Impressed by the new MySociety service for doing interesting things with Ordnance Survey OpenData – MapIt. The API is well thought out and quick and clean, the documentation fits onto one page, the backend is free software.
I will confess to mild chagrin, because as well as having all these wonderful properties, MapIt does almost everything that Unlock Places does for Boundary-Line and Code-Point. Compare, contrast:
A simple search for records about a place beginning with a name, returning the results in JSON:
The detail of the shape describing that place, in GeoJSON (in both cases the ID to be looked up is taken from the JSON results of the previous request):
MapIt does things that are still on our todo list – such as exposing ST_Touches geometry query over web-based API:
Matthew Somerville, MapIt’s creator writes that “MaPit is really just an extension of the service we have always run internally for our own purposes” – MySociety services like Fix My Street, Write To Them and the renowned They Work For You.
It’s great to see a service that looks so much like Unlock emerge from the internal needs of an organisation with a track record of geospatially aware, simple useful web tools.
However I pause to think, what are we providing with Unlock Places search through OS Open Data that MapIt isn’t doing at least as well?
Well, we have a few more data sources, so a more comprehensive gazetteer search; MapIt is directed towards building applications around government data and assumes the client will probably know the “right” names or codes. We could implement a neat “Give me the official names and shapes for this more vernacular name” wrapper, perhaps.
We have geonames mirrored in Unlock too – only point data, but global coverage – and are working on adding OpenStreetmap (probably just for Europe) to the cross-search. But I wonder, quite hard, how much we would gain from improving and adding to the MapIt codebase instead of persevering with our own gazetteer API code.
A future focus for Unlock Places (from the New Year on) is adding historic place-names to the gazetteer, so we can do historic place-name text mining with Unlock Text – incorporating the data coming out of the CHALICE project – as this is a common request for researchers, and not something that’s currently being done commercially.
The Unlock Text service remains a bit more novel. This does text mining across documents (plain text, HTML or XML metadata), extracts likely placenames and uses the gazetteer search to pick the most likely locations. The text miner looks for other entities too – personal and organisational names, references to dates – but we only expose the placename part over our the web API.