Southampton Open Data Blog


Return on Investment

November 25, 2011
by Christopher Gutteridge

This is something I’ve been banging on about all year. We all tell people that open data is a Good Thing, but we don’t really provide any rewards for it. Search engines do — if you mark up your pages maybe they will do something with your content, maybe not.

RSS feeds also provide an immediate and understandable ROI, maybe less than they once did, but people see their data getting used, and can play with it in tools from the moment it goes live.

I’ve been thinking that what makes a lot of sense is to start creating little widgets and websites that provide value on top of RDF open data. To this end I’ve created a little service which provides a building location lookup for your website, given an RDF document containing a list of your buildings. The code is available on request but is still a bit hacky. I’ve some ideas to make it really exendable and do some stuff to make it easier to customise. It’s written using ARC2, Graphite and some javascript.

I actually thing the demonstrations below are a really big deal. It’s one tool which can provide a useful service on top of the RDF from three different organisations. This is what I want the future to look like! These can be embedded in your own pages in an iframe, but it’s a bit icky loading 4 google map iframes in one page.

Also get in touch, maybe via the comments, if you would like to publish open RDF data about your organisation’s places. It’s dead easy and all you need is a UNIXish (Linux or OSX) computer, a free tool (Grinder), and my example configuration files for places in grinder. Given that you can edit your list of buildings (and sites, and rooms…) in a spreadsheet and turn it into RDF data in minutes. Cheap, easy, and with an imediate Return On Investment. This is how Linked Data should be.

I’m even thinking about making a Grinder web service, so you just publish a speadsheet, and a configuration file and we spit out RDF for you…

Guest Post: QR Codes in Bus Stops

August 10, 2011
by Christopher Gutteridge

This is a guest post from Nick Gammer, a University of Southampton MSc student.

* * *

Just a quick note about a project I’m undertaking involving Southampton University’s Open Data Service. As the dissertation of my MSc in Transport Planning and Engineering and with the kind help of First Group and support of Southampton City Council I’ve placed QR code posters in over 40 bus stops around Southampton. These can be scanned using a smartphone which links to the next arrival times of all buses servicing the relevant stop, usually in real time as the majority of services now have GPS based AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location).

This information initially comes from ROMANSE, Southampton’s traffic control centre. However this is not mobile friendly and does not perform well on a smartphone. Southampton University’s open Data Service already skims this data, adding a map of the stop location, which is what the QR code links to. Without this service the project would be substantially devalued.

The project has been running for two weeks now with initially encouraging results; between 10 and 30 QR codes are scanned and link to this data daily. There is also a survey underway assessing users views of the service (amongst other things). I’ll put a quick note on the conclusion of the project at a later data.

Quick Update

July 28, 2011
by Christopher Gutteridge

IWMW: Dave & I have been away at IWMW 2011, learning and promoting the Southampton Open Data Service. A key message we’ve been pushing is to make sure the data providers get a return on their investment. If they don’t get a value to themselves or their users, why should they care? Very positive response from many people. I think the tipping point is upon us, finally!

Google Map: A few people have commented how the road on the Google Map goes right through building 85. I’ve put a report into teleatlas who provide that data and apparently a fix is in the works!

Bus Stops: I’ve added some neat new things to the sidebar [example]. A link to a fullscreen version of the bus times info, suitable for display screens (I think this would be nice in the NOC lobby), and also cut-and-paste code to add the bus times to your own pages, using an iframe.

Quick Sunday Update

July 17, 2011
by Christopher Gutteridge

First of all, I’ve also just added a new post over at the web team blog which might be interesting to our readers on the data blog, if you’ve ever been confused about the relationship between Open Data, Linked Data and RDF Data.

Secondly, I’ve just added in the sameAs links between our bus-stop data and I should have done this months ago, but kept forgetting. It’s up now and I imagine Hugh Glaser will import them into the service which will allow you to discover our data on Southampton bus-stops by resolving the government ID for a bus-stop in (maybe we’ll link to a demo, as I don’t think I explained that very well!)

** UPDATE **: Turns out my sameAs links were wrong, but Colin has created a full set which also links our codes for train stations and I’ve added in the airport. I’ve published it as a separate linkset.

Lastly, I asked a few keys staff for comments about the value of Open Data, and here’s a great one:

The Open Day map, based on open data, amazed so many of our visitors, is was great example of how our leading edge research has translated into a very real an practical application, second only to Soton Bus!

— University of Southampton Pro Vice-Chancellor Education, Professor Debra Humphris

The open days pages aren’t actually linked from the data.southampton homepage; but they aren’t secret, just only valuable for the period of the now-passed event.

A Tale of Two Maps

July 6, 2011
by Christopher Gutteridge

One of the university researchers, Rich Treves, blogs in the field of map usability and has posted an article comparing Colin’s OpenDataMap with the universities existing map, designed a few years back by the late cartography team.

It’s important to point out that Colin built his map for fun, with no resources or training, so he shouldn’t feel bad it’s not as pretty as one made by award-winning professional cartographers!

On a side note; I noticed yesterday that many university buildings have 3D models on Google Earth… I wonder if there’s a mashup we could do making a 3D data map?

So, thanks for the ideas, Rich, but there’s nothing stopping you taking the data and making your own maps *grin*…

Generating Open Geographic Data

June 23, 2011
by Colin R Williams

Let me introduce Colin Williams, a postgraduate student who has been doing lots of interesting stuff to help the Open Data service. I’ve asked him to contribute to this blog. Over to you Colin…


Recently, I have been assisting the team in gathering geographic data for their site. By geographic data, I am referring to the latitude and longitude of campus buildings and services.

