Welcome

April 16, 2012 4 comments

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 map provides a brief description of the exercises.

Connections between Geospatial Data and Becoming a Data Professional

September 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Dr. Dawn Wright, Chief Scientist at Esri, recently shared a presentation she gave on the topic of “A Geospatial Industry Perspective on Becoming a Data Professional.”

How can GIS and Big Data be conceptualized and applied to solve problems?  How can the way we define and train data professionals move the integration of Big Data and GIS simultaneously forward?  How can GIS as a system and GIS as a science be brought together to meet the challenges we face as a global community?   What is the difference between a classic GIS researcher and a modern GIS researcher?   How and why must GIS become part of open science?

These issues and more are examined in the slides and the thought-provoking text underneath each slide.  Geographic Information Science has long welcomed strong collaborations among computer scientists, information scientists, and other Earth scientists to solve complex scientific questions, and therefore parallels the emergence as well as the acceptance of “data science.”

But the researchers and developers in “data science” need to be encouraged and recruited from somewhere, and once they have arrived, they need to blaze a lifelong learning pathway.  Therefore, germane to any discussion on emerging fields such as data science is how students are educated, trained, and recruited–here, as data professionals within the geospatial industry.  Such discussion needs to include certification, solving problems, critical thinking, and ascribing to codes of ethics.

I submit that the integration of GIS and open science not only will be enriched by the immersion of issues that we bring up in this blog and in our book, but is actually dependent in large part on researchers and developers who understand such issues and can put them into practice.  What issues?  Issues of understanding geospatial data and knowing how to apply it to real-world problems, of scale, or data quality, of crowdsourcing, of data standards and portals, and others that we frequently raise here.  Nurturing these skills and abilities in geospatial professionals is a key way of helping GIS become a key part of data science, and our ability to move GIS from being a “niche” technology or perspective to one that all data scientists use and share.

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This presentation by Dr. Dawn Wright touches on the themes of data and this blog from a professional development perspective.

 

OpenAddresses: A global address collection

September 20, 2016 1 comment

An integral part of many successful GIS projects is access to reliable address information, providing a consistent locational context for a variety of phenomena. One such address resource is OpenAddresses, a collection of authoritative address data sources. The address data are ‘open and free to use’ and made available under both attribution and share-alike (ODbl) licences. Although not yet a global resource, for those countries where address information is available, the data sets may be downloaded as a .zip file (.csv and GDAL .vrt files).

OpenAddresses - global coverage

OpenAddresses – global coverage

Anyone interested in contributing an address dataset to the project can either submit a request to have the data added or submit the data themselves to the repository on Github.

Dusting off the spatial data hidden in museum collections

September 11, 2016 2 comments

This installment of Spatial Reserves is authored by:  Shelley James and Molly Phillips. iDigBio, Florida Museum of Natural History.   We thank these authors very much for their contribution!

If you’ve ever had a need to document where a plant or animal species occurs today, or 100 years ago, perhaps the 1 billion biological specimens housed in natural history collections across the USA, and 5 billion around the world can help!  Each of these specimens imparts knowledge about their existence in time at a specific location.  Fish, fossils, birds, skeletons, mushrooms, skins – all with a date and location of collection.  The data, found on the labels attached to the specimens, in field notebooks and catalogues, is being transcribed by museum professionals and citizen scientists alike, revealing information about the world’s living organisms dating back to the 1600’s, some with very accurate spatial data, others much less so depending on the geographic knowledge of the collector at the time.  iDigBio – Integrated Digitized Biocollections – a project supported by the US National Science Foundation – is collaborating with biological collections across the globe to help combine and mobilize voucher specimen data for research, education, and environmental management uses.

All of this biodiversity data is in a format known as Darwin Core, a standardized set of descriptors enabling biological data from different sources to be combined, indexed, and shared.  The iDigBio data Portal allows open access to this aggregated data, allowing filtering for types of organisms, a spatial region using latitude-longitude co-ordinates, polygons or place descriptions, and many other options.  The data is delivered dynamically, and can be downloaded for use.  Currently about 50% of the biological records in iDigBio (over 30 million records) have a geopoint and error, and georeferencing is something the collections community continues to work on in order to improve this valuable dataset.  Any tools or improvements to data the geospatial community can provide would be a great help as iDigBio expands beyond 65 million specimen records, and we invite you to join the conversation by participating in the iDigBio Georeferencing Working Group.

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Pigeons and doves from around the world.  The iDigBio Portal maps the distribution of species and provides specimen record details “on the fly” as filters are applied by the user.  The dataset can be downloaded, or data can be accessed through the iDigBio API.

 

 

On Geospatial Information and the Sustainable Development Goals

August 28, 2016 4 comments

In a white paper entitled Transforming Our World:  Geospatial Information Key to Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable DevelopmentDigitalGlobe and Geospatial Media and Communications tie the need for geospatial data to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

On related topics, we have written about the UN resolution on geospatial data, and the UN Future Trends in geospatial information management, and in our book we wrote about the 8 Millennium Development Goals adopted by UN member states.  The white paper brings together some key connections between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and GIS.  The 17 goals include–no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation, and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace and justice/strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve the goals. The 17 SDGs and the 169 associated targets seek to achieve sustainable development balanced in three dimensions–economic, social, and environmental.  The article focuses on a topic that is central to this blog and our book--the need for data, specifically geospatial data, to monitor progress in meeting these goals but also to enable those goals to be achieved.

