Tag Archive for 'Geodata'

OpenStreetMap in ArcMap

My favorite ArcMap extension Arc2Earth got updated and brings now rendered OpenStreetMap layers into ArcMap:

Previous versions supported map tile layers import from Virtual Earth, Yahoo! or Ask. Certainly a great feature which allows easy access to good and up-to-date base maps in many regions. The only problem is that without proper licensing it’s not possible to use them for commercial purposes. I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I understand the term commercial purpose, only loading and viewing those layers in ArcMap in a business environment (e.g. at the office) can already result in a license violation. Good license deals might not be such a problem at the enterprise level, for small businesses who need those maps here and there, it is quite often an issue.

Being able to load OpenStreetMap instead of Virtual Earth, etc. into ArcMap removes a lot of those licensing headaches.

OpenStreetMap data can be used freely under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

As long as attribution and share alike work for you, you can basically do whatever you want with OpenStreetMap in ArcMap – copy, distribute, print, derive, etc.

There is a long list of other new features and fixes that come with the latest release of Arc2Earth. OpenLayers as additional viewer for exported map tiles is one of those which caught my attention.

Shapes from the crowd

The map development team at Flickr released some interesting new additions to their geo API: shapes – not yet real ESRI Shapefiles, even though they’re on their way (see code.flickr for more information on that).

Flickr shapes are, as I understand it, polygons of aggregated point clouds of photo locations sharing the same location name. For geotagging, Flickr uses a very smart method: once the user has placed a photo on the map, the system sets a place name next to the photo. At the same time Flickr offers name modifications if the user isn’t happy with the proposed name. A list of name alternatives shows up where the user can pick the one which sounds best. That way Flickr constantly receives user feedback on its geodata and can continuously refine its geoname system.

On the other end Flickr makes the collected data through its API available again (see flickr.places.getInfo). I queried Vienna and some neighborhoods to see what the shapes look like in the city I know best. Surprisingly the city boundary is more accurate than I’d have thought. Keep in mind that it’s just the result of people geotagging photos and not surveying an administrative border.

The red line is the Flickr shape, the white line is the city boundary in Google Earth.

To obtain proper Flickr shapes on smaller neighborhoods, a certain critical mass of geotags needs to be achieved. Especially tourist hotpots turn out to be a potential pitfall: there is a high share of users geotagging without good local knowledge. Locals, who usually know the area better, won’t move around tourist attractions and take pictures that much. The relatively small amount of more accurate geotags done by locals will vanish in the mass of inaccurate geotags.

The yellow shape is Stephansdom, probably mostly tagged by thousands of tourists. Although Stephansdom is supposed to be the city center, it’s still only a square around a church within the neighborhood Innere Stadt, the green shape. As the picture shows, the relation and location of both shapes is slightly shifted.

I think some sort of ranking mechanisms can help here – a proper method to determine how accurate and trustworthy a name and corresponding geotag are.

Anyways, the idea of crowdsourced geonames on Flickr is interesting and it’s generally fascinating to watch the development a photo gallery has gone through over the last years. [via geobloggers]

The OpenStreetMap Shapefiles

Yesterday, after reading the post about routeable OSM data, I discovered the download section of CloudMade. By country they offer OSM data in various file formats. Shapefile is one of them. I downloaded the Austrian OSM data as Shapefile (still, after decades, the unbeaten #1 file format when it comes to geodata interoperability btw). There are 3 filesets included: highways, POI and natural.

After loading them into QGIS and having a quick look at the data, I must say that I’m impressed by the data quality and level of detail. Recently I proposed that our public national mapping agency should support projects like OpenStreetMap and provide parts of their road network data to the OSM community. Hereby I take this proposal back, I should’ve had a look at recent OSM updates first. The OSM road network data is, after some initial checks, better than what I’ve seen so far from our national mapping agency for general mapping purposes.

Dear mapping agency,
I’m afraid some of your departments are obsolete by now. You simply missed the train. The community has taken over your job and does it with friendlier, and probably more sustainable, licensing.

