The Open Location Roadshow

When we first thought about the concept we now call Open Location it seemed a valid one but we didn’t know if it would work. Although there are exceptions such as OpenStreetMap and GeoCommons, the world of geo-data is still predominantly proprietary so wasn’t the concept of an open ethos which talked about opening up ownership, control and exchange of locations a little … absurd? It seemed that we weren’t the first to come across this quandary, even Einstein had been here before:

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.

So we decided to ask the geo community, got our passports out, headed for the airport and took Open Location on the road.


First stop was Where 2.0 in San Jose, USA in May 2009, where Geo Technologies’ Tyler Bell talked about creating an open infrastructure for a location aware internet and about the need for open ownership, open exchange, open platforms and open data. We also released a web serviceplatform that day as well.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Open Location’s next stop was at the Being Digital conference in London UK in June 2009. Here I talked about the need for open data and open platforms, the opposite from so many of the “roach motel” style geo projects where locations get in but they don’t get out.


Staying in London and in June 2009, Open Location paid a visit to the popular #geomob meetup, the transatlantic partner to Silicon Valley’s WebMapSocial meetup, where our concept of Open Location was reprised for the London developer community who weren’t able to make it to San Jose and so to Where 2.0.

And then at State of the Map ‘09, the annual OpenStreetMap conference in Amsterdam in July 2009, we again talked about Open Location and announced that by the end of 2010 we would remove all proprietary sources from our place data, looking to OSM’s open data to help us replace our proprietary data. This caused quite a stir with the audience and even more of a stir with the Twitter-sphere.


But it also caused a few misunderstandings which we should really clear up. Our geo place data is what drives GeoPlanet, Placemaker and Fire Eagle, it also provides the heavy lifting of geo identification and geo tagging across Yahoo!, such as on Flickr. But just as importantly our geo place data is not our geo-spatial data and our Maps data, including the map tiles.

In case you’ve missed the Open Location roadshow, here’s a reminder of its tenets:

  • Ownership: everyone should have control of their location and of the places that they contribute and enhance. Tightly linked to the concept of open exchange, overall openness and transparency around location and place will increase both use and trust.
  • Control: location and place needs a place to be managed centrally, agnostic to device or to platform; a location detected on a your mobile phone will enhance geographically your online experience.
  • Exchange: locations added to the Yahoo! network via Geo Technologies’ platforms are made available off the Yahoo! network; no roach motels here.

We’re currently planning, scoping and describing the platforms we’ll need to build in order to make Open Location a reality. Getting our place data open, with the help of OSM, is a good start but it’s just the start; we also need to solve the problem of the geo-babel that’s currently on the ‘net with so many different ways of referring to and describing the same place. But that’s a topic for another blog post.

Gary Gale, Director of Engineering, Yahoo! Geo Technologies

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