#geomob presentation on HOT

Last week I gave a talk at #geomob, London’s second most important geo meet-up group (after OSMLondon of course). It was good to be able to get up and present something after watching so many others over the past couple of years.

My talk was about the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (hot.openstreetmap.org) I’ve been doing a fair bit of HOT stuff lately, so it came at a good time. I’ve just got back from a week long trip to Washington D.C. for a board strategy meeting, followed by various events there. The talk is a refresh and update of previous talks I’ve given on the topic, plus some new info inspired by this recent trip (newer stuff from slide 18 onwards)

Download slides for OpenOffice (28Mb!)

…or just see them below with notes (kind of a transcript) alongside:

Slide 1

I’m going to talk about the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. How OpenStreetMap offers a great platform for humanitarian mapping, and a look at some of the Continue reading “#geomob presentation on HOT”

My SOTM11 talk

We had the annual “State of the map” OpenStreetMap conference a month ago. This was in Denver. I had a choice between this or the more sensible carbon-effiecent location of Vienna for SOTM-EU a few months earlier. I decided to go to Denver. To be honest I sort of drifted into that dicision in a disorganised manner, but I did have some reasons as I said at the time.

I knew there was a core of London OSMers who were deciding to go to SOTMEU, and not to Denver. I felt it might be important to be in Denver as a representative, to meet, explain, and be an ambassador for the heart and soul of OpenStreetMap. The “OpenStreetMap way” as I see it. This is what I tried to do with my talk: “Blossoms, weeds and blades of grass: Growing the map”

The following is all the slides and a transcript of roughly what I said (or intended to say) It’s a bit of a whopper. Sorry if your RSS reader just blew a fuse. Alternatively you can watch this as a video showing slides and good quality audio, or a live action video from the front (but not so good audio). You can also see the slides on slideshare, download for OpenOffice, or powerpoint (32 MB).

Slide 1

I’m Harry and I’m from England… and I thought I’d compare OpenStreetMap to an english country garden.

It sort of blossoms with a wondrous variety of Continue reading “My SOTM11 talk”

Society of Cartographers Plymouth

A couple of weeks ago I was in Plymouth for the Society of Cartographers Annual Conference. Lots of interesting talks and a fun and friendly atmosphere, particularly during the evening entertainment: pub quiz, boat trip and rum cocktails. [update: forgot to say my photos from the conference are here]

I came across a strange new breed of people who knew all about making maps using only adobe illustrator. That’s a side of “cartography” which rarely surfaces at the geo events I’ve been to before (and I’ve been to quite a few now), but this seems like a rather interesting artistic end of a map-making spectrum. I didn’t come across anyone who had tried out OpenStreetMaps options for exporting to Illustrator. This probably needs to be made easier, but I suspect Maperative might be a kick ass tool in this arena. I don’t have illustrator myself, so I’d be interested to know how well it works.

I gave a talk on a blend of topics to do with transport and open data and some of my experience of mobile geo development. I talked through some stuff I’ve been working on at placr.co.uk: The UK Travel Options iPhone app, and the more recent placr.mobi mobile website. Then I gave a few more nice bits of bus route related technology (and cartography) coming out of OpenStreetMap.

The slides and notes (approximately what I said in the talk) are included with the presentation on slideshare, or OpenOffice download, or PowerPoint download …or here it all is in good old pictures & text:

Slide 0

I’ve got four different things I want to talk about.

I want to talk about Open Data, and specifically Open Transport Data. And I want to talk about the work I’ve been doing at placr.co.uk, and finally my hobby and passion OpenStreetMap.

Lots to cover, but fortunately they’re all wonderfully interrelated, so it’s really just one big topic.

Continue reading “Society of Cartographers Plymouth”

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team talk for Article25

Last week I gave a talk about humanitarian mapping with OpenStreetMap. This was at an event organised by Article25, sponge network, and RIBA knowledge communities.

