Mapping the campus

We’re currently looking at a project which involves maps of the Ormskirk campus which – if you read my 125 by 125 blog – I find quite exciting. Maps are important for lots of things the University yet we’ve never had very good maps. We have access to lots of them, but nothing that’s quite suitable.

For example, our own campus map has all the buildings labelled and is pretty up to date but it’s not to scale or plotted against a real grid system.

We also have a 3D drawing of campus which is used in the prospectus and online in the interactive campus map. It looks nice but again it’s not accurate enough for plotting real positions and it’s a pain to keep up to date.

Google Maps is to scale but missing lots of buildings and some websites are moving away from it to other services because they’ve started charging for heavy users, not something I think they’d do to us but they could add advertising:

View Larger Map

Microsoft’s Bing is even worse:

The Ordnance Survey have released some of their data, and we also have access to it through Digimap, but questions remain over licencing and the frequency of updates.

We can do better than this by building on what has already been done by OpenStreetMap.

I’ve mentioned OpenStreetMap several times before going back three years:

[Mapumental’s] 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.

The quality of mapping on OSM for Edge Hill hasn’t been great – in the past I’ve taken the odd GPS track or paths around campus and added them but generally it’s been pretty poor as you can see from this recent capture:

Edge Hill Before (CloudMade)

Recently though, the quality of aerial imagery available in the OSM editor has vastly improved making tracing over the campus a viable option where it hadn’t been before (buildings going back as far as the Faculty of Health were missing from Yahoo!’s images). A few hours work has resulted in a much more complete map of campus:

View Larger Map

As I write it’s still not perfect but all the buildings are plotted along with roads, footpaths and many of the facilities we have on campus like cafes and shops. OpenStreetMap allows anyone to make corrections and add missing features which will help keep it up to date.

Now that we have an up to date base map we’ll be looking at ways we can make use of it in some exciting forthcoming projects which I hope we’ll be blogging about soon!

Eduserv Symposium 2010: The Mobile University

Last Thursday was Eduserv’s annual symposium. The theme this year was “The Mobile University”, a topic we’ve been talking about for years as being the next big thing but has finally crept up the list of priorities and is now something we’re starting to act on. So I was really looking forward to spending the day at the Royal College of Physicians learning what others in the sector – and, more equally importantly, commercial sector – are doing for mobile devices.

The slides and videos are available online so I’ll just cover some of my thoughts on each and leave you to see the speakers for yourself.

Opening keynote: “Mobile, Mobile, Mobile!”

Paul Golding, CEO and Lead Innovation Architect, Wireless Wanders

Paul’s talk set the scene for the rest of the day by looking at the state of the mobile marketplace for example the trend of increasing smartphone market share. Established uses of mobile phones are clearly still king – 78% of people uses SMS in Q3 2009 – but over a fifth are now using the superinterweb on mobile phones and even early-adopter technologies like Location Based Services are being used by significant numbers.

He made the point that the introduction of Web 2.0 to mobile devices has opened up the platform to developers.  They are no longer controlled by network operators but have much greater access to users, devices and services.

The role of a University Computing Service in an increasingly mobile world. Or: “We don’t support that…”

Christine Sexton, Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services, University of Sheffield

I’ve been following Chris’ blog and Twitter feed for a couple of years and it’s really interesting to see the thinking behind decisions made in another “IT Services” department.  In her talk she challenged what is often perceived to be our approach to services – the response “we don’t support that”.  This is a bad reputation to have and one which I don’t think it always warranted – often it’s a case of us not communicating well.  My own view is that people often don’t mind being told “no” as long as it’s explained why, ideally with some alternative options presented.

Chris related this back to new services – while in the past we may have been able to “get away with” offering a single enforced desktop with no choice over browser, we must not be able to cope with a range of demands.  For some that will still mean being told what’s best for then with a package of systems that work together (and, more importantly, are supported).  Others want – even demand – the ability to use their own devices, software and services accepting that the level of support may be lower.

