Summary:

The rich data built up over time through mobile mapping technology and platforms will allow an explosion of mobile apps in the coming years…

Ed Parsons, Google geospatial technologist
photo: Edparsons.com

The rich data built up over time through mobile mapping technology and platforms will allow an explosion of mobile apps in the coming years — but Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google (NSDQ: GOOG) warns that government agencies must allow greater access to more of their data for the mobile industry to take full advantage. Speaking at The Guardian’s Activate Summit in London today, Parsons said that the industry’s early optimism that GPS mapping technology would open up a “cornucopia of applications” and possibilities was premature but “it’s a reality now.” Governments need to develop services “to allow the geeks out there to produce services and products in the near future.”

Free our data: So technology has democratized map making, but you still need raw data to make it useful and contextually relevant and the official bodies that hold it are not always keen to share. Parsons cites the National Rail Enquiries iPhone app which offers localized UK train times using GPS technology but costs an eye-watering £4.99 ($8.21) and has issued take-down notices to rival, unlicensed apps. “That’s a really expensive iPhone app because developers have to pay National Rail for access to the times.” An online map showing recycling centers in Parsons’s neighbourhood is “strictly speaking” in breach of the UK’s national mapping agency’s copyright “even though those centers don’t feature on maps made by the national mapping agency. There’s something wrong there; we need to solve this.”

Mapping as standard feature: Parson said that what really makes mapping exciting is “when location becomes just another service available to you when you develop a mobile application, like a driver for a software developer,” and predicts mapping will be a standard addition to many mobile apps and platforms as Google’s Android and Apple’s OS3 iPhone have — software like DOS started as developer platforms but ended up as standard features, he said. And mapping will become so commonplace in everyday life, Parsons predicts his 12-year-old daughter “will never know what it’s like not to know where she is”.

Mapping’s long tail: Hinting at what the future might hold for Google and others’ monetization of mapping data, Parsons showed a world map showing the millions of people that access Google Maps in one 24-hour period: “And that’s just one day — imagine this data about where everybody is built up over decades…”

UPDATE: So what do those official data-collecting agencies say for themselves? The Ordinance Survey, which was mentioned (if not directly named) by Parsons as the UK’s mapping agency, had its response in a later session today. Head of product marketing Liz Ratcliffe said that various people had wanted to “kick us in the balls” over the past few years for not opening up enough data and admitted that OS had been through a “painful period of self-reflection”. She said criticism had led the agency to launch its Open SO API in April and she encouraged people to work with OS to create new online maps.

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