Tag Archive for 'INSPIRE'

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.

Public API impact

A year ago or so, we added a Google Map to a website friends of me are running. The website is about reptiles and amphibians. In one part of the site users can enter details into a form, including the location, when they’ve seen an interesting species. In the meantime their database has grown to a comprehensive collection of (crowd sourced) information like species distribution among our country. It’s not only a hobbyist project, the database means quite a valuable input for species research and protection projects too.

Anyways, before we added a Google Map to the form, user provided location information was very poor. Only a rough location description or coordinate information based on the national topographical map were possible to enter. For national coordinates users had to go to another website, look up the place and copy and paste the coordinates from there back into the form. Definitely not what I would call a convenient solution.

Once we added Google Maps where users could simply pinpoint the location on a map, the collected data turned into something like this:

Herpetofauna Funde in Österreich

Green dots … located with Google Maps (92%)
Red dots … located with a service of our National Mapping Agency (8%)

That says something about the benefit of public available mapping APIs. Especially for projects like this, with no commercial but a strong public interest.

Ordnance Survey heads into a good direction by releasing OpenSpace. OpenSpace is a mapping API, based on public geodata and OpenLayers, the Open Source JavaScript library for mapping. OS is probably the most progressive European mapping agency, so there is hope that others will follow (once they have all fulfilled INSPIRE and are done with metadata updates). It took some time until maps showed up at public authorities’ websites, followed by interactive maps and nowadays you even find WMS here and there. The next evolutionary step is probably public geodata made available through APIs.

During the INSPIRE process it became pretty clear that European mapping agencies don’t favor free public geodata. The API concept could help here: it enables flexible usage of data for users while retaining full control over both, functionality and data, for the mapping agency. Seems like a workable compromise to me.

INSPIRE approved

An agreement on the INSPIRE-directive between the European Council and Parliament has been reached last night. The press release doesn’t provide many details but it looks like that public European geodata will remain where it is now:

Data search services designed for the public will generally be free of charge, although the directive allows fees to be charged for access to data that has to be updated frequently, such as weather reports.

Basically I think INSPIRE is an important step for a common European data policy. But still I wish our governments would have taken the chance of pushing the European geospatial industry by agreeing on a more courageous directive.

Vote for Public Maps - Reject INSPIRE!

Talking about INSPIRE

INSPIRELast week started with an interesting email in the PostGIS-list containing a link to Public Geo Data. It’s a campaign aimed to stop the European Parliament from adopting the INSPIRE proposal. Honestly, I was pretty sceptic about that campaign. Of course INSPIRE is not exactly brilliant, but I thought it’s better than nothing, better than the current situation. To make a long story short, I tended to see the glass half full instead of half empty.

Now, one week later and after reading the arguments stated on that site, I see the glass three-quarter empty. Have a close look at this section of the site. Isn’t it simply unbelievable how our public NMAs (National Mapping Agencies) are building back doors side by side where they can leave the directive without guaranteeing access to anything? Anything, ok that’s not quite correct. As far as I remember the text of the proposal they are obliged to make at least metadata publicly available (if thereby intellectual property rights are not violated of course).

Don’t get me wrong. This is not about demanding from our NMAs to give away everything free of charge. I’m well aware that production and maintainance of some of their data is quite cost-intensive. Even if they are fully public funded I would agree that they generate some income by partly licensing their data. Not every single taxpayer takes advantage of geodata to the same degree. As well I understand and agree that access constraints might be a result of national security issues. But enabling access constraints for information created by public authorities just for reasons of intellectual property rights is going way too far!

“the most competitive and knowledge-driven economy by 2010″
(EU heads of state and government, Lisbon, 2000)

If the current INSPIRE proposal will be adopted without any further changes than the Europe based geospatial industry can remove the word “innovation” out of its vocabulary. Why? Well, I’m thinking that a considerable part of innovation is done in “garages”, by small companies or even single developers, where decisions are made fast and uncomplicated and ideas are not blocked by administration. Usually those companies/developers are not blessed with too much budget, so they need some affordable or free data to build and test their geospatial applications, services, ideas, etc.. So which data sources would you consult/suggest in Europe? LANDSAT, VMap0, UNEP, GEOnet Names Server, ESRI Data & Maps (if you call an ArcGIS license your own)… if you can tell me a european one I’ll willingly add it to the list.

