Sharing Cartography

There are tons of ways to store spatial data, but sharing cartography is much harder. ESRI seems to be using their new Layer Package “format” to keep the ESRI layer file with the datasets. Outside of that I don’t really see much in the way for cartography support with data layers (other than the odd ESRI LYR file offered up on FTP sites). In a way, there is much to like about ESRI’s decision to use essentially a sidecar file for storing symbology and maybe there is a more open method of sharing this information.

Most of the time when you download data, you just get the raw file format (usually shapefiles). You then drag your new downloaded dataset to your viewer (possibly ArcView, maybe uDig) and then you proceed to try and figure out how to color the map up (of course there is no metadata so you can’t figure out what field you should symbolize on) in an attempt to match that PDF of a scanned map that someone gave you. Wouldn’t it be better if there was included symbology that allowed you to view that data layer the way the author intended?

Well as I said, ESRI’s Layer Package format does this. The Layer file is of course a problem because you need ArcObjects to read it. But in an ESRI world, that isn’t too much of a problem. Outside of an ESRI world, maybe the MapServer Mapfile might be the best way to get symbology information in (heck you can write out a Mapfile from ESRI, let alone all those open source clients). Some have said KML is that format. I disagree because it doesn’t lend itself to storing attribute information (maybe there are ways, but I still question if KML should be used this way). At least KML does store simple symbology with the dataset.

Ron Lake offers up SLD/SE as an option, but acknowleges that it really has no traction. I really haven’t seen SLD used much beyond some GeoServer documentation and I’ve not seen anyone try and use SLD for storing cartography in desktop clients (NOTE: According to comments uDig does support SLD, but not be default which is a good starting point). Sean Gillies thinks CSS is the best option but again we run into the issues of desktop clients not supporting it and probably won’t (though Sean gets GeoMonkey cred for continuing to use the term “GeoWeb” every chance he gets).

What about Mapnik?? It does a superb job at rendering great maps and Andrew Turner says there is a project that can convert CSS into Mapnik. Now that might be a workflow. CSS is very easy to edit and and work with and? Mapnik is great at rendering cartography (and could easily be supported by desktop clients). CSS gets stored as a sidecar file to the dataset and the rich cartography can be read with Mapnik to render the maps as the author wishes the maps to look. Maybe Sean is on to something after all…

If we are going to go out on the GeoWeb wall of death, we’ll need a sidecar.

If we are going to go out on the GeoWeb wall of death, well need a sidecar.

RSP Architects ASU Polytechnic Project

One of the benefits to being in an Architecture firm is I get to see projects with great design and sustainability aspects. One such project that has been developed here in Tempe, AZ is the ASU Polytechnic Academic Campus in Mesa AZ.

Engineering News-Record (ENR) named ASU Polytechnic Academic Complex The Best Green Building in the U.S. in 2008! Visiting this multi-award winning, fast-track, brownfield, 245,000-sq.-ft. three building complex truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Built on a former U.S. Air Force Base, the project is LEED-NC Registered and has been submitted to the USGBC for the final Certification. Given the submission, the project may reach LEED-NC Gold, and will most certainly reach LEED-NC Silver.

Where 2.0 2009

Where 2.0 Conference 2009 Logo
I’ll be presenting at Where 2.0 this year with Denice Ross of the GNOCDC about the work we’ve done with our Repopulation mapper.

“Junk Mail” and the GeoWeb Shine Light on New Orleans Recovery

There is like 2 more hours of the 25% discount left (hopefully you’ve been paying attention). We should have some cool new stuff to demo and even Matt will be coming to help show off the GNOCDC work. If you’ve never heard GNOCDC talk, you really should take the time to listen because their work in New Orleans is really interesting and who doesn’t need to hear a feel good story about junk mail?

Update (04/16/2009): Looks like there is now a great discount for Where 2.0:

To celebrate Earth Day’s 39 years of existence, we’re offering an unprecedented 39% discount off any Where 2.0 Conference package. Use discount code: whr09erd when registering, and make sure you sign up between now and 11:59 pm PST April 22.

Licensing on the GeoWeb

**The GeoWeb is easy, right **

The GeoWeb is easy, right

OK, love or hate the term GeoWeb, it does reflect the reality of our workflows today. We are taking our applications off of the desktop and running them on the web, we are combining data silos right inside the browser and we are giving tools to that used to be reserved for technicians on UNIX workstations to users via their mouse. It is truly a new way of working, but I see it running directly in a wall.

Licensing

Here we are at the tip of the iceberg changing the world (maybe a self-serving statement), but we’ve got a chain around our necks limiting our potential. Google and Microsoft’s (among others) APIs are sold the same way IBM sold software before there was the world wide web, large companies can cut great deals, smaller users are left paying full price because we don’t matter. ESRI’s ArcGIS Desktop and Server licensing doesn’t reflect how users are using the applications in the real world (sure, allowing editing on ArcGIS Server Standard instead of Advanced is a step, but it is just one in a long list of problems with the licensing model). Don’t even get me started on Oracle’s licensing. Arbitrary levels of licensing that have no real world basis are killing innovation and requiring consumers of the services to look elsewhere or limit what they can do with technology. I’m not advocating abandoning any of these companies here because there are great business cases to use their software, but their customers are not able to continue business as usual.

Won’t someone please think of the users

Wont someone please think of the users

Just last Friday, I was talking to a client who was paying for ArcInfo because one hour a month he needed a function that it handled. The rest of the time ArcView was good enough for him. This isn’t just limited to ESRI, most software companies sell software this way and users are expect to pick up the cost just to get some functionality that some committee, in a dark room in their software design center, determined that only “power users” would need is crazy. Sure there are ways to get around most of these limitations using other software, but all these companies are doing is pushing their customers away.

So what do we need here Google offers their products as SaaS and so does Microsoft. Why does this make sense for “Office” applications and not Geospatial software Now these efforts of course don’t replace Microsoft Office and that isn’t their mission (well at least Microsoft’s). But what do they do is allow users to extend their collaboration further than the office conference room. Geospatial software is well set up to take advantage of services. Pay for what you use and spend the savings on tools that benefit the end users and not tools that you’d never need.

So I’m not exactly expecting a revolution here in the next year, but unless companies start thinking about the realities of how users are using their software or APIs, we are going to have to look elsewhere or create our own tools. Given what the licensing costs these days, there is money to get that done. Personally I’d rather just use an off the shelf solution and pass those savings on to my clients and get back to building great applications for them

The GeoMonkey only wants what is right

The GeoMonkey only wants what is right...

Safe FME with Open Source and ESRI’s new developer blog

Michael Weisman wrote up an informative blog post on how you can use FME with open source software and tools. The killer example here for most folks is the ability to get open source data formats and servers into ArcGIS Desktop.

The wide range of formats FME can write to can also allow you to send data into open source platforms from popular non-open source back-ends like SDE or Oracle. FDO can be used to pull data from any format into MapGuide Open Source, and with FME Server you can stream live data out of any source we support into a format which is compatible with your open source client.

In addition ESRI is re-branding their ArcObjects Blog to ArcGIS Developer Blog. Personally I think it was a good decision, ArcObjects is such a small part of the ESRI Developer community and they need to continue their progress of reaching out to the masses that deal with RESTful APIs, Flex and Silverlight, Python and the JSAPIs.

Time to put that baby to REST…

Time to put that baby to REST...