Moving the Unlock blog

April 30, 2010

We have proper blog hosting set up at EDINA so we’re moving the Unlock service blog to a new home:

The past contents will stay here and also be duplicated at the new blog. Thanks.


Unlock Places API — version 2.2

April 21, 2010

The Unlock Places API was recently upgraded to include Ordnance Survey’s Open data. This feature rich data from Code-Point Open, Boundary-Line and the 1:50,000 gazetteer includes placenames and locations (points, boxes and shapes) and is now open for all to use! You can just get started with the API.

We’ve also added new functionality to the service, including an HTML view for features, more feature attributes, the ability to request request results in different coordinate systems as well as the usual speed improvements and bug-fixes.

The new data and features are available from Tuesday, 20th April 2010. Please visit the example queries page to try out some of the queries.

We welcome any feedback on the new features – and if there’s anything you’d like to see in future versions of Unlock, please let us know. Alternatively, why not just get in touch to let us know how you’re using the service, we’d love to hear from you!

Full details of the changes are listed below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Improving the geo-text parser interface

December 17, 2009

We’ve fixed some issues with Unlock Text, the placename text extraction service, thanks to feedback from members of the OSGeo-UK community.

Parsing of HTML pages is now reinstated and there’s a bit more documentation on the form-based interface; the meaning of the options should be a bit clearer.

The main outstanding caveat is that if you use the ‘XML’ document type option, but the document you send isn’t well-formed XML, you’ll still see the unfriendly “Error executing command-line application”.

Next step is to trap the different error states better so we can offer more meaningful feedback to the user if these errors do occur. However that will take a while longer to resolve, with input from our partners in this part of the project, the wonderful people at the Language Technology Group in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics.

We’ve also streamlined the process of registering an API key to access OS data through Digimap, so it should be a bit clearer where to go to add a new key for a new IP address.

Build it because we can?

December 8, 2009

We came up with a long list of functions that we could implement in Unlock Places.

We could get into more detailed location searches – going beyond ‘where is it?’ to ‘what’s next to is it?’ or ‘where is the same size as it?’ But we’d be answering these questions “because we can”, not because someone needs to know. Here’s some of the new functions we’ve considered for the API:

  • Buffer searches around footprints (within 1 mile of the edge of town…)
  • Area of a footprint
  • Centroid, or approximate centre point, of a footprint
  • Perimeter of a footprint
  • Distance between features
  • More spatial operators (only ‘within’ and ‘contains’ right now – could get into ‘overlaps’, ‘intersects’ etc.)
  • Searches within footprints (pass in ID of a polygon, get back matching names or feature types
  • Buffered searches for “find all places within x miles of feature y’s footprint”
  • Equivalence – “what towns are there, the same size as Edinburgh?”
  • Reprojection of output (all in WGS84 now)
  • New output formats – GML, WKT, even microformats?

I’m reluctant to “build it because we can”; our focus is on “enhancing the productivity of research” so we need some evidence of a research need or benefit for whatever we implement.

Got a use case or a criticism?

Unlock client on PyPi

November 24, 2009

I finally got round to uploading an Unlock client to PyPi, the Python package repository.

easy_install unlock

from unlock import Places
p = Places()
xml = p.nameSearch('Edinburgh')

There’s also a simple interface to the geoparser, Unlock Text, in there.

I hope it’ll be a timesaver, and we’ll add some more code resources to the site soon.

Open OS Data

November 19, 2009

I’m happy and hopeful at the announcement by the government that “mid-scale” Ordnance Survey data sets will be made freely available from April next year. It means we’ll be able to move a lot more into the “open data” side of Unlock services, offer open postcode and grid reference lookups.

Unlock’s open data gazetteer will become a lot more flexible with detailed footprints for many places rather than just pairs of coordinates. This will make it more worthwhile putting more complex spatial queries into the API (searches for intersections of footprints, searches for buffers around footprints, etc.) as they can be more widely used. One day we will be able to say, in public, “Show me images of all towns within a mile of the banks of the River Tweed”.

Well, the news is circulating but there will now be a 12 week consultation period before concluding exactly what OS data products will become openly available to us and how best the data should be distributed. Ed Parsons offered a ;speculative list of OS data products which he thinks may be opened next year. From our perspective, BoundaryLine, CodePoint and Meridian2 would be a great start, along with the OS Locator mid-range gazetteer which isn’t on Ed’s list.


November 12, 2009

This blog accompanies our work on the Unlock services at EDINA. These are JISC-supported services designed to unlock the hidden potential in resources with a textual component.

The services currently have a location focus – a gazetteer and place service service, Unlock places, and a “geoparser” which extracts placenames from text and finds likely locations – Unlock text.

We also offer postcode location encoding for academic use only. Two gazetteer databases are supported; one is built from many Ordnance Survey data products and available for UK academic use through Digimap Collections; the other is based on open data sourced from

Things we plan to leave on this blog: notes about interesting use cases for the gazetteer and geoparser services; reports from relevant workshops attended; related work being done by others; new functions of the services. Please get in touch through if you have any feedback, or leave comments here.