Confused about Where Places Are? New Maps Pin Them Down; PERCEPTION DIFFERENCES COULD EVEN FIND ROATH

Article excerpt

Byline: CIARAN JONES

WEST WALES, the East End of London - we all know where they are.

But when it comes to pinpointing exactly where they are on the map we may well be struggling.

Now a group of Welsh researchers have launched a website to try to map the informal and vernacular place names around the UK.

As project leaders found, what might be West Wales for one person could be completely different in someone else's eyes.

Chris Jones, professor of geographical information systems at Cardiff University's School of Computer Science and Informatics, said the data would be very useful for computer-based searches.

He said: "Our language about space tends to be rather vague - lots of the way we refer to the world around us is vague.

"For example if we just say somewhere is to the north, or ask whether Bridgend is near to Cardiff - it might be for some people and not others."

As well as looking for input from users, the website - being run in association with Ordnance Survey - allows people to look at other responses to the questionnaire.

Prof Jones has been co-ordinating research in the area for three years, but the internet questionnaire has only just gone live thanks to the work of Dr Florian Twaroch, a research associate in the school.

"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," Dr Twaroch said.

While the funding period for the initial research is about to expire, they hope the website will become a valuable resource.

Prof Jones said: "The funding period is coming to an end at the end of August. However, the website we hope will have a much longer life.

"The idea of the site is to get people to tell us what names they associate with a particular place they live and give us postcodes and point to it on a map. "We can also use it to link a name to some other existing streets. For example in Cardiff, Caroline Street is often known as 'Chippy Alley'. …