After the volcano

Since the Eyjafjallajökull eruption we have been monitoring the use of social media by people who have been trying to get home. We have summarised our findings on our wiki on a new Innovative response to the closing of European airspace page. Some social media services were set up very quickly. Facebook group ‘When Volcanoes Erupt: A Survival Guide for Stranded Travelers‘ was established on 16 April. Twitter was used with the #stranded and #getmehome tags (now apparently no longer being used).  Comprehensive Wikipedia articles were set up about the eruption, the air disruption and the aftermath with over 300,000 viewings in the first few days. FlightRadar24 which is a project started in Sweden and collected information about flight paths in real time around the world using VHF radio received was used extensively in the mainstream media including on the Channel 4 evening news in the UK. ITO produced an animation using that data which was mentioned on the Economist, Guardian and Huffington Post websites. It was also broadcast on Discovery Channel in Canada. Within the first three days it had been viewed online over 300,000 times.

This still from the animation shows very low activity on 18 April 2010.

And then more by 19 April 2010.

And apparently a pretty comprehensive service by 20 April 2010 (note that there is no data for France and some other areas of Europe).

A lot of things didn’t happen. Some people tried to organise coaches using social media and at least one person succeeded, however a lot of people spend considerable sums of money hiring cars, taxis and other low-occupancy vehicles rather than sharing costs. The UK government sending naval ships and over 100 coaches to Spain to bring people back on the 20/21 April.

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200 Innovations on Ideas in Transit Wiki!

It had been drawing close for a while, but at 2:57pm February 22 2010 the 20oth Ideas in Transit innovation article was created.

The article was Nosey Parker, an iPhone app that finds nearby parking spaces.

The Nosey Parker article.

In response to having a large number of articles, the Ideas in Transit wiki recently underwent more than a little sorting to make it easier to find innovations that interest you. The category section has been reworked so that you can browse by the platform the innovation uses (such as iPhone or OpenStreetMap); which area the innovation innovates in (cycling or car clubs for example); the year the innovation began (such as 2009 to see the new innovations from last year), or even by the country that the innovation is based in (the UK is home to most of the innovations, but other countries like Russia have their share).

Of the 200 innovations a couple deserve a mention here at the 200 mark.

They are:

City-Go-Round – a collection of transport applications, as well as a store of open transport data from the USA and Canada.

MapOSMatic – a site that creates free, indexed maps of a location of your choosing from OpenStreetMap data.

PARK(ing) – a subversive, San Francisco based event that has since gone global where people pay for a parking spot which they transform into a public space.

Ushahidi – a site that creates mash ups of SMS text locations that was used to great effect along with OpenStreetMap in the wake of the Haitian earthquake in early 2010.

The wiki has since had its 201st innovation added, the first of many more to come as new innovations are developed and existing ones are discovered.

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Opening up transport scheme information using Wikipedia and SPARQL

Recognising the importance of opening up transport data, Ideas in Transit has been supporting the addition of information related to proposed UK transport schemes to Wikipedia and also into Freebase allowing both the public and policymakers to access core information about transport schemes much more quickly.

The initial work has been for the East of England where we have identified 93 schemes relating to airports, buses, roads, rail, shipping, cycling and walking with a total cost of in excess of £20billion.

For each scheme we have tried to provide a summary in a standard format identifing what is being proposed, why it is being proposed, what work is required, who is promoting it, what it would cost and when it might be built; we have also included details of any opposition to the scheme and the basis of this opposition. Information about schemes is also being presented as maps and in computer readable form (allowing it to be exported from Wikipedia and be searched using SPARQL).

We estimate that the inclusion of transport information within Wikipedia has reduced the time need to identify and understand a typical transport scheme from about 2 hours to 3 minutes. When we are able to search for schemes using SPARQL it will become even easier to find schemes of relevance to ones enquiry.

Here is a map giving details of 5 different transport schemes as detailed in the article about tranport in the Luton area.

And here is a map showing allow the recent and proposed developments, as detailed in the M25 motorway article.

