According to Esri’s 2014 Open Data year in review, over 763 organizations around the world have joined ArcGIS Open Data, publishing 391 public sites, resulting in 15,848 open data sets shared. These organizations include over 99 cities, 43 countries, and 35 US states. At the beginning of 2015, the organizations represent 390 from North America, 157 from Europe, 121 from Africa, 39 from Asia, and 22 from Oceania. Over 42,000 shapefiles, KML files, and CSV files were downloaded from these sites since July 2014. Recently, we wrote about one of these sites, the Maryland Open Data Portal, in this blog. Another is the set of layers from the city of Launceton, in Tasmania, Australia.
While these initiatives are specifically using one set of methods and tools to share, that of the ArcGIS Open Data, the implications on the data user community are profound: First, the adoption of ArcGIS Open Data increases availability for the entire user community, not just Esri users. This is because of the increased number of portals that result, and also because the data sets shared, such as raster and vector data services, KMLs, shapefiles, and CSVs, are the types of formats that can be consumed by many types of GIS online and desktop tools. Second, as we have expressed in our book and in this blog, while there were noble attempts for 30 years on behalf of regional, national, and international government organizations to establish standards, to share data, and to encourage a climate of sharing, and while many of those attempts were and will continue to be successful, the involvement of private industry (in this case, Esri), nonprofit organizations, and academia will lend an enormous boost to government efforts.
Third, the advent of cloud-based GIS enables these portals to be fairly easily established, curated, and improved. Using the ArcGIS Open Data platform, organizations can leave their data where it is–whether on ArcGIS for Server or in ArcGIS Online–and simply share it as Open Data. Esri uses Koop to transform data into different formats, to access APIs, and to get data ready for discovery and exploration. Organizations add their nodes to the Open Data list and their data can then be accessed, explored, and downloaded in multiple formats without “extraneous exports or transformations.” Specifically, organizations using ArcGIS Open Data first enable the open data capabilities, then specify the groups for open data, then configure their open data site, and then make the site public.
I see one of the chief ways tools like ArcGIS Open Data will advance the open data movement is through the use of tools that are easy to use, and also that will evolve over time. Nobody has an infinite amount of time trying to figure out how to best serve their organization’s data, and then to construct the tools in which to do so. The ability for data-producing organizations to use these common tools and methods represents, I believe, an enormous advantage in the time savings it represents. As more organizations realize and adopt this, all of us in the GIS community, and beyond, will benefit.
The signing of the Open Data Charter by G8 leaders in 2013 promised to make public sector data open, free of charge and available to all in re-usable formats. However, despite the attention open data subsequently received, a recent report by the World Wide Web Foundation (featured in a BBC article) highlighted some ongoing problems making the pledges enshrined in the Open Data Charter a reality. Many countries have failed to deliver what the report referred to as a policy framework for open data.
Although the UK and USA were at the top of the global rankings for countries providing access to open data, they and many other countries still have a lot of work before they can claim to have fully open government. Of particular note in the UK is the ongoing debate over access to the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF). Although the PAF dataset is cited as the ‘definitive source of postal address information’ in the UK and used in many digital mapping applications, the current charges and licensing arrangements deter many potential users of the dataset. Many commentators have argued that the PAF dataset could become the standard address resource for commercial and non-commercial uses in the UK if it was made available in an easy to use and open format. This would encourage much wider adoption of the dataset and prevent the further proliferation of alternatives sources of address information. With the spotlight back on open access to address data, will 2015 be the year the PAF joins the growing list of open, and free of charge, spatial datasets?
An infographic on The Visual Communication Guy website from Dr Newbold, whose background is Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design, offers a way to fairly quickly and easily help data users decide if and how they can use copyrighted online images. Given the ease of sharing of data in our cloud-based GIS world, we write frequently in this blog and focus part of our book on discussing copyright. While Dr Newbold’s infographic is intended for those using still photography, much can be applied to spatial data. Keeping with our theme of being critical of data, however, verify this infographic against other sources before beginning any project using imagery and data that are not your own.
My rule of thumb in using photography in web maps, storymaps, map layouts, web pages, and in other ways is to use my own photographs whenever possible, such as on this story map, since according to copyright law, I own the copyright to them. Lacking my own images, I then turn to US government or other non-copyrighted images, or images marked as Creative Commons, such as most images from Wikimedia. If all of these sources do not result in the images I need, and I truly want to use a copyrighted image, such as a few on this Colorado map I created, I ask permission, clearly stating my (educational) intent, and I do not use the image unless the permission is granted.
Clear, helpful definitions of key terms accompany the graphic: (1) Copyright: The protection given to any created image or work from being copied or distributed without permission. All images are immediately given copyright to the creator when the image is created. (2) Fair Use: The legal right to use copyrighted images as long as the images are used for educational, research, or personal use or as long as the image benefits the public good in some way. (3) Creative Commons: Images that are copyrighted but the creator has put provisions on their use. A creative commons license might stipulate, for example, that an image can be used as long as it isn’t modified in any way. (4) Public Domain: Images that no longer have copyright restrictions either because the creator willingly relinquished their copyright or because the creator is dead and no one owns the copyright.
The Environment Agency announced at the end of 2014 that it was releasing the Risk of Flooding from Rivers and Sea dataset (formerly known as the National Flood Risk Assessment dataset, NAFRA) as an open data resource. The flood data are to be made available under the Open Government Licence (OGL) and provide an indication of the likely flood risk (low, moderate or significant) from rivers and sea. The data are available to download from the data.gov.uk site and the Environment Agency also plans to publish the data on their DataShare site ASAP.
Important as this latest open data resource is, especially given the extent and severity of flooding in many parts of England last winter, the usefulness of this type of flood data is often best illustrated in combination with other datasets such as flood outlines and waste site boundaries; the factors contributing to flood risk are both complex and varied. However, many of these other datasets are not available under the same open licence agreement and are subject to restrictions on commercial use and re-sharing. This variation in licensing poses a number of issues for data analysts working to provide holistic interpretations of past trends and recent events, and potentially limits both the scope of the analysis and the audience for the results.
The release of the flood risk data under the OGL is a significant move for the Environment Agency; will this prompt the release of other related environmental datasets under the same open access licence?