Download slides as an OpenOffice .odp file

Slides on slideshare.net

Or here are the slides as plain old images and slide notes alongside:



I’m going to talk about mapping as in creating maps, and the not-for-profit mass-collaboration project “OpenStreetMap”. I’ll show various examples of how OpenStreetMap has helped in disaster response and developing world situations.

But first let me explain what OpenStreetMap is…



OpenStreetMap.org is a website which displays a map. Here is a map of where we are right now for example. The site lets you zoom in and pan around the map, much like google maps. But you can already see some interesting details which you wouldn’t get with google maps.

OpenStreetMap is much more than just a map…

Continue reading “Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team talk for Article25”

VisionOn.TV OpenStreetMap interview

As well as giving a talk at OpenTech, I also did little interview about OpenStreetMap for VisionOn.TV:


It’s on youtube.

The “Documentation” link I mentioned is wiki.openstreetmap.org. Find out all about the OpenStreetMap project there.

The video featured here is an animation of OpenStreetMap edits back in 2008 (It’s stunning. Watch it full-res for the best effect) There’s even more worldwide editing activity on OpenStreetMap these days.

The talk I gave at OpenTech earlier in the day, is described in the previous blog post (also available as a video) That was going into more depth particularly for developers interested in using OpenStreetMap


Thanks to the nice folk at VisionOn.tv for organising an interview in their “pop-up studio” there. VisionOn.TV is a pretty interesting citizen journalism project. Their approach was to do almost all their editing (e.g. dropping in the OSM animation video) “live” as they recorded the interview. This probably gives them a more fun live TV feel to their “studio” activities, but it also seems like a clever approach to avoid endless faffing with editing

…which is a big problem with creating video. I spent hours and hours on this tutorial video. The results were not really worth the time it took (That tutorial is now out-of-date for several reasons too) At the time I realised that I could have achieved almost as good a video by practising a few times and then recording the whole screencast in one take, rather than doing things piece by piece and editing clips together, which just takes forever.

I’m interested in this stuff because video is the way to reach out to the masses. Make stuff which appeals to the short attention span of the youtube generation. The Video approach is a no-brainer. The process of making video is difficult. For OpenStreetMap we need better promotional videos and video tutorials. Compare videos on that list, with the “guided tour” video (well flash animation actually) which is front and centre on waze.com . It’s a slick persuasive pitch to ordinary non-technical people (Important note: Don’t be persuaded! waze.com is one of several companies who get people to contribute geo-data, and then hoard it for their own commercial benefit. You should be supporting the not-for-profit OpenStreetMap project instead!)

This interview video is not a slick pitch. I’m concentrating on trying to explain OpenStreetMap in a persuasive way, and as a result I’m furrowing my brow and looking too serious. And when I first watched it back I thought I’d really failed to get various important messages across, particularly about the open data aspects of OpenStreetMap. But I guess that’s the short video way. Dumb things down and miss out the details. I feel better about it when I see a facebook comment from my (non-techie) sister saying “good explanation, I get it now!”.

OpenStreetMap at OpenTech 2011

I gave a talk at OpenTech 2011 yesterday. This is a big open source open data London technology conference. A lot of fun.

I gave an overview of the developer ecosystem around OpenStreetMap data, how web and mobile app developers can use OpenStreetMap, and how the OpenStreetMap tile server is only a small part of that. This included a whole sequence of shiny new slides to illustrate these points by gradually building up a nice diagram.

Watch the talk video on youtube

Slides on SlideShare.net

The session listing on lanyrd has some photos etc linked from there.

The following is the slides in a form which is less likely to crash your browser, along with notes


Open Technology enthusiasts will have heard of OpenStreetMap before


If you’ve only taken a quick look, you’ll perhaps have the idea that OpenStreetMap is an open source competitor to Google maps. It kind of is that, but that’s not really the whole story.


It’s more accurate to compare OpenStreetMap with wikipedia. It is very much the wikipedia of maps. Similar for a number of reasons….

