Tag Archive for 'National'

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?

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.