This can be a simple point reference, as in:

<> geo:lat 50.935436

<> geo:long -1.398055

or it could be an outline of a building (or site) footprint, as in:

<> dct:spatial “POLYGON((-1.3960952 50.9368069,-1.3958352 50.9368250,-1.3956962 50.9360329,-1.3959562 50.9360148,-1.3960952 50.9368069))”

One of the surprising discoveries made by the team during their data gathering was the lack of any geographic data held by Estates and Facilities. So, I set out to gather this data… [Editors Note: Our Estates & Facilities service do have all the geo data they need, but it’s not very useful to the open data project as they just don’t need a reference lat/long point.]

Google Maps

First stop, Google Maps. Google allows users to create their own maps, by overlaying points and polygons on their maps (or their satellite imagery). Their tool is easy to use, using a web interface to add points (and polygons) to the map. This data can then be exported, as a .kml file, which we can easily convert to a form that can be imported into

This started off fine, until I started to think more about the licencing of the data. I had read in the past that, due to the copyright held by Google (or their mapping providers) over their map data, contributors to OpenStreetMap aren’t allowed to use Google’s data to determine the location of entities.

Time to check the Google Maps Terms of Use. Specifically, term 2.(e) states that:

2. Restrictions on Use. Unless you have received prior written authorization from Google (or, as applicable, from the provider of particular Content), you must not:

(e) use the Products in a manner that gives you or any other person access to mass downloads or bulk feeds of any Content, including but not limited to numerical latitude or longitude coordinates, imagery, and visible map data;

So, that rules out the use of Google as a data source.


As its name suggests, OpenStreetMap is an open data street map, with its data being available under the CC BY-SA licence. OpenStreetMap is a great example of a collaborative, wiki-style geographic application. We could re-use their data, however, we wanted to generate authorative data, without making huge, possibly unnecessary changes to the OpenStreetMap data simply in order to achieve our goal. So, let’s look somewhere else. (I should probably contribute some of our building outlines back to OpenStreetMap when I find some time.)

Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance Survey is Great Britain’s national mapping agency, which, in recent years, has released some open products. Confusingly, they seem to have two ‘Open’ products which could be relevant to our task.

OS OpenSpace

The OS OpenSpace API, according to their website, is “free to access and lets developers create amazing web applications and online projects with Ordnance Survey maps”. Sounds good so far. Their web-mab builder allows the user to add markers and routes, and then to export a html page (with javascript) that can be put on a web site. Not exactly what we’re after, but we could probably extract the data from it. Are we allowed to?

Well, it seems that this the data used on OS OpenSpace is licensed under the ‘OS OpenData terms’, which ‘include’ the Open Government Licence.

However, the OpenSpace FAQs include this entry:

2.1 I am using OS OpenSpace to create a database of location based information. Does Ordnance Survey own this?

When you use OS OpenSpace to geocode data by adding locations or attributes to it that have been directly accessed from and/or made available by Ordnance Survey mapping data, then the resulting data is ‘derived data’, because it is derived from Ordnance Survey data.

Ordnance Survey would own such ‘derived data’, but we grant you a non-exclusive, personal licence to use it within your web application. Please refer to the definition of ‘Derived Data’ and Clause 5.4 of the OS OpenSpace Developer Agreement.

Well that’s not what we want. But, how about the data, that is under the Open Government Licence?

OS OpenData

The OS OpenData site holds a variety of geographical datasets. For example, Code-Point Open is a dataset containing the latitude and longitude of 1.7 million postcodes, whilst OS VectorMap District is a vector based map of Great Britain. Unfortunately it’s not quite detailed enough to show individual buildings, which is what we’re really after.

So, the product we’re after is OS Street View (not to be confused by a similarly named, but completely different product offered by Google).

Can we use this data? The FAQ (which is in PDF format) has this to say:

11 Am I able to reuse “derived data” created from the OS OpenData products?

The licence allows the reuse of the derived data created from any OS OpenData products for commercial and non-commercial use. For more information on terms and conditions, read the OS OpenData Licence at

OK, so we have found some mapping data that we are allowed to use. Is it in an easy-to-use form? Of course not, its in raster format. In other words, it’s a bitmap image (or rather, a series of images, each covering a 5km by 5km patch of Great Britain).  How can we easily extract the information we need from these images?


Merkaartor describes itself as an OpenStreetMap editor for Unix, Windows and Mac OS X. It turns out that we can use it to export data rather than uploading that data to OpenStreetMap.

By default, Merkaartor has a number of data sources installed. In order to use the OS OpenData maps, we add as a data source, which uses the OS Street View data mentioned earlier.

All that remains to be done is to trace the shapes on the map and then export the data, as KML, which we then convert into a simple CSV file to be imported into

The data that has been generated as part of this process is available in the buildings and places dataset, and you can see it in use on the University’s open data map (which I have also been developing).


Thanks, Colin. I’ll just wrap this up by saying that University of Southampton Buildings & Estates will one day probably take over curation of this data, and they are aware of this work. They are happy to let us worry about it for the time being. This is fine with me as buildings don’t move much. Colin has done all of this for fun in his own time. I hope the other projects are lucky enough to get some helpers like this. Be ready with a plan of how to let people help if they offer!