Public benefit of public geodata

Last weekend I helped a friend out. His hobby is his website where he and a few others provide information about reptiles in Austria. In one section you can submit information via a form if you have seen a rare species. Once a year this information is handed over to the Natural History Museum in Vienna, all for free of course. Part of the form is information about the place where the animal was found, including coordinates. The user was asked to look up the place in the official topographic map of Austria, paper or online, and enter the sheet number and coordinates, all manually. So I asked him why not embeding something like a Google map where the user can simply click and locate the place. The coordinates would be passed directly to the database. We overworked the form on sunday afternoon, not a big deal, just making use of Google’s API. The feedback of some users was quite impressing.
This friend asked me then why the Austrian Mapping Agency isn’t offering something similar, something simple like this Google map. Well, appearantly it’s part of their policy to keep geodata behind closed doors. They have their own product online where you can view the austrian topographic base map. If you want to embed this map in your website just like we did on this sunday afternoon you’ll have to license it through the “Web-Service License”, a pay-per-click license model. I’m still talking about the topographic raster base map. If I would have told this friend that we have to come to a license agreement with the Austrian Mapping Agency he probably would have answered: “Ok, forget about the map, just add the lat/lon form fields”.
So Google helped us to create a simple non-commercial mapping application for the public benefit (assuming that protection of species is a matter of public interest), something our NMA should do.

What I basically expect from INSPIRE:

  • EU-wide interoperable public geodata
  • guaranteed access to public geodata
  • open access to freely available base maps

I discussed the arguments listed on Public Geo Data and the INSPIRE proposal in my company with my senior. Resulting that I’m allowed to sign the petition as employee of the Austrian Institute for Regional Studies and Spatial Planning – Information services (ÖIR-Informationsdienste GmbH).

If you’re living in Europe you should sign too!

For further reading I recommend the article “Why Europe Needs to Provide its Own Public Geodata” by Jo Walsh.

Vote for Public Maps - Reject INSPIRE!

Ask.com maps

Ask.comSince when is Ask.com providing maps? Did I miss something? Not only they are catching up to Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, ESRI, etc. but also they offer some detailed street maps of Europe. Quite exciting for us here in Europe!

The whole application is very similar to other (familiar) mapping products. Based on image tiles (no Flash so far), with zooming, panning and search options as usual.

Basically the gazetteer seems to work for european places. Well, basically. I wasn’t able to locate Vienna (“Wien”), the austrian capital, instead it suggested me almost every european one-horse-town containing the word “Wien”. But, after all, I achieved to find out the walking distance from “Waidhofen an der Ybbs” to “Sankt Pölten”. Switching between walking and driving gives you different routes, as it should be.

What’s missing, or at least it was hiding from me, is an API or a documentation respectively. I’m not sure if Ask.com is working on an API or if they simply don’t want you to take advanage of their maps and embed them within other websites.

However, good to see a more detailed Europe appearing in those mapping products. Since our INSPIRE will probably end up as NMA-coopartion to avoid publicly available geodata we will partly depend on the goodwill of those companies.

Update #1:
The Cartography weblog and All Points Blog already reported yesterday about it. Check those sites for some more information on Ask.com maps.

Happy new year!

Since I quit smoking last year there are no personal resolutions left for 2006. I’ll give them another try in 2007, earliest, quitting smoking usually gives you bonus resolutions for at least 5 years. But I do have some wishes I would like to see come true in 2006. So listen up politicians and product managers, here we go:

  • World peace
  • Fair policies and fair distribution of goods for developing countries
  • Ongoing implementation of the Kyoto Protocol
  • ArcGIS 9.2 with built-in PostGIS/PostgreSQL and GML support: small businesses like us badly need a cost-efficient Spatial-DBMS solution!
  • GPS enabled iPod nano: this gadget has perfect (not to say divine) dimensions and now I would like to see an arrow on its display which routes me to an address out of my address book, further I would appreciate the possibility to save my current location and load it later into tools like Google Earth or automatically add the positions to my photos in iPhoto (there is already an EXIF placeholder for coordinates in the image property window!) by syncing time stamps of photos and gps tracks for instance
  • a working INSPIRE service: EEA’s data service and UNEP’s Geo Data Portal are working very well but I would like to see a service similar to Mapdex for EU-specific datasets and some more webservices up and running.
  • to be completed…