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Ordnance Survey opens source code to web 2.0 applications

Web developers are this week previewing a free online platform to help them experiment with some of the world's most advanced geographic information.

OS OpenSpace enables web-savvy users to build mash-ups with a range of Ordnance Survey data in line with government aims to make public sector information more accessible.

Under an application programming interface (API) developers will register for a feed of data to experiment with non-commercially. It includes a range of mapping scales covering the whole of Great Britain down to street level.

This week's stage involves a hands-on preview to a dedicated group of developers who will have exclusive access to test functionality and build applications ahead of a public launch early in the new year.

"Technology continues to expand the opportunities for benefiting from geographic information," says Vanessa Lawrence, Ordnance Survey's Director General and Chief Executive. "Our OS OpenSpace project is all about promoting innovation and allowing non-commercial experimentation with our mapping data."

Ordnance Survey's move has been welcomed by Steve Coast, founder of OpenStreetMap and a consultant on the development of OS OpenSpace. He says: "This represents one of the most significant releases of a mapping data API. It will be interesting to see what web developers do with it."

Ordnance Survey is keen to ensure its community of more than 500 business partners support OS OpenSpace. Partners will be able to offer their own equivalent experimentation platform as well as offer developers a path to help take forward ideas suitable for commercial application.

Developers can access up to 30 000 "tiles" or extracts of data a day and up to 1 000 place name look-ups. OS OpenSpace allows users to add markers, lines and polygons on top of Ordnance Survey maps, search for place names with a gazetteer and display other location data from elsewhere on the web.

The platform is a JavaScript API that uses "slippy map" technology, so users can grab and move images in different directions. As well as the API itself, OS OpenSpace will include a community website so developers can discuss, review and collaborate on projects.

OS OpenSpace comes just three months after Ordnance Survey launched its explore portal enabling users to create and share walking routes over the web. So far, explore has 1400 members with 800 individual routes posted.

Ordnance Survey's Developer Partner programme also helps individuals and organisations that have potentially marketable ideas for using mapping information. This is a one-year, low-cost package of technical and business support with access to sample data.

The Cabinet Office recognised Ordnance Survey's progress towards OS OpenSpace in its response earlier this year to an independent review of how public sector information is created and shared over the internet.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.