Mapumental: where can I live?

Channel 4 and mySociety – the non-profit organisation who build cool stuff for the public good – have teamed up to create a new website to help people work out where to live, work or holiday.

Mapumental, currently in invite-only beta, takes data about public transport, house prices, senic-icity and combines them with free mapping to clearly show where you can get to in a given time. I’ll discuss some of the data in a moment, but first watch the demo:

For travelling into Edge Hill you can see that most of North and central Liverpool is accessible by public transport in an hour or less. Nudging the time up to 1h15m allows me to get the train in, which is pretty much spot on:

Mapumental 1:00 Mapumental 1:15

The data they combine comes from an interesting range of sources. Traveline supply the National Public Transport Data Repository (for ~£9000 – a snip!). House prices for England and Wales is supplied by the Land Registry. The other data, however, is free!

The base mapping layer is from OpenStreetMap – a project to create a free (as in beer and speech) map similar to the ones available from Google Maps, or even from the OS. It’s created by volunteers who go out with GPS and plot the routes online. Almost all major roads are on there already and certain areas have excellent quality coverage – take a look at South Liverpool for an example of how good it can get.

Edge Hill University Faculty of Health Copyright Bryan Pready, Creative Commons LicenceThe scenic-icity of places was determined by mashing up some other data. Geograph is a project aiming to have a photo of every 1km x 1km grid square in the country. All photographs submitted are under Creative Commons licence so you’re free to use them (with some restrictions).

mySociety took the images and created a game, ScenicOrNot, asking people to rate how scenic a photo looks – nearly 15,000 people took part building up the third layer of information.

The kind of information Mapumental exposes is stuff that’s previously only been known through experience or painful manual analysis of train/bus timetables and estate agent windows. In a time when many people are trying harder to make better use of public transport, knowing all your options is essential.

If you’ve not come across mySociety before, check out some of their other websites:

Channel 4’s involvement in the project is through its new 4iP fund for investing in public service media.

Where Am I?

I’ve always had a bit of an interest in maps – I have a bookshelf full of walking maps – and so any time when mapping and the web comes together I find it pretty cool. Take Geograph for example – a project aiming to collect photoraphs of every square kilometre of the British Isles – it’s interesting to look around places you’ve been and see what other people think is important enough to take photos of!

Back to what I was going to blog about! Yesterday, and I nearly missed it, Google announced that their Geocoder will support the UK. There’s been a bit of a hack using another Google service for a little while, but this time it uses the correct APIs. This is hugely significant – previously the Royal Mail, who basically own the only source of this data, have charged a lot of money. There are companies who make this data available more easily on a pay as you go basis, but it was still a significant amount if you have no income from users or advertising.

Now Google will do it for free, on the client machine using Ajax calls to their servers meaning you can pass the postcode (or placename if you don’t have much detail) and it will pass back the long/lat coordinates and a bunch of other information about the address. So well done, Google, for negotiating an affordable contract with the Royal Mail, or maybe you’re just absorbing the cost in return for locking people into your system!