Welcome to the Spatial Reserves blog.
The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data was written to provide GIS practitioners and instructors with the essential skills to find, acquire, format, and analyze public domain spatial data. Some of the themes discussed in the book include open data access and spatial law, the importance of metadata, the fee vs. free debate, data and national security, the efficacy of spatial data infrastructures, the impact of cloud computing and the emergence of the GIS-as-a-Service (GaaS) business model. Recent technological innovations have radically altered how both data users and data providers work with spatial information to help address a diverse range of social, economic and environmental issues.
This blog was established to follow up on some of these themes, promote a discussion of the issues raised, and host a copy of the exercises that accompany the book. This story board provides a brief description of the exercises.
The Census Business Builder app and the Opportunity Project are two new tools from the US Census Bureau that make accessing and using data, and, we hope, making decisions from it, easier for the data analyst. Both of these applications are good representatives of the trend we noted in our book and in this blog— the effort by government agencies to make their data more user-friendly. While I would still like to see the Census Bureau address what I consider to be the still-cumbersome process of downloading and merging data from the American Community Survey and the Decennial Census with the TIGER GIS files, these two efforts represent a significant step in the right direction. While GIS users may still not be fully satisfied by these tools, the tools should expand the use of demographic, community, and business data by non-GIS users, which seems to be sites’ goal.
The Opportunity Project uses open data from the Census Bureau and from communities along with a Software Development Kit (SDK) to place information in the hands of decision makers. Because these decision makers are not likely to be familiar with how to conduct spatial analysis within a GIS, the appeal of this effort is for wiser decision making with the geographic perspective. A variety of projects are already on the site to spark ideas, including Streetwyze, GreatSchools, and Transit Analyst.
The Census Business Builder is a set of web based mapping services that provides selected demographic and economic data from the Census Bureau. You can use it to create customized maps and county and city level reports and charts. A small business edition presents data for a single type of business and geography at a time, while the regional analyst edition presents data for all sectors of the economy and for one or more counties at a time. These tools are based on Esri’s online mapping capabilities and offer some of the functionality of Esri’s Business Analyst Online. Give them a try and we look forward to your comments below.
Bruce Schneier, CTO of Resilient Systems and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, as well as the long time author of a blog and numerous books on security issues, wrote about a privacy concern from a source that may be unexpected to many of our readers–Samsung Television. The article points out that one of the company’s Internet-connected smart TVs offers a voice command that saves the viewer the work of finding the remote, pushing buttons, and scrolling through menus. However, enabling this feature requires the TV to listen to everything the viewer says. Yes, apparently “everything.”
The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), recently announced the release of a LIDAR point cloud, the raw data used to generate a number of digital terrain models (DTMs) that were released last year. In addition to providing terrain models for flood modelling and coastline management, the LIDAR data have also been revealing much about long-buried Roman roads and buildings, such as the Vindolanda fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.
Environment Agency/Defra LIDAR data
The point cloud data have been released as part of the #OpenDefra project, which aims to make 8,000 datasets publicly available by mid 2016. The first release of point cloud data contains over 16,000 km 2 of survey data and is available to download from:
The data are licensed under version 3.0 of the Open Government Licence.
Understanding the legal aspects of GIS has always been important, going back to its inclusion in the GIS&T Body of Knowledge and earlier, but with cloud-based data and services, UAVs, and other trends and tools, it is more important than ever. A series of essays on spatial law and its relevance to geospatial professionals from the folks at the GIS Lounge provides an excellent resource to supplement our book and this blog.
In these three essays, Sangeeta Deogawanka defines spatial law and some areas that spatial law governs. She goes on to focus on remote sensing policies, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAVs and UASs), GPS, and touches on the implications of GIS in the cloud. She finishes by discussing how the purpose for gathering data can determine policies and regulations, including data capture, storage, use sharing, intellectual property rights, and privacy policies.
One of the resources provided at the end of the series is the site for the Centre for Spatial Law and Policy, of which we have high regard, and to which we referred recently when we wrote about photograph location privacy. Sangeeta also providees a useful link to 10 spatial laws and policies around the world.
What are your reactions to the relevance of spatial law to the geospatial profession and decision making?
