Open Data Powered Location Based Services in UK Higher Education

One of the Good Things about open data is that with the data being open, there’s less pressure to lock down or restrict access to any of the apps that might build on top it. Whilst some open data initiatives are based around dumping partial, broken or unmaintained datasets “just because”, other open data initiatives are actually using open data as part of a workflow, where the publication of the open data can be seen as opening up a window onto, and tap into, a working data pipeline (e.g. Putting Public Open Data to Work…?, Open Data Processes – Taps, Query Paths/Audit Trails and Round Tripping).

A couple of recent announcements show how universities are start to actually put their open data to work through location based services.

Yesterday(?) saw the appearance of the Southampton OpenData map, as developed by postgrad Colin William et al, using data wrangled into the open by Chris Gutteridge:

The maps taps into several of the Southampton open data sets, and displays information locating places to eat and drink (along with an idea of what’s on offer, as well as opening times), computer access (including what software is available on what machines), and live travel information.

Last week, the OU’s Mathieu d’Aquin and Fouad Zablith’s wayOU – Mobile Location Tracking Using Linked Data/ app took the best demo prize at ESWC2011 (Extended Semantic Web Conference) (paper). This Android app supports check-ins around OU POIs (related: why POIs are more interesting than lat/long):

The code is available from the project’s code repository. (I wonder when we’ll start to see automatic “tracking indoors” using wifi location, cf. Tesco’s In-store ‘Sat-nav’ up and working now in a Tesco branch – come and try it!..?)

So how else is location information and open data being used in UK HEIs? Oxford’s Project Erewhon (review by Scott Wilson) linked into a central service, Oxpoints that provides a location based directory of many of the university’s “entities” (colleges, libraries, museums, buildings, carparks, etc).

Over at Lincoln, ALex Bilbie and Nick Jackson started opening up Lincoln location services last year (I think the services described in that post have moved over to the Lincoln open data site, and as Lincoln’s new facilities software comes online I think we can expect to see a lot more from them…

In Cambridge, the CamLib mobile interface draws on the Cambridge library API to allow you to lookup and locate any of the dozens of Cambridge University libraries (about). (Note to self, I should repair the talks@Cam/keeping up with events app I did whilst on my Arcadia Fellowship).

If you know of any other location based, university open data powered apps or services, please add a link in the comments…

PS The number of UK universities that I’m aware of running opendata* projects is still pretty low (The Open University, Southampton, Lincoln to my knowledge, with a couple of others on hold (e.g. Oxford) My Google search heursitic is: /uni-name/ university open data.

* What does, and what doesn’t, count as “public open data” in the sector is still up for debate… Most universities do (or should) be able to make publicly funded research data public, although at the current time this is still handled in an ad hoc way (universities are still grappling with their open research data policies and repositories). Via several JISC initiatives, several universities have started opening up library catalogue usage data, and activity data from other library and VLE services (for example, Current JISC Projects of Possible Interest to LAK11 Attendees). Some universities have started opening up courses and qualifications catalogue data via XCRI, or via via open data initiatives. One rule of thumb might be: university/institutional open data is data that sits on a self-declared institutional “open data” website hosted on a university’s web domain. That is, “open data” is data that is catalogued by the institution as such, and discoverable as such. I suspect that what universities put on such sites over time will have a common core, with additional datasets of local interest.

Related: campus maps on Google maps, e.g. Loughborough University

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

11 thoughts on “Open Data Powered Location Based Services in UK Higher Education”

  1. Thank you very much for sharing your work on this. I am hoping to meet with colleagues at the University of Leeds on the 23rd to try to make headway on developing our own open linked data and applications. I’ll try to keep things open and let you know how I get on…

    1. Well thanks Tony et al. We’ve made progress and have placeholders set up for and Details of the meeting on the 23rd can be found via the GoogleDoc:

      On the geo-data building and infrastructure data, perhaps more than most, we want a spatially 3D map. A large part of Leeds main university campus is physically connected with routes on what we call Level 10 or Red Route. An application I would like to see is a routing one for wheelchair disabled users that are visually impaired. I would also like a history of the campus for users to virtually explore a spatially 3D campus map. Looking forward in time, I would like the map to show planned or proposed changes and alternative views of what campus may become… We should explore CityGML ( for this…

      1. @Andy 3D layers sounds interesting… you going to publish KML for it? Google SketchUp was used to generate buildings for campus maps in a competition Google ran a year or two ago? They also had tools for helping you do quick and dirty 3D renderings of buildings based on photos, I think????

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