Despite the growing volume of geospatial data available, and the ease of use of much of this data, finding and using data remains a challenge. To assist data users in these ongoing challenges, I have written a new activity entitled “Key Strategies for Finding Content and Understanding What You’ve Found.” The goal of this activity ” Key Strategies for Finding and Using Spatial Data” is to enable GIS data users to understand what spatial analysis is, effectively find spatial data, use spatial data, and become familiar with the ArcGIS platform in the process. I tested the activity with a group of GIS educators and now would like to share it with the broader GIS community.
The document makes it clear that we are still in a hybrid world–still needing to download some data for our work in GIS, but increasingly able to stream data from online data services such as those in ArcGIS Online. But these concepts don’t make as much sense unless one actually practices doing this–hence the activity.
In the activity, I ask the user to first practice search strategies in ArcGIS Online, using tags and keywords. Then, I guide the user through the process of downloading and using a CSV file with real-time data. After a brief review of data types and resources, I guide the user of the activity through the process of downloading data from a local government agency to solve a problem about flood hazards. The next step asks users to compare this process of downloading data with streaming the same data from the same local government’s site (in this case, using data from Boulder County, Colorado) into ArcGIS Online. The activity concludes with resources to discover more about these methods of accessing data.
Jill Clark and I have created other hands-on activities on this theme of finding and understanding data as well, available here. We look forward to hearing your comments and I hope this new activity is useful.
Over the last four years we have discussed some of the many challenges posed by the volume of data now available online – issues of quality, determining provenance, privacy, identifying the most appropriate source for particular requirements and so on. Being overwhelmed by the choice of data available or not always knowing what resources are available or where to start looking have been common responses from geospatial students and practitioners alike.
A recent report from the BBC on laser technology highlighted some current and future applications that have or will transform geospatial data capture, including the use of LiDAR and ultra precise atom interferometers that could be used to develop alternate navigation systems that do not rely on GPS. The article also discusses the inherent limitations of our current electronics-based computing infrastructure and the potential of silicon photonics, firing lasers down optical fibres, to help meet the demand for instant or near-instant access to data in the Internet-of-Everything world. If many feel overwhelmed now by the volumes of data available, what will technologies like silicon photonics mean for data practitioners in the future? Just because data may be available at unprecedented speeds and accessed more easily, that alone doesn’t guarantee the quality of the data will be any better or negate current concerns with respect to issues such as locational privacy. A critical understanding of these issues will be even more important if we are to make the most of these advances in digital data capture and transmission.
We wrote extensive reviews of local, regional, state, provincial, national, and international government data portals in our book and from time to time do so in this blog. One of the finest state geospatial data portals in our judgment is the Montana Digital Atlas.
We have been critical here and in our book about data portals that were obviously set up simply to satisfy some organizational mandate without regard to those who will actually use the data portal. I have spent time with the MAGIP (Montana Association of Geographic Information Professionals) community, and most recently was honored to give the keynote at their annual conference. I am happy to report that they have built their data portal with the end user in mind. What’s more, the Montana State Library has been a leader in the GIS community there for years, and I have found that when library information professionals are involved–people who really understand data–their resources will be extensive, the metadata will be rich, and the services are actually going to work.
The Digital Atlas features geographic databases, aerial photos, and topographic maps of lands in Montana. The functions begin with an interactive map, where you can select base maps, thematic map layers, and tabular data from which you can draw on the screen, generate reports from in XLS and CSV formats, and download in various GIS formats. The site features functionality that I wish all data portals had, such as the ability to move popup boxes to locations most convenient for you, choices on datums and projections for your data, the ability to clip data to specific geographic areas, and the ability to search the state library catalogs for articles, books, and other resources for the area you are investigating. You can even copy the map link to get a web link to the current map that you have created on the site. Furthermore, you can load some of the layers directly from the Montana State Library to ArcGIS Online, via the services in the ‘MSDI_Framework’ and ‘MSL’ folders, on https://gisservicemt.gov/arcgis/rest/services/MSDI_Framework and https://gisservicemt.gov/arcgis/rest/services/MSL.
Lastly, the portal managers graciously say to contact them at MSLDA @ mt.gov if you experience difficulty with the application, if you see a problem with any of the data, or even–and this is wonderful–to suggest additional map layers.