This week’s guest post is courtesy of Brian Goldin, CEO of Voyager Search.
The Needle in the Haystack
Every subculture of the GIS industry is preaching the gospel of open data initiatives. Open data promises to result in operational efficiencies and new innovation. In fact, the depth and breadth of geo-based content available rivals snowflakes in a blizzard. There are open data portals and FTP sites to deliver content from the public sector. There are proprietary solutions with fancy mapping and charting applications from the private sector. There are open source and crowd sourced offerings that grow daily in terms of volume of data and effectiveness of their solutions. There are standards for metadata. There are laws to enforce that it all be made available. Even security stalwarts in the US and global intelligence communities are making the transition. It should be easier than ever to lay your hands on the content you need. But now, we struggle to find the needle in a zillion proverbial haystacks.
Ironically, GIS users and data consumers need to be explorers and researchers to find what they need. We remain fractured about how to reach the nirvana where not only is the data open, but also it is accurate, well documented, and available in any form. We can do better, and perhaps we learn some lessons from consumer applications that changed the way we find songs, buy a book, or discover any piece of information on the web.
Lesson one: Spotify for data.
In 1999, Napster landed a punch, knocking the wind out of the mighty music publishing industry. When the dust settled, the music industry prevailed, but it did so in a weakened state with their market fundamentally changed. Consumers’ appetite for listening to whatever they wanted for free made going back to business as usual impossible. Spotify ultimately translated that demand into an all-you-can-eat music model. The result is that in 2014 The New Yorker reported that Spotify’s user base was more than 50 million worldwide with 12.5 million subscribers. By June 2015, it was reportedly 20 million subscribers. Instead of gutting the music publishers, Spotify helped them to rebound.
Commercial geospatial and satellite data providers should take heed. Content may well be king, but expensive, complicated pricing models are targets for disruption. It is not sustainable to charge a handful of customer exorbitant fees for content or parking vast libraries of historical data on the sidelines while smaller players like Skybox, gather more than 1 terabyte of data a day and open source projects gather road maps of the world. Ultimately, we need a business model that gives users an all-you-can-eat price that is reasonable rather than a complex model based on how much the publisher thinks you can pay.
Lesson two: Google for GIS.
We have many options for finding the data, which means that we have a zillion stovepipes to search. What we need is unification across those stovepipes so that we can compare and contrast their resources to find the best content available.
This does not mean that we need one solution for storing the data and content. It just means we need one place for searching and finding all of the content no matter where it exists, what it is, what software created it or how it is stored. Google does not house every bit of data in a proprietary solution, nor does it insist on a specific standard of complex metadata in order for a page to be found. It if did, Internet search would resemble the balkanised GIS search experience we have today. But when I want GIS content, I have to look through many different potential sources to discover what might be the right one.
What is required is the ability to crawl all of the data, content, services and return a search page that shows the content on a readable, well formatted page with some normalised presentation of metadata that includes the location, the author, a brief description and perhaps the date it was created, no matter where it this resides. We need to enable people to compare content with a quick scan and then dig deeper into whatever repository houses it. We need to use their search results to inform the next round of relevancy and even to anticipate the answers to their questions. We need to enable sharing and commenting and rating on those pages to show where and how user’s feel about that content. This path is well-worn in the consumer space, but for the GIS industry these developments lag years behind as limited initiatives sputter and burn out.
Lesson 3. Amazon for geospatial.
I can find anything I want to buy on Amazon, but it doesn’t all come from an Amazon warehouse nor does Amazon manufacture it. All of the content doesn’t need to be in one place, one solution or one format; so long as it is discoverable in and deliverable from one place. Magically, anything I buy can be delivered through a handy one-click delivery mechanism! Sure, sometimes it costs money to deliver it, other times it’s free, but consumers aren’t challenged to learn a new checkout system each and every time they buy from a new vendor. They don’t have to call a help desk for assistance with delivery.
Today, getting your hands on content frequently requires a visit an overburdened GIS government staffer who will deliver the content to you. Since you might not be able to see exactly what they have, you almost always ask for more than you need. You’ll have no way of knowing when or how that data was updated. What should be as easy as clip-zip-and-ship delivery — the equivalent of gift-wrapping a package on Amazon — seems a distant dream. But why is this?
