Net kiosks offer instant OS maps

Ordnance Survey is using the Internet to open new markets for its maps of the UK, writes Karl Cushing

Ordnance Survey is using the Internet to open new markets for its maps of the UK, writes Karl Cushing

As part of plans to offer new ways to access its mapping information, Ordnance Survey has been conducting trials of an Internet kiosk at the New Forest Visitor Centre in Lyndhurst, Hampshire.

Customers can use the kiosk, which went live in October, to search for maps according to postcode or place name and locate specific areas using pan and zoom facilities. The customised maps can then be printed off at a cost of £1 for A4 size and £2 for A3 size. Ordnance Survey's business development manager John Rollin explains, "This enables people to obtain a map when they want, where they want it."

Rollin says sales of Ordnance Survey maps have been "static, maybe in slight decline" in recent years, partly due to the widespread availability of free map extracts online.

Although customers will have to pay to use the Ordnance Survey kiosks, Rollin believes they will offer a broader service than other online map services. "We see business in providing bigger, better maps and offering different types of mapping," he says. The Lyndhurst kiosk offers users the chance to get customised street-level maps, 1:25,000 scale Explorer and Outdoor Leisure maps, and all-purpose 1:50,000 scale Ranger maps.

The trial has been received "very positively" by users, potential partners and the media, says Rollin. On average, 20 to 30 users a day use the kiosk. However, Rollin admits there have been issues with robustness and usability. "We tried to shoehorn too much functionality into it," he says. "It could be much simpler and much better."

Ordnance Survey worked with interactive kiosk firm Avatar and, which runs an online distribution portal for digital mapping. "Both of them were very enthusiastic," says Rollin, although he adds that working with two separate companies was sometimes problematic.

The initial trial is now coming to an end and Rollin says Ordnance Survey will make changes to the kiosk before launching more trials. The way users search for information will be streamlined and the number of links to other Web sites will be reduced. Rollin says that in the future users could download maps onto mobile devices such as PDAs. Ordnance Survey could also provide services such as route planning, hotel information and the ability to search by address.

Although Rollin says the trial has shown him that there is "nothing very magical about the software side of the kiosks" he still believes the future role of Ordnance Survey will be as a content provider. "We would like to look for a return on other people using our data," he says.

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