What I’ve to figure out now is a simple process how to send data edits on the Shapefile back to the OSM database. There is a good chance that we, while using the data in projects, will work on and maybe improve attributes or features. A smart tool to bridge desktop GIS and the OSM database would be very helpful here.

Another thing is to create more awareness about CC licensing and what community based work means. I’m quite often confronted with share-unfriendly attitudes like “pull down what you can get but don’t give anything in return”. There is very little understanding that sharing your work and data, base data to build individual projects on, creates a bigger benefit for all parties. I guess it’s a relic of times where geodata has been the most precious treasure you had to hide…

In search of the point

What’s the point of having a national mapping agency when even semi-public agencies like our Umweltbundesamt (environmental agency) are doing data dissemination based on Google Maps and Geonames? [via joesonic]

Speaking of paleogeography is in that case certainly appropriate: neogeography makes the national mapping agency look like an endangered species. Even though I never really liked the terms and heated discussions about paleo- vs. neogeography. To me, paleogeography sounds way too negative for what it actually does. Paleogeography still provides a major part of the backend and a lot of necessary knowledge for the so called Geoweb. Period.

While neogeography is the cool thing. It’s fresh, slick, easy to use and attracts a lot of bright people outside the geography area who are doing amazing things with geographic information. Personally I see myself somewhere in between and try to get the best out of both.

Obviously some paleo organizations, like our national mapping agency is for instance, should look slightly to the left and to the right of their very straight path. It seems they are still serving the geo market of the last century. Their traditional products, like the topographic and cadastral maps, are certainly great and important works, but in the meantime they have to face the fact that the geo market has a little changed in the last couple of years.

Believe it or not, even in Austria there are map based businesses growing. Companies or start-ups who arrange their business models around easy and affordable access to local geographic information. Most of them depend on the goodwill of global players like Google or Microsoft. The EC usually is very quick when it comes to express concerns about monopolies of those companies and threaten them with law suits. I think, as for the geo market, the European mapping agencies have enough resources – in terms of geo data, infrastructure and knowledge – to throw into the game. They are powerful enough to compete with the big players, provide alternative map services and eventually support local economies. If they only wanted to.

Besides, the above mentioned example shows very well the benefits of neogeography for the public sector and that there is growing demand for such technologies.

So, again, where is the point of keeping a huge tax funded public body when it rejects to move on, serve current public needs, support local economies and public wealth?

Us & them

BEV shopsWhile others are offering an API or are working on even free access to public geodata, we are releasing a new portal with 5 different shop versions for public tax funded geodata.

Let alone that the world record attempt for using the smallest possible font size in an unlucky Cheetah UI rip-off isn’t quite state of the art in the year 2008. Especially not in times were public agencies are asked (by law!) to fulfill basic WAI requirements.

Difusión pública de la información geográfica

Escudo de EspañaLast week an interesting email dropped in my inbox. It links to a decree of the Spanish Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Fomento) about the Spanish geodata policy.

One paragraph of the decree is obviously talking about the INSPIRE directive, guaranteeing free public access to basically nothing more than metadata and pretty overview thumbnails of available public geodata.

While most European national mapping agencies stop at that point by just implementing catalog services and pretty map thumbnails, the Spanish government goes further: although I’m afraid my Spanish is not good enough to interpret legal documents 100% correctly, I think the email author is right saying the document talks about free access and (non-commercial, attribution) use of Spanish public geodata.

Artículo 3. Servicios de acceso, análisis y procesamiento en línea y distribución.

3. La descarga por medios telemáticos en línea, utilizando los servicios de información geográfica habilitados por el CNIG, para uso no comercial realizada por el usuario de la información geográfica producida por el IGN, será gratuita.

Artículo 7. Uso libre y gratuito.

La licencia de uso libre y gratuito será única y tendrá el siguiente alcance:

a) Exclusivamente para usos no comerciales.

b) Su concesión llevará implícito el compromiso de citar al Instituto Geográfico Nacional como autor y propietario de la información.