Continue reading “OpenStreetMap at OpenTech 2011”

Bus route rendering at RewiredState

I made a bus map.

bus map

Not just an image, but a dynamic “slippy map” rendered at several zoom levels.

This was my “hack” for the RewiredState, National Hack the Government Day”, a gathering of hackers who build something in a day, with the aim of tackling government/society problems, working with government data. Projects are presented at the end of the day.

I created the bus map by “rendering” OpenStreetMap data. By this I mean starting from raw map data, the underlying vector data, the coordinates and connections of every road etc, and creating raster images arranged in tiles at several zoom levels, for the map display linked above.

Clearly within the graphics routines this bright red routes data is drawn in a particular order, and in a sense it is laid on top of the map, but it’s important to realise the routes are baked into the raster images. This isn’t a javascript overlay. Rendering data in this way has advantages and disadvantages over javascript overlays. An advantage is that we can show all the bus routes of London when zoomed out, without crashing the browser. Other advantages are in the subtleties of how you can make the map look. I haven’t really demonstrated this very well here yet, but I hope to make some improvements. If you look closely some tube station labels are drawn over the routes, which at least shows it’s not an overlay. There are other (better) OpenStreetMap rendering examples elsewhere

bus map close-up

Getting the data

You can download raw OpenStreetMap vector data for the entire planet. In fact I took an england extract in PBF format offered up by geofabrik. From this I just chopped out the London area (this bounding box) using the tool “osmosis” with this command:

wget http://download.geofabrik.de/osm/europe/great_britain/england.osm.pbf

$OSMOSIS_HOME/bin/osmosis \
   --read-pbf ./england.osm.pbf \
   --bounding-box left=-0.543 right=0.337 top=51.719 bottom=51.253 idTrackerType=BitSet \
   --write-xml ./london.osm

Once I had london.osm, it was time to put this through the Mapnik rendering tool. Very broadly the steps were:

  • Install Mapnik. In fact this is several steps, but happily I already had it installed. The ‘Build your own OpenStreetMap Server’ tutorial by Richard Weait was useful for this
  • Load the data into postGIS with a command such as ./osm2pgsql -S default.style --slim -d gis ./london.osm
  • Edited ‘generate_image.py’ to render a single image in central london as a test
  • Edit ‘generate_tiles.py’ to specify the london bounding box and zoom levels. Initially I’ve rendered zoom levels 7 to 15.
  • Run ‘generate_tiles.py’ to create the tileset (png files in a directory structure)
  • Made a HTML file with the javascript to launch OpenLayers fullscreen pointing at these tiles (do ‘view source’ on the site to see the javascript for this)
  • Copied the stylesheet file ‘inc/layer-ferry-routes.xml.inc’ to make a new style layer for bus route relations (thanks to SK53 for suggesting this)
  • Reference the new layer in osm.xml, and ‘inc/layers.xml.inc’
  • Test using ‘generate_image.py’ before re-running ‘generate_tiles.py’ to re-render the tiles.
  • Added more rules for varying thicknesses and a TextSymbolizer for showing route labels

My busmap stylesheet so far: style.tar.gz


Among the list of rendering examples linked above, is the one called “öpnvkarte.de” which shows bus routes throughout europe. In fact this is one of the best examples of customised OpenStreetMap rendering. Really nice colour and style choices with subdued colours for the background features enhancing the bold transport lines very clearly. So bus route rendering has certainly already been done. What’s the point in my map then?

öpnvkarte is very german. It’s named after a german transport network. The map is quite literally centred on Germany, and you’ll have noticed it has an un-typeable german character in it’s URL (although Shaun has provided openbusmap.org as a more sensibly named proxy). Petty irritations perhaps. So what else?