As well as providing textual information and maps for schemes (which we are now publishing in svg format to allow others to edit them), we have also started publishing information as KML using Umapper such as this cycling/walking/public transport scheme in Ipswich and the East West Rail Link. Use of OpenStreetMap base mapping on Umapper allows us to publish this information using an open data license. Using KML allows the route of schemes to be exported into other applications for a variety of purposes.

For each scheme we have also created an Infobox; there was not already a suitable Infobox available within Wikipedia, so after discussion with other members of the Wikipedia community we created a new  future infrastructure project Infobox which we have now deployed in a number of articles. The main advantage of using Infoboxes is that the information can automatically be ‘scrapped’ from Wikipedia into projects such as DBPedia and Freebase. Information about a number of schemes have already been imported into these databases, for example on the Norwich Northern Distributor Road.

The integration of this content into Freebase is still ‘work in progress’ with issues that need to be resolved both about having multiple infoboxes on a single page and with importing KML into the databases. When these issues are resolved it will be possible to do SPARQL queries to find schemes that meet certain criteria, which will also be able to include spatial information. For example one would be be able to search for all schemes passing within x miles of a point, or all schemes within a defined area that relate to cycling. The availability of this information in a form where it can be searched using SPARQL will allow this information to used through the UK Governments open data site as promoted by Gordon Brown and Sir Tim Berners Lee.

Our experience to date has been that the time taken to understand a transport scheme varies from 15 minutes to many hours with an average of about 2 hours to research a scheme prior to writing about it. The time taken to research schemes is so long because the information is often buried in multiple different large pdf documents, there is often out-of-date information available, undated information and incorrect information. Maps are only sometimes provided but even where they are provided they can be of very poor quality, or be unusable due to excessive compression.

We also found that it was often hard to discover what schemes exist because the information about schemes is published on many different websites. Rail schemes are detailed within large PDF documents available from the Network Rail website, Highway Agency schemes are covered on their site organised by regions which are different from the Network Rail regions and regional assembly regions); other road schemes are normally on Transport Authority websites in a variety of formats, cycling schemes are likely to be on the Sustrans website and further schemes may be included in Local Development Frameworks produced by Borough and District councils , with information about ports, airport and ‘eco-towns’ to consider as well. In all we have identified over 25 web sites which may contain scheme information in the East of England. A further difficulty is that schemes have multiple names which can change over time. For example the Norwich Northern Distributor Road is also known a the Norwich Northern Distributor Route and the NDR.

We have received support from the Wikipedia community with others contributing to the articles, adding information, correcting mistakes and providing updates on occasions. It is however our belief that it will be advantageous to continue to populate information for the rest of the country as part of Ideas in Transit and not rely completely on voluntary effort.

To see this for yourself spend 20 minutes trying to find out about the ‘Lower Thames Crossing’ without using the Wikipedia article or any derivatives of Wikipedia (which include freebase and absoluteAstronomy and others). Try to find out what the current situation is, what it would cost and where it would be built. Then read the Wikipedia article we contributed to see if you are correct. You could also try selecting 3 schemes at random from the East of England scheme list and try the same test. Do add comments to the bottom of this post with your experiences.

This work has been carried out by ITO World Ltd with support from Ideas in Transit and their sponsors who consist of the Technology Strategy Board, the Department for Transport, and the EPSRC.

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Official NaPTAN bus stops data available in OpenStreetMap

Ideas in Transit has been supporting the import of the UK’s official database of 360,000 bus stops and other public transport access points (NaPTAN) into OpenStreetMap over the past year. Data for Birmingham was imported in March 2009, followed by Greater London, Suffolk and Kingston-upon-Hull in August 2009 and subsequently a further 51 authorities. To support the ground survey a new web-service, NOVAM, was developed to highlight the status of each stop on a map. This image shows the NOVAM viewer – checked stops are green and ones with comments are in orange. Blue ones exist on the ground but are missing from the NaPTAN datbase.

Subsequently to the availability of this database being announced in late December 2008, a development team was identified and practical discussions  took place during February and March 2008. An agreed translation of tagging was added to the OpenStreetMap wiki during that period together with a mechanism for mappers to request an import for their area.

