back to article British Waterways charity mapping data handed to Google for free

Google has gotten its hands on the GIS data for all of the UK's waterway paths for its Maps without handing over a penny. The Chocolate Factory will download British Waterways' GIS (geographic information system) info into its cartographical app to tell Brits where picturesque paths for walking and cycling are. GIS data …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They should give the data to Garmin and TomTom, too,

    and watch those waterways gradually fill up with crashed Polish lorries.

    1. vagabondo

      Re: They should give the data to Garmin and TomTom, too,

      and especially openStreetMap

  2. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Can the author of this article outline the process they would have used to determine the correct price to charge Google?

    1. Chris Miller

      Some sort of auction, I would imagine.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: auction

        If they intend to give the data to anyone who wants it, because their aim is to "attract visitors", then they can't very well auction an exclusive licence. Auctioning a non-exclusive licence makes even less sense ...

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Just ask

      The author doesn't need to [outline the process ...], the spokesperson is quoted as saying

      We are well aware of the commercial value of the data,

      So since they are already well aware of its value, all they had to do was ask for that amount. If Google declined, then it would seem that this value had been set unrealistically high.

      1. skipper

        Re: Just ask

        The 'commercial value' of the data in its own right isn't that huge. Once its been manipulated into something that can be usefuly used by the public - that's when it starts to have value.

        They should probably be making it available as an open data source for all to exploit in the same manner as Transport for London do.

  3. petur
    Thumb Up

    data wants to be free

    Please let us not go down the path(!) of selling this kind of data in some auction. The last thing you want is that it is owned by 1 company. This data should be free for all to use.

    I think it is fair enough that Google got it for free since they will be sharing it with the world for free, most probably in a more usable way than its current state.

    1. Bobthe2nd

      Re: data wants to be free

      Data shouldnt be free as it has value. The UK taxpayer has paid for the collation and maintenance of the data and then hands it over to a company to make profit (advertising) out of its/our dataset for free.

      Who is paying for the upkeep of that dataset? err the UK taxpayer... who is the mug here the UK taxpayer.. You might swallow the Google mantra of everything should be free so it can pre-emptively defeat any competition but as far as I'm concerned its more of a Wormtongue company especially with the current government.

      </end rant>

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: data wants to be free

        >The UK taxpayer has paid for the collation and maintenance of the data

        So the UK tax payer should be able to access it. With the map tools they are used to using.

        Show me an advert on Google Earth, or for that matter, Google Maps on my phone.

        1. The Axe

          Re: data wants to be free

          Adverts on google maps? So you haven't see on the little place holders appearing showing the location of restuarants etc. Which if you touch go straight to a web page for that company? I thought those were adverts.

          1. Phil W

            Re: data wants to be free

            I'm not really sure you can classify it as advert if you see the location of a restaurant or other business and then by deliberately choosing to click on it you are taken to their website.

            Personally I consider this a useful feature, not an advert. When i see a restaurant on a map my first thoughts are "I wonder if it's open?" and "I wonder whats on the menu?" both of which can usually be answered on the website.

      2. petur

        Re: data wants to be free

        So, you want them to waste more UK taxpayers money to develop a separate app (probably with userfriendlyness of the nineties) that doesn't integrate with any other mapping app and thus is basically useless.

        I bet TomTom & others can get the data as well.

        </end common sense>

    2. Mark Dowling

      "fair enough that Google got it for free since they will be sharing it with the world for free"

      Unless the site sharing it has more than a threshold number of hits in which case they DO have to pay.

  4. joeW

    What's the issue?

    Unless Goog has been given some sort of exclusive license to the data, I see no problem with the information being made freely available.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: What's the issue?


  5. OffBeatMammal

    just Google?

    is the data being made available for free to just Google, or is it being published in a format that anyone (OSM, Navteq etc) can consume it and help promote the tow paths?

  6. TRT

    I wonder...

    if it was made clear that in order to cycle on the tow path, one needs a permit from British Waterways?

    1. Andyf

      Re: I wonder...

      The permit is a free download from British waterways, but it's never checked.

      I'll rephrase - in 30 or so years of using the canals on a fairly regular basis in one form or another, I've never been asked to produce my 'permit' by anyone. All it states is that you follow some common sense rules and show a bit of consideration to others.

    2. Giles Jones Gold badge

      Re: I wonder...

      Which is really just a way of getting people to read some rules, which is fair enough.

      It's not like you can go very fast on many tow paths anyway.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not like you can go very fast



    3. Annihilator

      Re: I wonder...

      I'm not sure a permit is always required? For example, National Cycle Route 4 is the tow-path of the Kennet & Avon for a fair chunk, and Sustrans mention nothing about requiring a permit.

      Although you'd be amazed at the number of irritated pedestrians you get who seem to have no awareness of it being a shared path, even when the cyclist in question follows the code.

