GeoWeb Standards - Intro

The utilization of geographic data and interoperability on the web has reached a maturation, as well as penetration, that requires evaluation. Location enabled mobile devices, services, and applications have crossed into mainstream use, and most search services and tools provide some means of finding or sharing information based on geographic location.

However, the state of the geospatial data and interoperability standards is quite mixed. We have both rigorous, standards body driven specifications that address formal needs, as well as community driven standards that have been emergent and lightweight by comparison. There has only been cursory cross integration between these methods, and looking forward there are still many unmet needs in current applications and new domains such as augmented reality, realtime sensors, narratives, external gazetteers, and general digital media questions of durability and archivability.

In order to consider these various aspects, of where we are and where we need to be going, I will be doing a series of articles looking at the various aspects of the Web and Geospatial data. From a general overview and then diving into considerations of utilization, complexity, size, and finally suggestions for moving into the future of geographic standards.

These notes are from my talk at GeoWeb 2009 on "GeoWeb Standards, How Far We've Come, How Far we need to go." They reflect a very active time in developing standards that accommodate some of the unique aspects of geospatial data, as well as the convergence of the geospatial community with the broader data and web communities.

Part of the Web

In looking at GeoWeb standards, it's worthwhile to consider what simple features has made the web so effective and powerful. The first sentence of the Wikipedia article on The Web states:

The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet.

This is a surprisingly concise and poignant definition. The key components can be summarized as: links, documents, accessibility, and open. I am slightly altering the words to give credence to the important meanings underlying such ideas as "the Internet". The Internet is the broadly open, and universally accessible network of computer systems that allows anyone to access and publish information - a key component of the thriving, single, Web.

The GeoWeb, a term that is being utilized in order to direct ideas and conversation specifically towards geospatial concerns, is still an integral component of the general Web in the same way as the Semantic Web, Realtime Web, and Participatory Web, are also different aspects of the same entity. It is both special, and not unique.

However, it is still valuable to consider the role and mechanisms of integrating into the Web. Links and accessibility are themselves still suited and necessary for geographic information. Though this is often surprisingly missing or argued against. A common concern is that place is inherently more sensitive and therefore should be kept private and secure.

Additional unique considerations include findability, discovery, collaboration, and unification. Geographic data is both inherently sortable due to the mathematical nature of it's construction in dimensional space, but also continuous in ways that textual or categorical information is not.

I've spoken before at the value of geography as a common context through which we can combine and compare disparate domains of data, but this also leads to difficulty in using web constructs to link to data such as "weather near Bermuda last week", or "place of performance versus vendor of contracts". Is this information shared through geographic interfaces of place, bounding boxes, or pagination of tiles?

And geography also has the benefit and difficulty of having unique place and identification. This means linking together data is more possible, such as when describing a building through business information, government zoning, weather, and user location. But it becomes more difficult when determining conflation of floors or offices within buildings, within larger regions, that change over time.

In the next article, I will do a quick survey of where we are with GeoWeb standards.

  1. Introduction
  2. Where We Are
  3. Problems
  4. Where We Need to Go
  5. Solutions: Discoverability

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.