Posts Tagged ‘Public Domain Data’

Examples of maps created from users of our book’s Hands-on Activities

April 13, 2014 2 comments

We created 10 exercises that help data users build skills with making decisions with public domain data.  I assigned several of those hands-on exercises recently to university students in a GIS course on public domain data, and I was amazed at the high quality of their analysis and of the cartography on their final maps.  A selection of these maps, involving the creation of a database and map for an ecotourism company in New Zealand, are shown below.  This is Exercise 7 in our set.

Particularly impressive about the results from this assignment is that this activity is open ended.  In previous exercises, analysts are directed to specific websites to obtain data, but by this exercise, they are ready to tackle a problem without much guidance.  Here, they determine the type of ecotourism they will focus on, the data they will need, the organizations from which they will obtain the data, how they will format, project, and analyze the data, the scale, cartography, and types of maps they will make, and the methods they will use to communicate their results.  Try one of these exercises today and share your results!

New Zealand Ecotourism Map

Simple but effective New Zealand Ecotourism Map.

New Zealand Ecotourism Map

New Zealand  Trout Fishing Ecotourism Map.

New Zealand Ecotourism Map

New Zealand Ecotourism Map with detailed symbology.

New Zealand Ecotourism Map

New Zealand Ecotourism Map highlighting caves in Tasman.

Open Government Data book by Joshua Tauberer

February 2, 2014 1 comment

An online e-book entitled Open Government Data by Joshua Tauberer is, according to the author, “the culmination of several years of thinking about the principles behind the open government data movement in the United States.”  In the book, he “frame[s] the movement as the application of Big Data to civics. Topics include principles, uses for transparency and civic engagement, a brief legal history, data quality, civic hacking, and paradoxes in transparency.”

The author is the creator of the US Congress-tracking tool, which launched in 2004, helping to spur the national open government data community. He was also a co-founder of POPVOX, a platform for advocacy, providing a means for citizens to communicate with Congress about the issues they care about.

Tauberer mentions GIS data in part 2.2 where he uses Google Transit Feed Specification data as an example (three-quarters of the way down the page, in Figure 8) to visualize ridership in the Washington DC area.  But despite the lack of overt GIS references, I believe this book could be useful to the readers of our book and this blog.  Its chapters include “Big Data Meets Open Government”, “Civic Hacking by Example”, “Applications to Open Government”, “A Brief Legal History of Open Government Data”, “Paradoxes in Open Government”, and “Example Policy Language”.  In particular, the chapter on “A Brief Legal History of Open Government Data” provides useful additional reading after reading Chapter 1 of our book, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.  Through reading Tauberer’s book, one can better understand how spatial data can and should fit into larger open data and open government initiatives.

Open Government Data book

Open Government Data book.

Is your data STILL “CRAAP”?

October 27, 2013 4 comments

Earlier this year, I discussed the CRAAP test on spatial data quality, focusing on measures of Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.   Since then, data quality has been a topic of discussion more frequently than ever before–not just in GIS circles, but in general daily news.  Why is data quality important, and how can it be measured?  I thought it therefore appropriate to create a new video reflecting upon some of these considerations.

Is your data "CRAAP"?  Video.

Is your data “CRAAP”? Video.

We can download a wide variety of data; we can also stream data from a variety of sources that Jill Clark and I describe in this blog and in our book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.  As data become easier to use, they become easier to misuse. It is easy to pull data from a variety of different sources, scales, dates, organizations, and lineages without a second thought, and then use those disparate data sources to make a key decision.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t pine for the days when simply getting any data set into a GIS environment was a long, laborious process.   I still vividly recall, for example, the month-long effort I went through in spring 1993 to get one county’s worth of census tract demographic data, plus streets and the census tract polygons, into ArcInfo version 4.   I love the ability we have today to quickly gather and analyze data–and more and more of it possible in a cloud-based environment.  I just want people to be more mindful than ever about the implications to making decisions with GIS.  All of those decisions are ultimately based on the data that were used as inputs.   And the above test is one way to assess whether that data is any good.

