Bristol Open Geodata Consortium
This page brings together some ideas on bringing Wikimedia UK and its various Bristol partners and contacts together in a network to encourage the creation and use of freely available geographical information.
Geodata is machine-readable information about things and their locations, for example that Bristol Cathedral exists at a particular latitude and longitude, and has a particular shape, size and orientation. Open geodata is freely reusable without restriction for educational, commercial, or other purposes, as opposed to being owned by a specific organisation or locked into a particular system.
Aim: To enable and encourage people and organisations in Bristol to create open geodata, to prepare the city for the next generation of location-aware "augmented reality" technologies. Bristol should be a showcase for how a community can benefit from, and contribute to, shared geographical data.
There is a spectrum of potential activities, from the most achievable to the most ambitious.
- Open and free: the data will be available for use by the widest possible public, for educational, commercial or other purposes, through Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap and other free services.
- Device independence: rather than depending on a particular technology or service, we will share data that future services can build on. This consortium is not about developing hardware, but making sure the hardware does interesting things once it arrives.
- Language independence: We will use language-independent technologies and encourage users of languages other than English to contribute, increasing the accessibility and appeal of the city for foreign visitors and empowering local foreign-language communities to share their perspectives on the city.
Existing sources of local geodata
There are already several community-driven sources of open geographical information for Bristol. We hope to raise awareness of this work and encourage others to build on it for the widest possible public benefit.
Thanks to Wikipedia volunteers, many local landmarks (including the Victoria Rooms, The Watershed, and Bristol Old Vic) have rich articles tagged with latitude and longitude. This information can be queried by services such as dbpedia.org and made accessible to the public via Layar, Google Earth and other geographical services.
Wikipedia also has rich data on Bristol's listed buildings, including photographs and geographical locations.
These volunteers have taken Global Positioning devices around Bristol, annotated their tracks with detailed local information (identifying post boxes, public houses and other amenities) and shared the results freely as maps. This is done as an individual activity or involving a wider volunteer community through "map parties".
This is a community of more than 3,000 photographers, some of whom participate in Flickr's online discussion forum or in monthly face-to-face events. They upload their own photographs of places or events in Bristol and tag them either automatically or with Flickr's mapping tool. Flickr has the option to make photos available for reuse under Creative Commons licences.
Picasa, a rival to Flickr, also gives users the ability to tag photos geographically and share them under Creative Commons.
This is a project to put online at least one freely-available photograph for each square kilometre in the country. All photographs are available under Creative Commons licences. Bristol is well-covered, the central areas especially so: 818 images in the square around College Green; 326 around Christmas Steps; 478 around St. Mary Redcliffe.
3D modelling proposal
Aim: To construct an annotated, evolving 3D model of central Bristol and its landmarks using volunteer effort and open source software.
If you take a look at  in a Silverlight-enabled browser, you will see a 3D model of Bristol Cathedral, created from one person by photographing the building from many different angles. The software combines 2D images to work out what the building would look like from almost any angle or distance. This is geodata, but not open: it is owned by, and specific to, Microsoft. However, the same 3D modelling can be done with open-source software such as PixelStruct, Bundler or Insight3D. Here's Microsoft's demonstration of their technology.
Using public effort, simple equipment such as cameraphones, and free software, it is now technically and humanly possible to create not just a map of Bristol landmarks but a detailed 3D model, annotated with different kinds of information, which is open for anyone to use in creating new applications.
The public will be invited to take photographs and annotate them with tags and descriptions. This could be an ongoing project, with occasional events such as "map parties". The photos would be through Flickr or a similar service, tagged for reuse as Creative Commons. Training can be provided by Wikimedia UK, Flickr enthusiasts and/or OpenStreetMap volunteers.
A tourist arriving in Bristol will be able to:
- Tour looking for Banksy and other street art. Their device will direct them to interesting sites. Where a piece of street art has been defaced or worn away (e.g. the bottom of Park Street or Stokes Croft), their device will show them how it originally looked. Via harvested descriptions, they will be able to read comments and reactions from the public.
- Read about local historical figures connected to local buildings, in a similar way to blue or green plaques, but with richer information thanks to Wikipedia text and public annotations.
Involving scholars, archivists and students
Aim: To make Bristol’s history immediately and vividly accessible through location-aware technologies.
Bristol City Council, local archives and museums will release some public domain or free-licenced digital images to the project (eg. from http://discoveringbristol.org.uk/ , with links back to the site or to Wikipedia for further information). Academics, students or archivists will identify the point from which the photographs or paintings were taken, using a combination of manual mapping tools and computer vision. The images would then be available as a layer of the 3D model, allowing a user to step back through time.
School children on a visit to Bristol will be able to:
- See how the city was devastated by German bombing in the Second World War.
- See the Harbourside as it looked during Brunel's time.
- Identify landmarks that are relevant to Bristol's involvement in the slave trade.
- Be directed to artefacts in local museums that are connected to their present location.
- See the Clifton Suspension Bridge as it would look if built according to Brunel's original plan.
Involving the commercial sector
Aim: To make up-to-date information on amenities, shops and opportunities in the city immediately accessible to visitors and residents.
Local businesses will be able to add information about their services (e.g. opening hours) to the model, by photographing their building with a location-aware device and texting, Tweeting or adding a description on Flickr. Different kinds of information can be made visible to the user by colour-coding their view of the city. Council information on local businesses will be available in a similar geographical format for harvesting.
A Bristol resident looking around the city with an augmented reality device will be able to:
- See which venues are offering live music in the evening.
- Look at a street with various restaurants and cafes, and see Council-provided information on hygiene standards (a la http://www.scoresonthedoors.org.uk/ )
- Look at a street and see immediately which businesses have wheelchair access
- See property prices in different areas at a glance
Issue: Google StreetView will be doing a lot of this already: what can we do to add distinctive value over and above what they provide?
This list is speculative; mention here does not mean that the organisation shares the mentioned viewpoint or currently has any involvement in this consortium.
- Wikimedia UK
Greater public awareness of free and open content; Contributions of free images and data; Greater use of Wikimedia resources relevant to Bristol.
- Bristol City Council
Enhanced reputation for Bristol as a zone of culture and hi-tech innovation; Greater sense of public involvement in the city’s culture; Opportunities for local commerce; More usage of local museums and amenities; More tourism as detailed information about Bristol is available around the world, potentially in multiple languages; Local regulations (hygiene, health and safety etc.) are more enforceable as it is immediately visible to the public who is compliant.
- The University of Bristol
Novel educational opportunities for students of geography, history or computer vision; Greater awareness of the University as a centre of innovation and research; Visible public benefit and engagement; Greater public interest in Special Collections and other archive material
More volunteer involvement; Richer data
- Bristol Flickr Group
More contributions; More geographical data; Wider awareness of geographical tagging of photographs
- Schools, At-Bristol and other educational bodies
Interesting assignments for school children, involving active exploration and research
- Pervasive Media Studio
A massive data set and test-bed for pervasive technologies
A rich, open data set for location-based apps
- Martin Poulter, email@example.com
- Steve Virgin, firstname.lastname@example.org