This is a really interesting post about the challenges faced in moving the O.S. forwards, and in particular in how to lower the entry barriers for users of OS data, and help to drive the kind of innovation that has been fuelled by Google-maps. I've always thought that the biggest "Wow" factor of Google maps for UK users, is not really the UI or the API (These are very good, but not unique) but the availability of the detailed data. Making data available is all about the simplicity of the licensing.

At last years GIS tech I did a session on security and how to build secure web mapping sites, as a worked example of how the web allows users to build custom applications that can utilise functionality of your web site in there own applications, I built a Google map client that loaded the street mapping layer as a dynamic background layer into ArcGIS. This was before the API was released, and after looking at Google's license it was fairly obvious that this use was on the bounds of breaking it.

However the thing this highlighted for me was the simplicity of the Google terms of use, when compared to the O.S. MasterMap or Landline licensing agreements. I worked on our Searchflow system which delivered first Landline and then MasterMap via the web, as vector data that could be manipulated by users. The hoops we were required to jump through and the complexity of the licensing agreement, would have been a major barrier to smaller organisations or individuals.

There seem to be 2 key areas where the licensing is complex:

The first is the complexity of the charging/royalty scheme for mastermap and landline for commercial customers, we had to build a whole set of back office tools, to track, calculate and audit usage and royalty payments. To be fair the scheme was trying to be flexible and aimed at charging users by type of usage, but the flexibility led to a lot of complexity. If services are made available free perhaps leading to chargeable ones later it is vital that the charging model is simple, and that it is easy for developers to implement.

The second issue that I believe is more important, is that currently most of the O.S. agreements seem to contain technical restraints on the usage of data. This is a major hurdle for innovation, as there are constraints in the license that could prevent new usage of data, some of them seem fairly innocuous such as providing a copyright statement and license number, but even this could be an issue, when for example trying to provide data as a service with no map or UI. More importantly is the ability to deliver vector data for example, svg, gml or georss. Currently the letter of most agreements don't really allow for this. I think the key issue is that Lawyers tend to work to a different time-line than developers, and trying to build technical constraints into license agreements, is always going to lag behind what people want to do with technology and so stifle innovation. Any constraints should be focussed on business models or commercial issues rather than technical uses.

There is great value in Mastermap data but many of the traditional users may not need or utilise this additional value. It will take the sort of explosion in innovation that making the data free for experimentation by individuals will drive, to realise the full value of the data.