Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Google Picasa UK album problem

Recently, we started receiving fault reports regarding some of the picture albums we share.

At the start, these appeared to be random, and we didn’t have the time to look too closely, especially since the number was too small to show an obvious pattern or reason.

However, it soon became apparent that the problem wasn’t intermittent, wasn’t going to go away of its own accord, and demanded some time. Fortunately, the increasing number of reports meant there was something to work with, and it became apparent the problem lay not here, but in some change made at Google mission control.

The albums in question used to have urls (addresses) which began with:

Followed by the individual album details.

Instead of going to the desired album, these urls were diverting to a generic Google Picasa Web Albums sign in screen. Not a lot of help, and no reason given for the redirection or failure.

Fortunately, we still had plenty of functional albums, and once the problem had been identified, it didn’t take too long to fix as it only affected a few of the older albums, all those created recently were fine, and that’s because their urls all begin with:

A Search & Replace fixes the problem, but why?

I know some sites deliberately change their urls to break any links that have been made to them (online newspapers seem to like this trick, and we’ve stopped bothering to link to a number, having become fed up with “The link you have requested is no longer available, but the article requested should still be in out archives. Please use the search function”. The reason we no longer bother with these sites is because we’ve yet to find one that delivered the desired article when we searched.

Others claim to do it to discourage spammers, but that seems to be self-defeating, since you’ve just lost all your regular repeat visitors that bookmarked you.

As far as we can see, BBC News may soon be the only reliable source of linkable, online, news reports as their urls seem to be the only ones that have remained stable since day one.


Nov 18, 2008 Posted by | Site News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ordnance Survey stifles development

ukmapI’ve been using GPS (Global Positioning System) actively since at least 1998, when the first receivers with decent basemaps hit the market, and their price fell to a (then) reasonable £400 to £500, or somewhat less if you were internet savvy back then, and bought online. These were quickly followed up by more advanced models with downloadable maps which boosted the resolution from road level to street level, and allowed them to be used for real-time point-to-point navigation with directions – something that had previously only been possible on a PC, and for real-time navigation had to be hooked up to a GPS receiver.

Now we have SatNav (I’m beginning to develop a real dislike of that term), and drivers that no longer look out their windows or take their brains out of the box, and look surprised when they sink in a muddy track, or their eight foot wide lorry get jammed in a six foot wide lane. Instead of admitting they are idiots, they leave the naturally dumb look on their face and say “The SatNav TOLD me to go down there”.

More serious has been the attitude of Ordnance Survey to the public use of data which their mapping contains. In effect, it’s their data which they assert their copyright over when they publish it, and woe betide anyone that uses it, even a little clip on a web page.

Now this has always been a bone of contention with those of us that want to pop a little pic somewhere, even on a personal web page that has no monetary value. Do it without permission, and you could be in trouble. This has upset some more than others, as they contend OS is funded from taxes (please see the Comment section below for clarification regarding funding), so if you’re British, you’ve already paid for it they say, so under “fair use” they say it should be free for use where such conditions apply. It’s public data and it should be freely available. Commercial applications are clearly excluded from this option, and licensing etc of map data in such cases in not argued against.

We appear to have a crazy (but not surprising situation since politicians are involved) where one arm of government has told Ordnance Survey to make a business out of its data, and another has decided that data should be “free”.

Over the years, I’ve watched a number of sites that used OS data either fold, or stop using the data either because of the cost, or if they’d paid up, because OS came back to them and claimed they had contravened some or other term of their license, and cancelled it.

See Who own Scotland? for an example, which seems to be unresolved almost two years after the OS pulled their license.

The same is true of postcode location data, which has caused all sorts of wrangles in the past. There are now individual sites were people are assembling lists of post codes and the areas they cover, so that the information can be accessed without having to pay for the privilege.

Now things are getting messy and silly, and we have The Mapping mess – Google v OS brought to us by The Guardian, which has run a long campaign to encourage public bodies to “Free Our Data”, and has got hold of a document from Ordnance Survey which warns local authorities about the implications of taking information gathered from OS data and plotting it on Google Maps. The basic message is “that’s our intellectual property – don’t think you can simply get away with handing it over to our deadly rival.”

If you have a rummage around the web for more new stories, you’ll find that Google have already altered their Terms & Conditions to try and respond to this silliness, and that they believe OS has also misrepresented the meaning of its terms.

An Ordnance Survey spokesman previously told the BBC the real problem was in Google’s terms and conditions which allow the search company, in his words, to “reproduce, modify and distribute content that is entered into their maps.” The spokesman said talks had been taking place between the OS and Google about changing those terms, but in the meantime, “We won’t allow people to overlay our information onto Google maps. We have to protect our information.”

At the time of writing (and this may have changed by the time you read this) even the Geograph project had been hit by this, and since November 13, the home page carried the message, “FYI: No Embedded Google Maps until further notice. We are needing to clarify a few legal issues at the moment, hopefully we will be able to enable the mapping or find a suitable alternative”.

There’s some further insight in Barry Hunter’s blog who provides the excellent who also seems to have been moved to delete parts of that site for the moment as a result of these shenanigans.

It doesn’t matter to me personally, I’ll never have enough money to even think of paying for OS data or map clips, or to afford being sued by them, but I do agree with the view that if the data has been obtain using public funds, then the public has a right to use it without further charge in “fair use” situations.

It’s all really rather silly, and is probably a fairly classic example of how greed can stifle development.

A while ago (there’s a post buried somewhere in our archives with the details), Russian mapping of the UK was unearthed, and was found to be highly detailed, and there was a suggestion then that OS was considering suing over copyright.

The map below comes for free from Google, from America, where such information, including zip codes (their post code system) is freely available (and just in case, the one above is free clipart, from the web).

Nov 18, 2008 Posted by | Maps | , , , , , | 2 Comments


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