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What does the word “geodatabase” mean to you?  I’m sure most of you answer that it’s Esri’s proprietary spatial data format, either the classic Microsoft Access Personal Geodatabase or the newer folder based File Geodatabase.  But really it also applies to any spatial database, Esri or not.  Spatialite is a geodatabase.  PostGIS is a geodatabase. CouchDB is a geodatabase.  I could go on of course.  But when we talk about geodatabases we sometimes get our wires crossed.

Just last week I was talking with a client and they were using the word geodatabase to describe both File Geodatabases and PostGIS.  Internally they knew what they were talking about but I went back and forth between understanding what exactly we were discussing.  After a good laugh we talked about the concept of spatial databases abstractly and wondered if the word “geodatabase” was the right one to use.  When I search with the term “geodatabase” with Google, my first 3 results are Esri, and then we see a Wikipedia article on spatial database.  Google image search is littered with Esri examples of their Geodatabase with almost no other database being described.  You can see above I refer to Esri’s product at “Geodatabase” (big G) and the generic term as “geodatabase” (little G) but when we talk it is very hard to see the difference.

So what right?  Does it really matter?  I’ve gone over this the past week since my discussion with the client and I’m of the mindset that Esri “owns” the geodatabase term.  If you search my blog you’ll notice I’m pretty good about making sure I use “Geodatabase” and “geodatabase” correctly but honestly I don’t see why I should.  Saying “spatial database” is so much more descriptive than geodatabase and honestly more understandable to non-GIS users.  I think in the bigger picture of Spatial IT, referring to something correctly generically matters.  I’m going to use Geodatabase (big G) to refer to Esri’s spatial formats and spatial database to describe spatial databases.  I think the clarification matters and defines the difference between a file format and an actual spatial database.  Heck I can even say a Geodatabase is a spatial database and sleep well all night.