Thursday, 22 May 2008

Benefits of Open Access Data Policies

Tom hammond at IUCN Canada posted the following to the Conservation Commons mailing list today. It describes the measurable impact felt when Canada opened up access to what had previously been fee-based access to standard framework national data sets, and you'll see that the result is impressive.

What I will be more curious to see is what effect this has on the quality of these data once they're being used more by more people in more different applications - more aggressively perhaps - and the Government starts getting specific feedback about inaccuracies, omissions and required updates. A key component of the "Better Data Sooner" mantra is that community-driven feedback is the best driver for custodians' continuous improvement of their data products and services.

Perhaps the Canadians are providing a real-world laboratory in which to test this theory.

" The HYPERLINK National Topographic Data Base (NTDB) comprises digital vector data sets that cover the entire Canadian landmass. This product includes thirteen“layers” such as hydrography, hypsography and the road network.

" The NTDB is a complete and uniform product that can be highly useful in a broad range of activities– such as planning, research,conservation work,and private sector development. For example, it can be used for preparing thematic maps and makes it suitable for geographic information system (GIS) applications because the NTDB and its attributes make it possible to use a variety of spatial analysis techniques.

" Downloads of NTDB data during the government fiscal year ending in 2007, when a fee for use policy was still in place, numbered under100,000. A change of policy was enacted during the current fiscal year making the NTDB an open access resource– during which downloads jumpedby a magnitude of 54to well over 5 million."


Saturday, 17 May 2008

'Scraping'the web for geo-information

By now most of us will have seen the joint ESRI/Google announcements at Where 2.0 about the upcoming ability to use Google Earth and Google Maps to discover, locate and portray geo-data hosted in ESRI ver 9.3 geo-server stacks to be released later this year.

In the interest of balance (and with no desire to provoke any flame wars) I draw your attention to another announcement at Where 2.0 addressing Geoserver's upcoming 1.7.0 release with similar capability - see

The point here is not about commercial versus free versus proprietary versus open source software. It's about two other more important things.

First: the maturation and acceptance of standards. Google has embraced the OGC specifications process and KML is now an anointed OGC standard; ESRI has embraced the OGC specifications standard and is positioning its products appropriately (e.g. ver 9.3 will also provide a fully-compliant web feature service as well as full support for PostgreSQL/PostGIS back-ends). The more this momentum build the more of this joined-up capability we'll all benefit from.

Second: the maturation and acceptance of visualization tools for non-specialists. If the Google/ESRI announcement had happened 5 years ago there'd have been barely a ripple outside the hard-core GIS community. The fact that The Rest of Us can now contemplate being able to publish geo-information (whether social and community based, conservation-related or whatever) --and-- have it discovered, integrated, employed and appreciated by non-specialists audiences via attractive spinny-globe-type-products is a powerful combination.

What is crucial here, and to me will make or break this effort, is the ready availability of easy-to-use tools to take my existing geo-data and get it into a search-able, discover-able, use-able form without having to have a masters degree and without having to learn to speak techno-babble. And that is equally true whether 'I' am individual Mick Wilson or whether 'I' am a multi-national conglomerate.

We need to keep lowering the bar to the publishing of real-world data about real-world events by real-world-people.