Students’ approach to IT provision by universities has changed.  In the past they would queue up to get a network account, email address and access to university systems, now new students just ask “where do I get the internet?”  In their annual new student survey, Sheffield found 30% of students have a “smartphone” and an astonishing 95% own laptops.  Say, how far are the 255 IP addresses your AP can allocate going to reach?

Chris then went on to show some screenshots of Sheffield’s (relatively) new iPhone app.  CampusM is a product by oMbiel and I’m not going to go into it too much here.  Suffice to say that while I understand the benefits Sheffield have got from their app, I don’t necessarily agree with the approach it takes to providing services to mobile devices.

To what extent will learning and teaching change in a mobile university? Thoughts from the University of Bath

Andy Ramsden, Head of e-Learning, University of Bath

Mr QR-Code himself although that wasn’t the point of the talk.  His talk used the context of what the landscape would look like int 2015 to examine what changes are happening.  There are a few example from the University of Bath using clickers and Twitter.  Andy made an interesting point about Moodle’s community approach to developing mobile solutions compared to vendor or third party solutions for student record systems.

There were yet more statistics in the slides re-enforcing findings from elsewhere that a large proportion (38%) of students have a data package included with their mobile tariff.

Real life experiences launching mobile apps

Tom Hume, Managing Director, Future Platforms

At time of writing Tom’s slides aren’t yet online so this is from my rather fragmented memory!  It started off quite depressing, highlighting just how many different devices, browsers and configurations there are in the mobile phone market.  Depressing too when he “exposed” manufacturers’ tactic of taking a silver/black phone, turning it pink and selling it to the female market!

While I believe the raw numbers he offered – things like the market share of all iPhone combined being less than 4% – I think it’s possible to read too much into this and get scared from doing anything for fear of not doing what you think is right.  The cynic in me might say that this might encourage some to go to vendors like Future Platforms to do the work for them!

Future Platforms do appear to have done very well at taming the early mobile internet beast, creating Java-based games such as crosswords for Puzzler but towards the end of his talk Tom seemed to get a bit more upbeat about the future.

Now when developing for mobile devices there are two approaches: pick one or more platforms and write specific applications for each or develop for the mobile web.  There are advantages to each but with the latter you can go some way to develop services available to a large proportion of likely users.  That might not be a particularly high proportion of the total number of devices but it may mean available to nearly all users with the data package and propensity to use it.

Closing keynote: Mobile and connected – the challenges and implications

John Traxler, Professor of Mobile Learning and Director of Learning Lab, University of Wolverhampton

For me the most important thing John’s closing keynote showed was that this whole mobile thing isn’t new.  He mentioned several examples over the years where hardware had been bought leading to the observation:

We run the risk of proving that spending money on education improves education.

So the challenge now is to prove that we can run projects that make use of existing hardware owned by the user.

Lightning talks

Nick Skelton, University of Bristol

Nick introduced the Institute of Learning and Research Technology’s Mobile Campus Assistant project.  I’ve seen this project before and it looks like a very interesting approach to delivering internally focused services.

Wayne Barry, Canterbury Christ Church University

Edge Hill is up against Christ Church’s iBorrow project for the Times Higher ICT Initiative of the Year so I should be saying it’s rubbish and our project was much better… but I can’t because it’s actually quite a neat little idea:

The iBorrow project makes grabbing a computer as easy as borrowing a book.

The service offers 200 thin client netbook computers with things like location and use tracking. The presentation showed how availability of the computers boosted use of the wireless significantly. Probably the most interesting thing was that they were used for social networking just 14% of the time – far less than academic uses.

Simon Marsden, University of Edinburgh

Another – more thorough – review of statistics gathered about mobile usage by a survey.  Just shy of 2,000 responses from across the university.  Some key points:

  • 49.2% “smart” handsets
  • 60% had “sufficient” or unlimited mobile internet access
  • ability to view course information was requested most followed by timetables and PC availability

It’s worth a look through the slides to pick out extra details.