As far as I’m aware öpnvkarte hasn’t been updated in a while, so by re-rendering today’s openstreetmap data, we can see how the community has progressed with adding more routes. I was slightly disappointed to find that there wasn’t much difference in London actually. Just one or two details. Compare here with here. But OpenStreetMap people tend to be motivated a lot by renderings and other uses of the data they’re gathering. If the bus map stops being updated, then people stop adding bus routes.

There are other things which are less than perfect about öpnvkarte. It’s not a worldwide rendered tileset. It went worldwide for a few weeks but the server didn’t manage to cope. (I know my map is obviously not competing very well. I just rendered tiles for London!)

Wordwide tile rendering and re-rendering of updates, are tricky technical challenges. Obviously the developer of öpnvkarte is under no obligation to do these things, it’s just a shame that he doesn’t. More of a shame is that he doesn’t (as far as I’m aware) share his stylesheet config files. Again he’s not obliged to do so, and given the amount of work he must have put into it, perhaps it’s understandable. But sharing stylesheets would allow people with hardware and tuning know-how to have a go at tackling these other hosting challenges.

So those are a few weak justifications for starting all over again and attempting to build a different bus map stylesheet. My mapnik config files are hopelessly rudimentary so far, but it’s a start. Mostly though, this is just another baby step in my slow climb up the Mapnik learning curve. I wrote a diary entries back in January about this, but until this weekend I hadn’t tried anything further.

It was good to get up and present this rendering idea at rewiredstate, to a bunch of hackers and data mashers who I think would find this sort of thing interesting to play with themselves. I know a lot of them will reach for the boring old google maps toolsets for their map mashing work, but hopefully I gave a hint at some of the raw power and rendering fun offered by OpenStreetMap. Perhaps I should have made this important point again though: You can just use the familiar google maps javascript API on top of OpenStreetMap basemaps!.

The important point I did remember to make in my 2 minute slot: Next weekend we’re having a London OpenStreetMap hack weekend. I must try to prepare this time!

Thanks to the hard working RewiredState organisers and their sponsors (wired uk, tso, dxw) for a great day, and for all the free penguin biscuits and beers in the pub afterwards.

UPDATE: New transport map from Andy Allan. My friend Andy is creator of OpenCycleMap and all round Mapnikmeister. Unveiled today (14th April), his transport map is auto-updated and rendered worldwide (how are your local buses looking?) with beautiful pale shaded background cartographic choices. I think we can safely say I’ve been outdone on this one 🙂

BeingOpen talk and business impacts of OpenStreetMap

Yesterday I gave a talk about OpenStreetMap at BeingOpen.

BeingOpen OpenStreetMap Slides on slideshare

And here’s a blurry picture of me talking Can you tell I’m really trying not to wave my hands around?

I always imagine my slide decks will be quite re-usable, but things change a lot in OpenStreetMap. My normal intro to the project needed updating to feature Potlatch 2 and a stats update of course.

For eye-candy uses of OpenStreetMap there are a few nice new examples. Many of these are nice looking mobile apps, and I was pleased to be able to sneak in a plug for placr’s UK TravelOptions app. The other things I added were Skobbler, and the new glosm 3D engine.

OpenStreetMap use cases eye-candy

But besides the normal intro, I tried to talk in broad terms about business aspects of OpenStreetMap. This is a classic graphic copied from Steve Coast, which I think explains the disruptive impact of OpenStreetMap very well.

OSM and Ordnance Survey slide

As OSM quality improves, at zero cost, it exerts a downward pressure on the price of traditionally licensed datasets. Of course in the case of Ordnance Survey, this also needed updating:

OSM and Ordnance Survey Updated slide

Ordnance Survey released some of their datasets for free. I believe StreetView is the most detailed. Whether OSM is better or worse than Streetview is debatable (position on the horizontal axis), but when you consider that StreetView is a raster map, OSM is potentially much more useful (all depends on your use case)

They definitely have not released all their datasets for free. The popular “Landranger” maps? Still charged for. “MasterMap” is the super-detailed dataset which you still pay through the nose for as part of the planning process. OSM isn’t really trying to reach the level of detail of MasterMap, but may perhaps exert a downward pressure on its price point.

