Posts tagged ‘OpenStreetMap’
The Great British Public Toilet Map launched last Wednesday 19th November on World Toilet Day*
Previous versions of the map have existed since 2011, but this is now the largest publicly accessible toilet database in the UK by some way. It has over 9500 toilets, and I’d be confident of saying that the map will help you to find toilets no matter where you live.
If for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t, you can add, edit and remove toilets until it does! We’ve had over 1000 toilets added this week.
There are also a tiny minority of locations where the data has gone a bit loopy with duplicate loos or inaccurate locations. Don’t be shy about removing those that you think are wrong, or telling us at firstname.lastname@example.org about parts of the country that may need a little attention. You’ll be doing us a huge favour.
*As well as World Toilet Day, it was also GIS Day (Geographic Information System). They might as well name it Toilet Map Day.
On Friday 5th September I gave the Open Data Institute‘s weekly Lunchtime Lecture about The Great British Public Toilet Map.
You can listen again/flick through the slides to my talk ‘Excuse me, where is the toilet (data)?‘
The ODI have also written a blog post to summarise it, ‘How open data can help us all to find the toilet‘
Thank you, ODI, for inviting me to do this.
The following video was made for the application and explains our project in 2 minutes – click to watch ..
We began work in March and will work on the map for 6 months. As I am on maternity leave, the project lead is the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design‘s Senior Research Fellow and Toilet Enthusiast, Jo-Anne Bichard, while the design ideas, data collection and day-to-day work has been embraced by Research Assistants and (soon to be graduating) MA students, Elizabeth Raby and Billie Muraben. Meanwhile, Neontribe are figuring out how to make it all work.
In brief, we aim to add A LOT more toilets. The existing site is little more than a prototype, consisting of data for a handful of London boroughs, a few other councils, National Rail Enquiries and Transport for London, the latter of which is four years out-of-date to my eternal frustration.
We also aim to improve the information about each toilet, since at the moment we have opening hours, wheelchair accessibility info and baby-changing info.
Therefore, we (.. and by ‘we’ I mean Lizzie, Billie and Neontribe) are:
- Trawling council websites for public and community toilet details
- Sending Freedom of Information requests when the info is missing or poor
- Importing the 4000-odd toilet locations from OpenStreetMap (OSM)
- Developing a means for the public and councils to add/amend entries, in order to crowd-source for data, to make it more reliable and complete
- Developing a means for all this extra info to be added back into OSM
- Redesigning the interface so that all these extra toilets and info can be seen and understood easily
..as well as a million other things that will help us to provide a useful, sustainable website by the autumn for everyone to benefit from.
I will try to blog about things as they develop, such as our massive FOI efforts (I believe the East Midlands are winning for the most replies), our upcoming paper-prototyping, and the licensing headache that is starting to emerge.
However, we met up with Harry and Rupert form Neontribe on May 1st and got very excited to have our first big toilet/data conversation for a very long time.
With such loo-mapping enthusiasm in the room, only good can come of this.
I don’t know how actors do it.
Having to play emotional scenes where you cry-on-demand must be incredibly challenging. I don’t know anything that is soooo upsetting that it would squeeze real tears from my eyes just by thinking about it.
That is, until I started looking at Ordnance Survey Licensing Agreements.
(This is a screenshot of Ordnance Survey’s ‘open’ maps for public use. It’s a screenshot because there aren’t simple instructions to embed it in a free WordPress blog. What’s more, the ‘public use’ maps aren’t relevant to this post, and (still) don’t show the public toilets. But it Looks Pretty.)
This trauma began a month ago when, in my innocence, I tried emailing some more ‘open councils’ from the OpenlyLocal.com Scoreboard. These new councils had just published a few bits of spending-related data, but no school locations, no library locations, no ‘dataset of the location of the 120 000 lampposts in Lesser Hampton’, and certainly no toilets.
[Context: In order to make The Great British Public Toilet Map I’d like councils to publish information on where their toilets are as ‘Open Data‘, meaning the type of file that anyone can download (‘open’) and that’s compatible with computer-programming (‘data’).
To you and me it would look like this…
…which might not look that exciting, but magical computer programs could join together all 300-odd local council datasets and display it on one map!
This would make it easier for people to find out where public toilets are (and if they’re open and what facilities are provided) without having to check 300-odd council websites]
So, I asked these new ‘open’ councils if they’d considered publishing open data for public toilets and sent my email to the attention of their web/data enthusiast (who doesn’t have one of those?!)
In return I got lots of replies from very nice GIS managers explaining that this was not possible. Or, more to the point, not legal.
In my endeavors to get open data on public toilets in existence for the benefit of, erm, everyone, I regularly consider the potential of OpenStreetMap.
For anyone who doesn’t know, (and for those that do, feel free to skip my ill-informed explanation..) OpenStreetMap is a map of the country that’s created by members of the public. This began because Ordinance Survey data (along with other maps like those used by Google and SatNavs) was private and expensive and couldn’t be enhanced (or in some cases corrected) by you or me.
They created it by walking around with their personal GPS systems, logging data and adding it to the online map. It struck me as remarkably geeky, not to mention slow progress. Yet when I learnt about it in 2007 due to my MA Industrial Design Engineering project (self-promotion), a skeleton map of Britain was emerging.
Now they seem to be using satellite images provided by Yahoo as well, meaning people no longer have to have a GPS and traipse the streets. Instead you can just go online, log-in, and trace, colour and label the satellite images, thus creating a map. Consequently a huge leap forward has been made in the last few years – it’s looking pretty complete and I’m starting to see it used on websites instead of Google Maps. I’m sure you have to, perhaps without realising it.
… and Public Toilets
One of the things that can be added to the map is a public toilet. The map above, centered on London Bridge, has a few examples (you can click on it then zoom in via the next window. I couldn’t get the map to embed directly). As I’m not remotely proficient in OpenStreetMap it’s hard for me to analyse the quality of this data. I’ve no doubt these toilets exist and are accurately located as that’s the entire ethos of the project.