Driving some value into Google's Street View
The Reg calls on Google to open Street View
Perhaps Google should pay some penance for its evil. As luck would have it, we’ve got a lovely idea for how it can redeem itself.
But first, some back story.
Mapping is a murky business. UK taxpayers have the pleasure of supporting Ordnance Survey’s activities to create maps of the entire UK. Ordnance Survey then gleefully sells these maps back to us, so we can actually use the maps we helped pay to create. Google Maps might be free to you, at the point of service, but behind the scenes Google are handing over cash for the rights to use those maps. It is similar to what it is doing with YouTube and all those pesky video "rights holders".
As The Guardian notes: "Nearly half of the OS's revenue comes from selling its data to the public sector, and the public sector is funded by us, the taxpayers."
Back in 2004 a small bunch of rebels came along and set up Open Street Map. This is the mapping equivalent of Wikipedia. Take your GPS and go walk, cycle or drive around a bit. Upload the data from the GPS to your computer, drop it into the Open Street
Wiki Map and, bam!, instant "open source" Map 2.0 of the UK for everyone to use. And no annoying royalties to pay for the privilege. Plus permissive licences to use the data as you see fit.
Nice idea, right? Here’s what they had achieved by May 2006, almost two years after starting:
Amazingly, two years later, they had this:
The live map lets you explore further.
After a little more detail? Try the festive city of Edinburgh in May 2006:
Compared to two years later, July 2008:
Again, the live map has more.
A lot happened in two years, but the progress has much more to do with pictures from space than it does with geeks wandering the streets with GPS trackers.
I am afraid I have to disagree with both of your arguments. But I do appreciate that you actually discuss them.
> The fact that OS are *partly* funded by us through tax and *partly* funded by
> selling maps is neither here nor there. Any profit they make is also ours. The
> balance between tax income and product income is arbitrary if they only sell maps
> to British people.
Let us compare that to hospitals so see the problem with this line of reasoning. Is there any difference between hospitals that are 90% goverment sponsored and 10% by their patients, or the other way around? It doesn't matter if you just look at the total displacement of money, but it does matter when you look at service. In case of hospitals it means poor people are out of luck, in the case of "unfree" map data, it means that the map data is used less effectively than it could be. Different orders of magnitude of course, but same phenomena.
> Remember, OS maps are accurate. Not just "turn left at the next lights"
> accurate or "ooh look there's my house" accurate, but "here is the exact
> topography of this square mile" accurate. I'd hate to lose that just on the
> principle that maps "want to be free".
If OS gets the assistance of the OSM community (and moderates their input if they prefer), the result will be better maps at a lower cost. The only relevant question is: are they able to save enough money to survive only on tax money?
@Rick (OS maps the details)
> OS, on the other hand, map everything. And I mean absolutely everything.
> Roads, paths, buildings, heights, pylons, fences. Everything. Oddly enough,
> measuring and recording everything in such detail costs money, and involves
> actually looking at the place rather than just sitting at a computer. Good luck
> getting that done free over the internet.
You would be surprised how cheaply you can precisely map these roads, paths, buildings, heights, pylons, fences and everything with current technology. Let's do one example:
Let's say you have 2 Google Streetview Images of a standard postbox. The images come with GPS coordinates, so we can derive that they are for example precisely 20 meters apart.
Now we also know the camera orientation (Google is to lazy to align these pictures by hand, so they probably record compass data). We also know the optic properties of the camera (if Google doesn't tell us, there are millions of pictures to derive them from and I am sure they photographed a few mirrors here and there).
We also know how big a standard postbox is.
Ergo, with some trivial math, we know exactly *where* the postbox is.
Now all we need is a couple of people who tag every postbox in the city, which is virtually no work. In fact, if you do it for a couple of hundred postboxes, it should be a trivial to let a computer find the other hundred thousand or so in the country.
Once we know the size and exact location of several typical objects, we can calculate the size and position of everything else in the image just by looking at the geometry.
So you next question will probably be, how are we going to maintain this stuff? Don't we need a big expensive agency for that? Well, your government is solving that by putting up CCTV cameras all over the country. You can track every fence and every postbox in the country, every second, every day. And it will barely cost a thing because its payed from the anti terrorism budget anyway.
And there is all the amateur cameras with GPS. In fact, even camera's with no GPS will do here. Thanks to Google, we now have an approximate image of everything and it should be "easy" to match the pictures to them.
While we are at it... Does anyone really believe that face blurring is going to be enough once every street in the country is monitored at every second of the day? With that much data, I think you can derive peoples identity from their cloths, the way they walk, etc. And the photos on FlickR don't do face blurring... Fascinating, albeit a bit scary.
That's a pretty cool idea, however "the freetards could just trace the roads from the images" (Yahoo aerial photos) is all very well except for a 20 mile stretch around where I live in W.Sussex, the resolution is so poor, you can't make out roads at all. Not useful in the slightest.