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New web survey to map everyday placenames

21 July 2010

Map of the United Kingdom with a drawing pin in it

Members of the public are being invited to help create a more accurate picture of where places are on the UK map.

Everyday placenames like 'The Midlands', 'city centre' and 'the East End' are in common use but have no precisely agreed boundary. These vernacular place names cause a problem when people use them to find information on the web because they cannot be pinned down to any particular location.

Now, researchers at Cardiff University, together with the Ordnance Survey, have launched a web survey to tackle this problem. The survey, at, will compile knowledge of the informal place names in Great Britain, so that future information systems will be able to understand where they refer to. Benefits could include emergency services being directed quickly to the right destination, and online customers of travel agencies easily explaining where they want to go.

Web-based navigation and mapping systems rely on catalogues of place names, or gazetteers, which associate place name names with map coordinates. Gazetteers are usually based on the names found on published maps but do not contain the vernacular names that people often use when talking about places.

Christopher Jones, Professor of Geographical Information Systems at the School of Computer Science and Informatics, is leading the project. The survey asks people across Great Britain to contribute vernacular place names, along with their location, given by a postcode or an area on a map. The newly generated data sets will result in information systems with a better understanding of geographical language.

"If a lot of people contribute a location for the same vernacular place names we can generate statistical models that capture the variation in our perceptions of places and allow us to create representations of their location," says Dr. Florian Twaroch a research associate in the School of Computer Science and Informatics.

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