier to work with.
    ];)

    • I'd be happy if we could just get people off of that ancient Babylonian "degrees/minutes/seconds" nonsense (or even worse, the bastardized "degrees, minutes, decimal-minutes" crap).

      Maybe real decimals are just "too metric" for most of the English-speaking world or something.

  • How would that be different?

  • by brtech (1019012) on Monday April 19, 2010 @10:15AM (#31895618)

    There are a limited number of sources for the data that is "what street address is at what latitude/longitude?" which is technically "reverse geocoding". They are:
    a) The government
    b) Private companies who spend lots of $$ gathering the data

    In the U.S, the government sources are:
    a) The TIGER database - this is not good enough for the task, but it's free
    b) Local city/township and county governments - this is the very best data when it exists, but it doesn't exist in lots of places, and it's hard to get in many places where it does exist
    c) The 9-1-1 system often has their own source of address data which is used to figure out where you are when you call from a mobile phone

    In the U.S. the private sources are:
    a) Navteq
    b) Tele Atlas

    All of the other places that seem to have data actually get it from the above sources one way or another. Sometimes, they have auxiliary data like satellite images or street level images, but the database that links street addresses to geocoordinates comes from one of the above sources. Note that Navteq and Tele Atlas try to get the local city/county data when they can. When they can't they "drive" streets with a GPS equipped vehicle, clicking on houses and other buildings as they go. The 9-1-1 system does the same. The city/county data is actual map data, with polygons for streets, parcels, etc. It's often hard to get address data from it without additional work because the city/county data is developed for land use planning and tax revenue and not reverse geocoding.

    The local data probably ought to be freely available, and it's the most accurate, although often somewhat incomplete source of data. Trying to get free access to TeleAtlas and Navteq data is not going to work, which means getting it from Google, Twitter, etc is not going to work.

    Other countries have different situations. As noted above, the U.K. mapping data is available, and is excellent quality.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In the U.S. the private sources are:
      a) Navteq
      b) Tele Atlas

      All of the other places that seem to have data actually get it from the above sources one way or another.

      At least as far as the US is concerned Google dumped TeleAtlas a while back & are using their own maps now.

  • it's time for an open database of places

    Not an database. A centralized system can by definition never be really open. Since it will be controlled by one group.
    What that leads to, can be seen on Wikipedia every day.

    Either P2P, shared, with a trust graph... or nothing.
    Because we’re not falling for that again.

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