Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 27/10/2003If you haven't seen it, may I recommend you inspect our spiffy new Wi-Fi map of Great Britain?  With hundreds of hot spots just a mouse-click away, it's a great way to virtually zoom around the country planning your broadband wireless exploits.

Monday 27/10/2003
If you haven't seen it, may I recommend you inspect our spiffy new Wi-Fi map of Great Britain?  With hundreds of hot spots just a mouse-click away, it's a great way to virtually zoom around the country planning your broadband wireless exploits. Simple, handy and fun to use, it's an essential guide to the modern road warrior.

Right, that's the advert. What you can't tell from the map is what went on behind the scenes. You'd think that as ZDNet UK spends so much of its time writing about IT automation, the ever-increasing rate of information interchange and other blah-di-blah, the database behind the dots would be some fantastic example of XML-powered geographic data management.

If only. While people are more than keen to donate their information to the cause, the stuff turns up in all sorts of weird ways. Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, "it's all on our website", Oric Atmos C15 cassette tapes, carrier badgers clutching Sanskrit clay tablets in their claws -- you name it, we've seen the format.

But we promised you a Wi-Fi map, so a Wi-Fi map you shall have. A crack editorial team was selected through a rigorous procedure -- Can you read? Can you type? Are you breathing? -- and set to work. You may remember those old promotional films about the wonders of computers, where scratchy newsreel footage of halls full of clerks working their way grimly through piles of paper faded to spinning tapes and a couple of white-coated technicians nodding over banks of flashing lights. Well, the only white coats present in the ZDNet UK office over the past week have been those nice doctors dragging the twitching corpses of Editorial out to the fresh air for a quick dousing with a bucket of cold water before returning them to their posts. The piles of paper, however, are extant.

So far, there are well over 500 hot spots on the map and -- to the delight of the typers -- there are more to come. To invest the process with a bit of pizazz, the data entry was turned into a competitive sport -- I'll start at zero, you start at 200, and we'll see who does a hundred first. Unfortunately, the person who won is far too keen to see their name in the diary, and that would never do.

Just think of us when you next discover the Union Street hot spot in glorious downtown Plymouth, or gratefully log on at 33 Church Street, Inverness. And if you're planning to roll out a nationwide network of the things -- please, please ask us about data formats first. It's not that we don't like badgers, but they've got into the snack machine and we're running out of Hula Hoops.

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