  7. ukgnome

    Who else was hoping for a barge view camera boat instead of some boring old GIS stuff

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not worth much to Google anyway

    Canals typically cut through vast swathes of open countryside where there are no WiFi stations for Android handsets to report home the MAC addresess of, continually augmenting Google's location database service. Same with the majority of cycle route miles which follow waterways or old railway lines, well away from where people live.

    I bet Google will never send out the camera cars again as they don't need to. Android users unwittingly do the maintenance legwork for them.

    1. TRT

      Re: Not worth much to Google anyway

      So, all the back alleys, footpaths and cut throughs that aren't on Google's maps will slowly become apparent because Android phones will show them in regular use? Cool. Way to go Big Brother! Virtual desire lines.

    2. The Axe

      Re: Not worth much to Google anyway

      Google are still sending out the cars. I saw one two weeks ago between Darwen and Bolton going towards Delph Reservoir.

  9. Beaver6813

    Do no right?

    It seems that every post that mentions Google now, no matter what they do, has a dig at them. I'm all for flagging up when something wrong is done but it just seems that every little thing is turned into a negative. Should Google have insisted on paying BW a huge amount of money? From BW's response, I think its clear that money is not what they want from this deal and yet the author is implying that theres some shady corporate business going on.

    1. OffBeatMammal

      Re: Do no right?

      no issue with Google getting this for free (and I don't think the article had too much of a dig) but if taxpayers money funded the original collection of data and it's being shared with with one entity for free I hope it's made available (under the same deal/terms) to other mapping providers so the playing field is level and equitable

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Do no right?

        The article was having an implied dig, Daily Mail style, and my comment "Can the author of this article outline the process they would have used to determine the correct price to charge Google?" was an attempt to make it explicit.

        A British charity, with the aim of promoting the waterways, has released its data to a map service that many British people use... Seems win win to me. Nowhere was there mention of the data not being available to any other party.

        I was hoping the author might acknowledge and expand upon their unease with the situation for our, the readers benefit, but no.

  10. Alain Moran

    Coming to a browser near you soon

    Google River-View & Google Canal-View ... you heard it here first!

    PS: No I don't have any inside information, but it's a bit obvious if british waterways are talking up new ways of promoting the rivers and canals.

    1. djs

      Re: Coming to a browser near you soon

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cycle routes? just use the roads (except motorways). After all, the roads are funded through a combination of all taxes, income tax, council tax and VED. The money from VED (aka road tax) hasn't been directly funding the roads since the 1930s.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Cycle route

      The Google maps cycle routes here will take you miles out of your way to use an "official" cycle route and doesn't know which bits of the freeway you can/can't cycle on.

      Although the local uni has a cycle trip planner site based on Google maps that can trade distance/steepness and does a reasonable job

    2. Steven Jones

      Use the roads only?

      I use Google maps to plan cycle routes and you can, indeed use roads. However, there are other options with a bike - cycle paths, bridleways (in the UK), byways. Also, the algorithms of an optional car journey are not the same as for the optimal bike one. The cyclists is likely to favour minor roads over main highways, shorter distance routes through towns rather than busy bypasses. A cyclist might also favour a flatter route over a hilly one.

      Of course you can force Google Maps to go via particular roads, but it won't do that for routes not open to motorised traffic. A further compromise can be made by choosing the "pedestrian option", which knows about some (not all) cycle routes, but unfortunately will also direct cyclists the wrong way down one-way streets, along footpaths and so on. So a dedicated cycle routing option would be nice, and preferably one that allowed for some control of optimisation rules as cyclists vary in their needs.

      Finally, it would be nice if Google allowed combining "road following" with manual links on a single route as it is unlikely that it will ever know about every possible short cut.

      1. Mike_1727

        Re: Use the roads only?

        Cyclestreets is pretty good for cycle route planning, giving a choice of fastest/balances.quietest routes and it uses cycle routes and bridleways if you want it to.

        It's got an app too, for Android and Apple.

  12. JaitcH

    Better that Google has it than stuffed away in filing cabinets.

    This is a good decision, as a boater I know how difficult is to keep charts up to date.

    Francesco Shattino, late captain of the soon to be late Costa Concordia knows the value of frequently used charts - any errors get reported by masses of people quickly. So in letting Google have the data the British Waterways are ensuring it will be a living entity rather than a drain on a charities coffers.

    1. WorsleyNick

      Re: Better that Google has it than stuffed away in filing cabinets.

      This is very sad news.

      There is already a free handy interactive graphical tool which provides boaters, walkers and cyclists with all the route planning they might wish for. It shows distances, locks, bridges , which side the towpath is on and photographs of canalside features. It has been developed by enthusiasts and is not for profit. There are a small number of adverts which pay for the server costs.

      I have found the tool much better than anything that I have seen on Google. I am left wondering if CART (the successor to British Waterways) is run by people who know or care what happens on their system.

      This will undermine the 'business model' as Google will swamp the hits on canalplan and its advertising will dry up.

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