This post is all about CloudMade. What is it? This is how they describe themselves:
"CloudMade helps you make the most of map data. We source our maps from OpenStreetMap, the community mapping project which is making a free map of the world. Our aim is to continue the democratization of geo data and to expand access to open geo data through a range of simple yet powerful tools and APIs."
OpenStreetMap's UK homepage can be found here. So, it's basically all about mapping the world but not charging the earth for it. Or anything at all! OpenStreetMap was started in 2004 by Steve Coast, one of the co-founders of CloudMade. Play around with the map below...
View Larger Map
Why does this all matter? Because it's the start of a movement which could make available geo-data which was previously very costly and heavily restricted by licensing issues. It could be particularly good for GIS users in the UK. CloudMade have downloads available for a number of different data types, including Shapefiles, for the entire world. The coverage is sometimes patchy (though not for most areas), but it's growing by the day.
Here's the UK downloads page.
The Shapefiles are not complete, and the administrative data is in polyline rather than polygon format, but there is a lot of useful stuff here. In conclusion, the UK data is not yet comparable to high cost alternatives, but this is a good start!