Is this the future for LA mapsites? I hope not!

GIS Professional landed on my desk recently. The cover image and lead article caught my attention “Is this the future for LA mapsites?” Barrow Borough Council have implemented an open source web GIS and the author explains the reasons why they went down this route in preference to a proprietary solution or using Google.

Apparently the reasons for building a home grown solution on an open source stack were affordability and an improved web experience for the public. Google was rejected because of derived data issues (which may have at least partly gone away after April 1st) and the fact that you have to pay a license fee for use behind the firewall, oh yes and because BBC (not the Beeb) did not want to rely on a 3rd party service that might change in the future.

You might be wondering what bothered me about this? Open source, improved user experiences – sounds good. Well my reservations are certainly not with the use of an open source stack for a corporate GIS but the idea that Google is the only alternative to in house development for public facing apps is very disappointing. What about OpenStreetMap or even Bing which both met the Ordnance Survey’s derived data requirements and in at least one case are completely free?

Perhaps the most disappointing quote for me was

“After only a few months of effort we have a service that meets most of our immediate requirements … we have achieved this without paying any new license fees and without incurring any extra expense”

Clearly a “few months effort” does not cost anything in Barrow!

There is always cost, open source is not free it needs skills and resources to support an implementation in just the same way that a proprietary solution does. And what happens when the talented individual who drove the adoption and development of this solution moves on? Cost and control may be slightly more challenging.

I thought I would take a quick look at an example of the “improved web experience for external users” and I found this

I will leave it to you to decide how successful BBC have been to date with this initiative. But to be fair to them they did also say

“Styling of web pages also needs practice. Earlier versions were very ugly!”

No doubt this was a very very early version.

I hope this is not the future of public facing mapping on local authority web sites, I really do believe that their are affordable and sustainable options that will engage and inform users reagrdless of whether they are built on Google, OpenStreetMap, Bing or an open source stack.

But on the other hand BBC should be commended for giving open source a try and sharing their experiences.

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