Update on Sierra Club vs. Orange County Court Case

June 9, 2013 2 comments

In our book on GIS and Public Domain Data, we describe several court cases that illustrate the ongoing debates and ways of thinking about the value of public domain spatial data, who should pay for it, and who should have access to it.  One of the most famous cases is that of the Sierra Club vs. Orange County California.  To recap, the  Sierra Club is suing Orange County for access to its GIS-compatible digital parcel basemap database under terms of the California Public Records Act that include paying no more than the direct cost of duplication.  Orange County has been requiring users of its “OC Landbase” to pay USD $475,000, plus sign a license that restricts sharing or redistribution of its database.

Although Orange County abruptly reduced its price late in December 2011, the case has been going on since 2009.  At stake is whether the public has unfettered access to the GIS-compatible data that its government agencies use to conduct “the public’s business,” in the same geodatabase format that the agencies themselves use, or whether the government can license, restrict and charge high prices for such access.  As more and more governmental decisions and actions are based on GIS analysis, the issue is central to governmental transparency and accountability to citizens.

The California Public Records Act states in §6253.9 that any agency that has information which constitutes identifiable public records in electronic format, shall make the information available in the electronic format in which it holds the information, and that the agency shall provide a copy of the electronic records if the requested format is one that has been used by the agency to create copies for its own use, or for provision to other agencies.  Further, the section states that the cost of duplication shall be limited to the direct cost of producing a copy of the records in the electronic format.  The crux of Orange County’s argument is that its GIS-formatted database is exempted under §6254.9, the so-called “software exemption.”

Sierra Club, joined by 212 individual GIS professionals and 23 professional GIS organizations who co-signed one amicus brief among seven supportive amicus briefs, contend that “computer mapping systems” refers only to software, not to the data on which the software operates.  Further, it has asserted that .pdf files are not equivalent to a GIS-compatible database, and that the public’s right to inspect and review the exact same data that Orange County uses to make its decisions would be curtailed by .pdf-only data.

Keep watching this blog for updates on this and other issues in the rapidly changing landscape of public domain spatial data.  How do you think this case will turn out?

TopoView Database of Historic USGS Topographic Maps Online

April 28, 2013 2 comments

Ever since those years I worked at the US Geological Survey, I have been hoping that the thousands of USGS historical topographic maps would someday be easily accessible for the geospatial data user.  These maps, representing an enormous investment in documenting the landscape at great detail, were compiled over nearly a 100 year period.  TopoView has just been launched that provides this type of service:

1962 Topographic Map at 1:24,000-scale of Grand Junction, Colorado

1962 Topographic Map at 1:24,000-scale of Grand Junction, Colorado, from the TopoView database.

TopoView is intended to serve the immediate need for the older printed topographic maps to become easily searched, viewed, and downloaded.  The approximately 163,000 maps at different scales including 1:24,000, 1:48,000, 1:63,360, 1:100,000, 1:250,000, and a few others, available through this interface were scanned by the USGS Historical Topographic Mapping Collection project.   They are provided in GeoPDF and in JPG formats.   Users can use the map index interface to access a chosen location, and then browse all of the maps, scales, and formats available for that location.

Currently, the interface is best for viewing and downloading one map at a time, and the Flash interface may hinder users working on the Mac platform.  This  index does not include all historical USGS maps.  I would like to see these maps in formats that are  easier for the GIS community to use.  I also would like to see all of these maps offered as a seamless service in ArcGIS Online.

Nevertheless, I recognize that this is only the first draft of this interface and it still represents a huge leap forward.  It is a wonderful resource for comparing past to present agricultural and urban land use changes, coastal processes, changes in glaciers, the movement of and channelization of rivers, and so much more.

Free volcanic eruptions database published

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

The Volcano Global Risk Identification and Analysis Project (VOGRIPA) recently announced the release of the LaMEVE (Large Magnitude Explosive Volcanic Eruptions) database. VOGRIPA, a component of the Global Volcano Model international collaboration, aims to provide freely available, sustainable and accessible information on volcanic hazard and risk. The data has been contributed by a number of organisations, including the Smithsonian Institute and the Geological Survey of Japan, and contains information on nearly 3,000 volcanoes and more than 1,800 eruption records of magnitude four or greater, dating back to the start of the Quaternary period.

The eruptions database is publicly available on-line, hosted by the British Geological Survey, and may be queried using spatial and attributes tools.


The results may be downloaded in spreadsheet, csv or tab delimited file format.

The database has been developed to support research into global, regional and local patterns of volcanic activity to improve hazard assessment and risk analysis. The information provided should also useful for emergency response and crisis management teams in the event of an eruption.