It was agreed that every bus stop entered into OpenStreetMap from the NapTAN dataset should ideally be verified by ground survey and that imported stops would initially be imported with a tag ‘verified=no’; it was also agreed that it would be beneficial so supplement this information with additional attributes for the stop, including the existence of shelters, lay-bys, timetable cases and real-time information displays.

During this checking of stops data errors were found in some 5% of the data, although the nature, importance and percentages varies by authority; some were due to recent changes to station layouts,  others were simple mistakes. Many of these issues have subsequently been reported to the relevant transport authority to improve the official data.

As a result of this initiative the NaPTAN data is now available within the general OpenStreetMap database for many parts of the country. Here is a view of central London from CloudMade – notice the bus stop names and also the house numbers and local amenities.

And here is the bus station in Coventry – note that all the footpath and service road details are included. The positions of the bus stops from NaPTAN have been adjusted to more accurately match the station layout.

The inclusion of bus stops into the mapping and the availability of this bus mapping site based on OpenStreetMap data has encouraged many users to also add bus routes for UK towns and cities, including Birmingham, Coventry, Hull, Ipswich and London. This image from the map of the Ipswich area show the one way routing of buses around the town centre.

An experimental addition to this bus mapping site will soon allow users to link from the bus stops to the official bus departure information for the requested stop – this would not have been possible without the inclusion of the ‘atco-code’ from the NaPTAN import into the OpenStreetMap bus stop data.

A major benefit of including public transport information within OpenStreetMap is due to the richness of context relevant to pedestrians. This comparison site allows one to morph between OpenStreetMap and commerical online mapping. Click on this link to compare the information available from each source in the vicinity of the Route 66 guided busway in Ipswich (which was built over 10 years ago). Notice that the guided busway and footpaths are missing from the commercial mapping.

One of the unique features of OpenStreetMap is that it can be updated almost instantly to show the current situation. Notice that this map for part of Cumbria shows both the bus stops and the recently damaged and currently unusable Calva Bridge which is shown as being ‘under construction’ and therefore not available to traffic.

The inclusion of UK bus stop information has already provided a useful additional source of information for the traveling public. It has also encouraged a lot of innovation and interest in public transport within the project. Further innovations can now be expected. The import of additional information from the NaPTAN database will continue and the issue of syncronising the data sources will need to be addressed; in November 2009 the NaPTAN data for Birmingham was updated by merging in additional information from the current official dataset into OpenStreetMap.

This initiative started when ITO World Ltd, an industrial partner in Ideas in Transit became aware that both Transport Direct and National Traveline were supportive of the idea and also that the NAPTAN database didn’t contain any 3rd party data that would preclude such a release. Ideas in Transit will continue to support the project over the coming years with support from the Technology Strategy Board, the Department for Transport and the EPSRC.

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Ideas in Transit on Twitter

Ideas in Transit today recieved its first Twitter mention after OpenFlights picked up on its newly created article in the innovation portal. This was then picked up by respected mapping, GIS and cartography blogger Mapperz who Tweeted: “congrats on OpenFlights now on IdeasInTransit – excellent news”.

Its great to see users regarding being a part of the Ideas in Transit wiki as an achievement worth noting!

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Speaking a OpenGovEvent

Ideas in Transit will be presenting at the Open Government event on Thursday this week in London which is described as “A practical one-day conference to discuss the challenges and opportunities of social technologies to enable engagement, collaboration, and transparency in government” for policy-makers, special advisors, ministers and local authority executives amongst others.

We will be promoting the Ideas in Transit research project and also some of the best and most promising innovations that we are tracking and will also be available for in-depth discussions from our stand at the event. More details after the event.


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Seedcamp 2009 – calling all innovators

Applications are open for Mini Seedcamp London 2009 which aims to bring together 20 of the best seed stage web tech startups with experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and developers from the UK and from Europe.

Innovators need to apply before midnight 6th April 2009.

Successful candidates will then get access to a world-class network of advisors on the 20th April to help them with every aspect of their business and will be recognised as one of the 20 best startups of 2009in the UK and Europe, and will have a direct route to seed and venture capital.

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