While agency leadership extols the virtues of open government initiatives, if their content is essentially inaccessible, the risk of being punished for causing frustration is minimal compared with that of exposing bad data or classified tidbits. So why bother when your agency’s first mandate is to accomplish some other goal entirely and your budget is limited? Government’s heart is certainly behind this initiative, but is easily outweighed by legitimate short-term risks and the real world constraints on human and financial resources.
The work of making public content discoverable in an open data site as bullet proof as Amazon’s limitless store seems can and should be done by industry with the support of the government so that everyone may benefit. In the private sector, we will find a business model to support this important work. But here’s the catch. This task will never be perceived as being truly open if it is done by a company that builds GIS software. The dream of making all GIS content discoverable and open, requires that it everyone’s products are equally discoverable. That’s a huge marketing challenge all by itself. Consider that Amazon’s vision of being the world’s largest store does not include making all of the stuff sold there. There really is a place for a company to play this neutral role between the vendors, the creators of the content and the public that needs it.
On the horizon
We have come so far in terms of making content open and available. The data are out there in a fractured world. What’s needed now isn’t another proprietary system or another set of standards from an open source committee. What’s really needed is a network of networks that makes single search across all of this content, data and services possible whether it’s free or for a fee. We should stop concerning ourselves with standards for this or that, and let the market drive us toward those inevitable best practices that help our content to be found. I have no doubt that the brilliant and creative minds in this space will conquer this challenge.
Brian Goldin, CEO of Voyager Search.
A new report entitled Advancing Geographic Information Science: The Past and Next Twenty Years has been published by GSDI Association Press, edited by Harlan Onsrud and Werner Kuhn. The e-book’s 30 chapters (or you may order a paperback here) include many themes that we focus on in this blog and in our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data. Because of these themes, and because the authors of the chapters include many who are recognized scholars in GIScience, we believe the book merits close attention. Particularly germane to our focus on data sources, quality, crowdsourcing, privacy, and standards is Part One of the book: GIScience Contribution, Influences, and Challenges. Onsrud, a long-time and well-repected GIScience and Engineering professor at the University of Maine, and Werner Kuhn, noted professor of GIS at UC Santa Barbara, have done a careful editing of the book’s content and have pulled together some forward-thinking pieces.
This part (one) of the book includes Contributions of GIScience over the Past Twenty Years, by Egenhofer, Clarke, Gao, Quesnot, Franklin, Yuan, and Coleman, Technological and Societal Influences on GIScience, by Winter, Lopez, Harvey, Hennig, Jeong, Trainor, and Timpf, Emerging Technological Trends Likely to Affect GIScience in the Next Twenty Years, by Nittel, Bodum, Clarke, Gould, Raposo, Sharma, and Vasardani, and Emerging Societal Challenges Likely to Affect GIScience in the Next Twenty Years, by Ramasubramanian, Couclelis, and and Midtbø. The technical and societal influences on GIScience described here include databases, free and open source software, spatial data infrastructure, GPS, sensor data collection, the Web, web mapping services, mobile computing, social media and crowdsourced data, and linked data. Privacy needs are among those described in the “likely to affect GIScience in the future” technical chapter. I found the reflections on older populations, bioengineering, natural disasters, safer mobility, and sensors to be thought provoking in the “coming societal trends” chapter.
If you care about data and other issues surrounding GIS in society, including the where the field has been and where it is headed, this book will be worth your time in investigating.
After three months in beta, the European Data Portal has been launched. The portal is set to replace the publicdata.eu site and hosts over 400,000 datasets in a variety of formats including shape, csv, xls and ogc:wms. For the spatial datasets, the site provides a dataset extent visualisation and filter by location option, against a basemap of OpenStreetMap data.
The portal also provides a metadata quality assessment section, with reports on a variety of metrics including popular formats and the top source data catalogs.
One of the innovative inclusions in the new site is the accompanying training companion and e-learning programme, with sessions covering licensing, platforms, formats, linked data and data quality. The European Commission and partners involved in the development of the site have recognised that it’s no longer just about providing access to data, it’s also about providing the necessary information to support the best use of the data.