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.
Esri Press have now published a new resources page to compliment The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, cataloguing a list of blog posts from Spatial Reserves that update and augment many of the themes discussed in the book.
The resources site also provides information on accessing the hands-on exercises that accompany the book. The exercises provide an opportunity for novice and experienced data users alike to work through some of the issues discussed in the book.
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?
Last year the UK’s Royal Statistical Society released their Data Manifesto, highlighting ‘….the potential of data to improve policy and business practice’, and stressing the importance of what the Society referred to as data literacy. A central theme in the manifesto is the role of public domain data, both the quality of the information that is available and the trust placed in it by the individuals and organisations who use that data. Although much has been accomplished over recent years with respect to providing better access to government data, the Society specifically mention the value in continuing to open up addressing and geospatial data as ‘..core reference data upon which society depends and also act as a catalyst to release economic value from other open datasets’.
Just as important as having access to data sources are the skills required to analyse and interpret that data; the data literacy skills that will be the foundation of the new data economy – basic data handling, quantitative skills and the ability to interpret data using the best technologies for the task.
As data users in this new data economy we also need the critical skills described by Joseph Kerski in his post on being critical of data; yes we need access to the public domain and open data, yes we need to be able to find data and yes we need the skills to work with the data, but we also need to be able to determine the quality of the data and how appropriate the data are for our individual requirements.
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 city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the opposite side of the St Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, is home to over 107,000 people, some prestigious universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and numerous cultural and physical amenities. The city is exemplary with regards to how it serves spatial data to the GIS community and to the general public. The city’s GIS portal includes a map gallery of traffic, history, watersheds, community development, elections, wireless access, and other themes that are viewable online, downloadable, and many of which are viewable on a mobile device. One unique and interesting mobile map is the “street trees walking app” that allows a person to identify the type of tree species that are nearby as they walk through the streets of Cambridge. The city’s GIS portal includes numerous interactive maps in their CityViewer utility, including a historical viewer dating back to 1947 with imagery and 1865 with maps. GIS data downloads are one of the richest data sets I have seen from any local government, with over 60 layers on infrastructure, public safety, hydrography, topography, health, demographics, and much more.
One of the unique features of the city’s GIS portal is the use of a story map. The story map was created because, in the words of its creators, “The city has all of these great programs and offerings but they aren’t necessarily advertised in the most efficient manner, and the information isn’t always easily accessible.” Besides showing the public where the city services are located, a side benefit for the GIS community is that the story map itself is a thorough and compelling tutorial of how to build your own story map.
Last but not least, the data dictionary for the City of Cambridge GIS is extremely thorough and easy to use, providing shapefiles and file geodatabases. The dictionary contains information on how and why a GIS layer was created, the city’s procedure for maintaining each layer, departments that contribute to the development of each layer, history, and the intended use of the data. The metadata even includes what some dictionaries leave out–a thorough description of the attributes and how the attributes are defined.
In our book, we discuss the costs and benefits of local governments serving their spatial data to the GIS community and to the public. The City of Cambridge has gone to great effort to make their data interesting, relevant, and easy to find and use to a broad spectrum of data users.
The Minneapolis St Paul regional GIS council (MetroGIS) conducted research that was in part based on a policy call to individual counties in their metropolitan area for free and open data. The results, reported here, along with related links and publications, provide excellent information about the current state of free and open data in the GIS council’s region. More importantly, beyond this particular metropolitan area, the documents include succinct and compelling arguments for the benefits to any local government in making its data open and freely available. These include transparency of operations, improved public service, ease of data access, savings in terms of staff time, meeting public demand, improved inter-agency work relationships, and faster decision making. It fits into the notion of data as an important component of public infrastructure, created to serve the public good, and fundamental to wise decision making.
This MetroGIS site is also of value because it provides a resolution for support for free and open public geospatial data, a sample letter of support, and links to related articles and publications. In short, the MetroGIS staff provides insight to the decisions that have brought their organization to this point. The results of their research is of great assistance to those grappling with whether and how to serve their own spatial data.
In the related resources provided, that may be of particular interest to the readers of the Spatial Reserves blog, includes NSGIC President Ivan Weichert’s essay This Isn’t Private Information, on locational privacy, arguing that if some privacy issues are enacted, it would destroy the government’s ability to conduct its business, and negatively affect government and commercial services that citizens expect and demand. Another item of interest is Brian Timoney’s The Flawed Economics of Closed Government Data, where, in his usual straightforward style, he argues against the “cost recovery” model for government agency provision of data.