The report ties the success of the SDGs to the availability of geospatial data.  One finding of the report was that many countries had not implemented any sort of open data initiatives or portals, which is an issue we have discussed here and in our book.  The main focus of the report is to identify ways that countries and organizations can work on addressing the data gap, such as creating new data avenues, open access, mainstreaming Earth observation, expanding capacities, collaborations and partnerships, and making NSDIs (National Spatial Data Infrastructures) relevant.  For more information on the authors of the paper, see this press release by Geospatial World.

I especially like the report because it doesn’t just rest upon past achievements of the geospatial community to make its data holdings available to decision makers   To be sure, there have been many achievements.  But one thing we have been critical of in this blog in our reviews of some data portals is that many sound fine in press releases, but when a data user actually tries to use them, there are many significant challenges, including site sluggishness, limited data formats and insufficient resolution, and the lack of metadata about field names, to name a few.  The report also doesn’t mince words–there have been advancements, but the advancements are not coming fast enough for the decisions that need to be made.

The report’s main message is that the lack of available geospatial data is not just a challenge to people in the geospatial industry doing their everyday work, but that the lack of available geospatial data will hinder the achievement of the SDGs if not addressed fully and soon.

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White paper connecting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to geospatial information, from DigitalGlobe and Geospatial Media and Communications.

Pokémon GO, GIS, and Safety

July 31, 2016 5 comments

Pokémon GO has become very popular, with tens of millions of users in its first month alone, connecting users in the real world with a virtual world, using their own smartphones.  Behind the scenes Pokémon GO is powered by location based services, GIS, and GPS. Pokémon GO is built on Niantic’s Real World Gaming Platform for augmented reality, allowing users to find and catch more than a hundred species of Pokémon as they explore their surroundings. Players are represented on an augmented reality map of the real world. A user’s smartphone vibrates when it is near a Pokémon. When users encounter a Pokémon, they take aim on their smartphone’s touchscreen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Finding Pokémon has become much easier with the release of Pokevision, a Pokemon tracker and locator. It uses the Niantic API to grab the location of all Pokemon near you (or your selected location) and displays them on the map in real-time.

This is intriguing to me as a GIS professional for several reasons. First, Pokevision uses map tiles and geocoding services from Esri.  It is already the most popular app that uses Esri technology, which makes sense because it is aimed at the general public rather than GIS professionals.  Second, the game encourages users to explore the cities and towns where they live to capture.  As an outdoor education advocate, I am glad that people are using this game as an excuse to get outside and become active.   PokéStops are located at places that I am always encouraging people to visit, such as public art installations, trails, and historical markers and monuments. But I do want people to be safe and be aware of their surroundings whether they are using this game, any other game, their phone, or a GPS.  Third, as we discuss frequently in this blog, Pokémon GO is helping people think about the privacy and safety implications of location based services, including games.  For example, Chi Smith created a crowdsourcing story map for users to share safety tips.  As we discuss in this blog and in our book, location based services are powerful, engaging, and useful, and need to be used with care.

But like all of these technologies and the social forces surrounding them, on 1 August 2016 it was announced that the Pokemon GO developer shut down sites like Pokevision.  Keep checking this blog for updates.

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 view of the Santa Monica Pier in California.

Crowdsourcing Story Maps and Privacy

As we have pointed out in this blog, we have had the capability to create story maps (multimedia-rich, live web maps) for a few years now, and we have also had the capability to collect data via crowdsourcing and citizen science methods using a variety of methods.  But now the capability exists for both to be used at the same time–one way is with the new crowdsourcing story map app from Esri.

The crowdsource story map app joins the other story map apps that are listed here.  To get familiar with this new app, read this explanation.  Also, you might explore a new crowdsourced story map that, after selecting “+ Participate”, prompts you for your location, photograph, and a sentence or two about attending, in this case, the Esri User Conference.  If you did not attend, examining the application will give you a good sense for what this new app can do.

It’s not just this story map that has me interested.  It is that this long-awaited capability is now at our fingertips, where you can, with this same app, create crowdsourced story maps for gathering data on such things as tree cover, historic buildings, noisy places, litter, weird architecture, or something else, on your campus or in your community.  It is in beta, but feel free to give this crowdsourcing story map app a try.

We have also discussed location privacy concerns both here and in our book.  The story Map Crowdsource app is different from the other Story Maps apps in that it enables people to post pictures and information onto your map without logging in to your ArcGIS Online organization.  Thus, the author does not have complete control over what content appears in a Crowdsource story. Furthermore, the contributor’s current location, such as their current street address or locations they have visited, can be exposed in a Crowdsource app and appear with their post in these maps as a point location and as text. This may be fine if your map is collecting contributions about water quality, invasive plant species, or interesting places to visit in a city, where these location are public places. But it may not be desirable for other subject matter or scenarios, especially if people may be posting from their own residence.

Thus, it is up to you as the author of a Story Map Crowdsource app to ensure that your application complies with the privacy and data collection policies and standards of your organization, your community, and your intended audience.  You might wish to set up a limited pilot or internal test of any Story Map Crowdsource project before deploying and promoting it publicly in order to review if it meets those requirements. And for you as a user of these maps, make sure that you are aware that you are potentially exposing the location of your residence or workplace, and make adjustments accordingly (generalizing your location to somewhere else in your city, for example) if exposing these locations are of concern to you).

Thus, the new crowdsource story map app is an excellent example of both citizen science and location privacy.

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Example of the new crowdsourcing story map app.