Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Revisiting the subject of Irish digital mapping

9th January 2009

If you were to ask me about digital mapping for the Irish Republic this time last year, you would have been told about OSi’s Trail Master DVD’s. They may not have covered the whole country but what they did was nothing to be derided. Perhaps unsurprisingly, things have changed a lot since then. For one thing, it is now possible to find all of OSi’s 1:50000 Discovery mapping available for free on the web. I must admit that I came across it by accident and after I had used the “City” zoom level (yes, that’s what they call it). The quality of the rendition may feel imperfect but it is hard to argue with there being no cost involved.

What brought this re-visitation about was the announcement before Christmas that Trail Master mapping was coming to GeoLives. Then, I didn’t have the time to explore what this meant because of the pre-Christmas necessities but I have been able to set that to rights now that we are in 2009. For many, the mention of GeoLives might demand some explanation. Put at its simplest, it provides digital mapping much in the same way that Anquet and Mapyx do it: while you used to have to buy Trail Master DVD’s from OSi previously, you can now download the same data and more from GeoLives.

There is more to GeoLives than Irish digital mapping and it features Belgian, Dutch, French and Swiss data too. In fact, the organisation is based in Luxembourg and was established last year as a collaboration between a provider of geographic data (STAR-APIC) and a specialist in internet applications (Géomatic Ingénierie). Of the countries whose data are included, it is for France, Switzerland and Éire that there is mapping most relevant to walkers.

Like Anquet and Mapyx, Windows-only software can be downloaded for working with any downloaded maps. For users of alternative operating systems like OS X and Linux (that’s the one I mainly use at home), there is a web-based application for performing the same functions as the Windows application and there’s nothing to stop your using it on Windows either. GeoLives calls the former the PC Editor and the latter its Web Editor. The reason for the use of the word “Editor” here is the inclusion of route planning capability in both and I can vouch for inclusion of place searching functionality too. I cannot say that I have been testing out the route planning pieces so far but they look similar to what you find with offerings from the main purveyors of British digital mapping. With the Web Editor, there is the possibility of sharing your routes with other GeoLives users.

A €15 tariff needs to be paid before you can get going with the service. Since I already owned Trail Master mapping, I could use my OSi login credentials and even had pre-acquired Trail Master data made available to me online without need for payment above and beyond the subscription.

Buying mapping works on the principle of using up credit that you have purchased beforehand; it’s available in €10, €20 and €50 denominations. Then, you can buy maps by the tile or bundled in Supermaps. Even if you don’t make any purchase, certain large scale maps come as part of the subscription but these are little use to the walker. Once tiles are bought, they become available through the web application and can also be downloaded too within 48 hours of an email containing the requisite link being sent to you. Downloading the data for offline use is something that I have found troublesome with time outages blighting the experience; the fact that we are talking large files here doesn’t help matters, even if they are wonderfully crisp in their appearance. GeoLives would appear to have some way to go before the process becomes as painless and that with either Anquet or Mapyx. For now, it’s just as well that there is the web application.

In summary, this is an interesting service that I hopefully will continue to explore. As I intimated earlier, I have yet to try out the route planning side of things and I would like to see data downloads become far more reliable than they currently are. Despite this, it could be that GeoLives becomes a purveyor of digital mapping for all of Europe and it seems to have made a good start. Let’s hope that it continues to grow and to improve.

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