So in a way OpenStreetMap (and other open data initiatives) are all about destroying business models. Traditional map providers have enjoyed a great business model: Licensing their maps. OpenStreetMap is disruptive technology which swings a wrecking ball through these monopolies.

destroying business models

But in the wake of this demolition, there are new geodata niches which are much more interesting. Small companies can get involved map service provision where previously they wouldn’t be able to afford data licensing fees. I’m not going to lie to you. Finding a money-making niche in this landscape is a challenge. The people that undoubtedly benefit are the “end users” of maps. Businesses / website ideas which make use of maps tangentially to their core business model. These people have new and exciting map tools, and access to free data, thanks to OpenStreetMap. I followed up with some ideas for different levels of OpenStreetMap use, which I have described in more detail on the placr blog.

(Wrecking ball photo by Rhys’s Piece Is on flickr)

placr tube-radar

placr Tube Radar on an iPhoneHere’s something I’ve been working on at placr:

>>>> placr.mobi <<<

[Update:placr.mobi is a bit different these days, but the tube stuff is actually available at http://placr.mobi/timetable?u=uk%2Ftube ]

Have a play with it. The site is designed to work well on mobile screens. You can get to it by typing “tube-radar.com“. [update: These days that’s also something different. Sorry for the confusion]

The red and blue lines indicate tube performance in terms of “headway”. The time between trains. Closer to the centre means shorter headway (good!) further from the centre means… waiting around a while.


placr Tube Radar at London Bridge

You can compare the data over the past 24 hours (red) with the “normal” levels (blue) which are averaged over a longer time period, but at the same platform and same time of day. Hopefully this will give an indication of how good or bad or erratic your service is likely to be today.

If you’ve chatted to me about what I’ve been doing at placr, you’ll have noticed I’m fairly hopeless at describing it. So hopefully this will give you a better idea, although this is only part of part of what I’ve been doing. We decided it was time to bring some stuff to the public-facing surface from one of our projects. We’ve spent a while gathering and analysing performance metrics of the tube, and this is one kind of output we’re seeing. To get this out in time for the tube strike was a bit of a last-minute rush, so it may look rough around some of the edges, but here’s hoping some people will find it useful (or at least interesting) over the period of the tube strike.

Trip to Shanghai

Last week I went to China. You know, that place where everyone lives. In fact I was in Shanghai, the most populous city in the world (by some definitions)  I’m kind of ashamed to say it’s the first time I’ve been to Asia. My bounding box just got a whole lot wider. I was invited there to give a talk on OpenStreetMap and the Haiti story, which was a fantastic opportunity in itself. I shall blog more on that (coming soon)  but just being in this mega-city was an amazing experience, helped along by some excellent hosting.

Buses and taxis whisked us around the brightly lit streets. I was always impressed by the neon-lit multi-level flyovers and spaghetti junctions:

Shanghai Shanghai flyovers Shanghai Shanghai

We had  a trip to the Shanghai Expo. VIP access allowed us to mostly skip the gigantic queues, although amusingly we were denied this at the UK pavilion:

Shanghai Expo Shanghai Expo Shanghai Expo UK

We had some time to take in other Shanghai sights. The night-time boat trip was particularly spectacular:

Shanghai Shanghai Shanghai temple Shanghai

We had a look around the antique market and other shopping areas:

Dong Tai Road antiques market Shanghai Ancient chinese shopping plaza

We had some wonderful (and sometimes weird) chinese meals:

Fish in sweet sauce Roast Duck Moon soup No english menu

All in all a pretty spectacular travel experience. I thought I’d put a few photos here in case you missed my usual showing off live-photo-streaming while I was out there. More pictures on flickr.This wasn’t a holiday though. As I said, I need to follow this up with some more details of the OpenStreetMap talk I gave, and thoughts from the conference.