Tim Fernando, University of Oxford

Final lightening talk was about Oxford’s mobile project, now named Molly.  Again I’ve tried to keep track of developments over the last few months and it’s interesting to see them actively make the case for releasing the source code and the benefits it can bring to the project as a whole and individual institutions adopting the platform.  Molly has some nice touches like using OpenStreetMap Point of Interest information as well as the more mundane like supporting Z39.50 to integrate with library catalogues.


This post is in real danger of breaching my 48 hour rule and never getting out of draft so I’m not going to say much more for now about the conference.  It was a really useful day to see what other people are doing and to confirm in my mind some of the approaches we’ll be taking to mobile web developments over the coming months.

A few other links about #esym10:

Liver and Mash

I’ve already blogged about my own Mashed Library Liverpool talk but I promised to say something about the rest of the event, so here goes!

Mandy Phillips and Owen Stephens

Mandy Phillips kicks of Liver and Mash

The day kicked off with welcome and introductions from Mandy and Owen. I’d heard bits about Mashed Library events before and I know the basics of Mashups but I didn’t really know who would be there and and what to expect. There was a good mix of attendees and speakers presenting “lightening talks”, “Pecha Kucha 20:20″ talks and workshops. The thing that persuaded me to agree to speak and convinced me that it wouldn’t just be a bunch of librarians (!!) was the scattering of local speakers…

Alison Gow

Alison Gow

Alison is Executive Editor (Digital) for Trinity Mirror Merseyside, publishers of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Despite “knowing” her through the Twitter, Friday’s Mashed Libraries event was the first time I’d met her IRL! The slides of her talk “Open Curation of Data” are online covering some of the things journalists and the newspaper industry have had to deal with since the superinterweb came along.

Aidan McGuire and Julian Todd

Julian Todd and Aidan McGuire on ScraperWiki

Aidan and Julian demonstrated ScraperWiki a project supported by 4iP and aiming free data from inaccessible sources and make it available for those who wish to use it in new and innovative ways, for example mashups. “Screen Scraping” isn’t a new idea but typically it’s done by individuals, embedded into their own systems. If the scraped website changes then the feed breaks and there’s no way for others to build on the work done.

ScraperWiki aims to change that by providing a community driven source for storing scrapers. It’s like Wikipedia for code allowing you to take and modify a scraper I’ve written for your own purposes.

There are already dozens of scraped data sources and more are being added every day. It currently supports Python but my language of choice – PHP – will be added soon so I’ll be giving it a go then.

John McKerrell

John McKerrell on Mapping

John’s talk about mapping had the most interest so he presented it to all attendees briefly covering mapping APIs, OpenStreetMap and tracking your location with

Phil Bradley

The first Pecha Kucha 20:20 talk was about social media search tools. I wasn’t writing down the links so check on Phil’s Slideshare page for the presentation coming out. I will say that Google’s support for Twitter is now much better than he seemed to suggest – for example allowing you to drill into tweets for a particular time. It can also be more reliable than when using shared IP addresses at a conference.

Gary Green

Gary Green 20/20 talk

Gary mentioned that this was his first presentation so I’m not sure a 20:20 talk was the best idea but he handled it pretty well!

Tony Hirst

Tony Hirst talking about Yahoo! Pipes

The afternoon was dedicated to one of three workshops – Arduino with Adrian Mcewen, Mapping with John McKerrell or Mashups with Tony Hirst. I’ve done a bit of each before so I sat at the back of Tony’s talk to try to soak up some new tips.

After a final cake break there was the prize giving for the mashup suggestions competition.

@briankelly, @m8nd1 and @ostephens presenting prizes

So all in all a really interesting day! Congratulations to Mandy Phillips and all the organising team for an excellent event.

The end of Argleton is nigh!

I mentioned Argleton a year ago, Mister Roy has walked there and even the Ormskirk Advertiser has covered the issue but soon its days may be numbered!

Google has announced a new feature to allow users to report problems and suggest changes to maps. It’s currently only available in the US but you can see how it will work on this video:

I’ll be slightly sorry to see Argleton go but I’ll be glad to have my childhood home back!

Via Webmonkey.

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.