This is a MAJOR step for European geodata policy and it’ll be interesting to see if other governments will follow the excellent Spanish example.

The JRC recently published the report “Socio-Economic Impact of SDI” (62 pages pdf), clearly emphasizing the benefits of free public geodata:

8.2 Political and social impact

The socio-political impact areas of IDEC, in line with the objectives of the INSPIRE programme, affect a broad array of users, especially those linked to the public sector and to serving the general public (e.g. public administration, public services, and universities), such that the entire community benefits from access to information and spatial data. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing process that demands a change in mentality towards a culture of shared data, in which the contributions of each party enrich the whole and can be shared by all. Freeing this information will ultimately enable everyone to prosper from general social and economic development.

So there is hope that one day European taxpayers can freely access and use the products created with their own tax money.

Got ideas?

These are very exciting news: CloudMade, a commercial service based on the collaborative mapping project OpenStreetMap, got funded and now they announced “a year of mapping”, an open call for ideas to improve OpenStreetMap.

The grants (£100 – £1000+) are probably aimed to enthusiats rather than companies, but they will make life for everyone involved in OSM easier and help to spread the project. Application sounds very easy and uncomplicated:

To apply, email grants@cloudmade.com

Congratulations to CoudMade & OSM!

Government data for Google

While Microsoft is successfully integrating Portugal’s aerials within Virtual Earth, Google is asking local governments for more 3D models to add in Google Earth. Adena sums both stories very well up.

What I found a little surprising on Google’s “give us your 3D models and we bring you tourists” initiative is that last week I read something about Hamburg’s and Berlin’s 3D models in Google Earth at Geografitti (in german):

Both cities do offer 3D models for Google Earth. Since their server capacity is limited, the 3D data doesn’t load fast enough for a smooth user experience and users keep complaining at Google (!!) for the poor performance. So the question was to put the city 3D models onto Google’s infrastructure and achieve better viewing results in Google Earth. But the problem for local governments and the reason why they couldn’t eventually find a solution was that apparently Google wouldn’t allow them to access and control their data (e.g. for updates) once it’s loaded on Google’s infrastructure.

Google Earth is an amazing geo-browser and the public would definitely benefit if more public geodata would be accessible through it. On the other hand, local authorities are sometimes strange to deal with and I have my doubts if the listed points (like “Boosting tourism”) are appealing enough for them to let their data go (to a company who is not evil but based on selling targeted advertising).

European geodata

EUROSTATWhat’s TIGER in the US, is GISCO in Europe. Not quite as detailed and up to date but at least free to use under following conditions:

a) the data will not be used for commercial purposes;
b) the source will be acknowledged. A copyright notice, as specified below, will have to be visible on any printed or electronic publication using the data downloaded from this page.

The available geodata is aimed to use in combination with other EUROSTAT products (which are also available for free on their website) in the first place. The scale is too small for detailed map production and on most layers the date is indicated with 199x.

If the left hand of EUROSTAT would know what the right hand is doing, everybody who is interested could now start creating statistical maps and analysis across Europe by simply downloading all necessary data. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as it seems to be: the left hand changed the statistical units in Europe (NUTS), while the other hand didn’t. So what we now have is a statistical database using new region codes and a geographic database using old region codes. Needless to say that a lot of GIS out there, working with EUROSTAT data, are now somewhat screwed because geographic and statistical data doesn’t match anymore. A workaround until updated geodata is available is not using the NUTS3 level, NUTS2 (and larger) data seems less problematic. Not the best solution if you’re in the field of regional analysis of course.

Just one more detail on today’s EUROSTAT confusion:


Apparently the www-directory was copied. One copy was updated. Now which one of both sites holds the correct information? All bookmarks lead to the old one, no hint (or redirect??) that the entire site has moved and was updated…


Regarding interoperability and openness, the downloadable geodata comes as ESRI Personal Geodatabase 9.2, not sure how many GIS applications can cope with that file format. Whereas provided metadata is excellent, well, GISCO already had excellent metadata in 2001.