MapQuest Finally Goes OSM in USA

!MapQuest Open

So apparently our work is done in the USA with the OpenStreetMap data because MapQuest opened up their USA version of their open initiative.

Open.Mapquest.com provides the same features as our 10 sites in Europe and Asia, and also debuts a new error-reporting tool (which has been added to all of MapQuest’s open sites). For many, this tool may be their first step in becoming OSM contributors. Now, on any open MapQuest site, errors can be reported directly and are displayed in near real-time. These errors can range from an incorrect speed limit or directional changes on a street to a missing parking lot or a new cultural institution.

Bing Boom goes the dynamite! I guess now we can’t complain about the quality of the map anymore because it is my own fault it sucks in Arizona. This is a very gutsy move on MapQuest’s part as I’m not sure the map is really good enough to use in the United States, but we need something like this out there to get it moving forward. Rather than fix errors in the Google Map, now we can fix errors in the MapQuest Map and send them on to the root OSM map. Good work MapQuest!

As an Arizona State alumni, I’m planning a trip to see the NCAA this weekend to correct a horrible wrong done to our fair university. Looks like I’ll be making that trip with MapQuest and OSM.

Bing Updates Their New Map Style

I love the new look for Bing Maps. I think they have made their background map perfect for basemaps. Nice and subtle. But their new look had some drawbacks. Well Microsoft has addressed some of those and has a new version up and running.

We’ve updated our map style to reflect user feedback so it’s even easier for people to find where to go, how to get there, and what to expect along the way. Key changes are:

  1. Increased city density while preserving a clean, visually appealing map
  2. Clearer differentiation between major and minor city streets
  3. Greater color contrast at the city-level so streets pop? out more
  4. Altered font sizes and contrast for crisper, less cluttered map labels
  5. Improved highway shields for US and added new shields for 7 countries

Two thoughts come to mind here. First off the changes all seem to really improve Bing Maps for the better and the second is my amazement at how agile Microsoft Bing Maps team is. Could 2011 be the year of Bing Maps?

Bing it baby!

Update: Justin has a great overview of what’s new.

Making Data Accessible – Or Why TIGER/Line is now on WeoGeo

Getting at Free Data

I’ve talked quite a bit over the past few years about how one can make data easily accessible and usable by users. TIGER/Linehas been one of my biggest examples. The web interface is a nightmare in usability and the FTP site is hard to use (and who really wants to download 150 GB of data ) unless you’ve got those FIPS codes memorized. There has to be a better way to access this data.

OK So Let’s See What This Thing Can Do

When I joined WeoGeo almost 2 years ago, we were working on adding vector support to the already powerful raster customization options. We’ve had vector support for a while now, but only recently had we added what we call ToC support so that you can manage large datasets such as this TIGER/Line 2009. ToC gives WeoGeo the ability to deliver many different shapefiles(or any other supported data type) as individual layers allowing someone to customize their order. In the case of TIGER, one could only get the hydro layer and only have to download that dataset. This means that you don’t need to get gigabytes of data to access lakes in your area of interest. One could of course download everything, but many times you just need one part of the dataset.

So I Work Across County Boundaries

TIGER County data is of course organized by county. In many regions, the reasons why these county boundaries were created have no bearing on reality or the facts on the ground. So organizing data by county might make sense to some mathematician sitting in a cubicle in the bowels of some government building, but to those of us who need to work with the data it is nothing but an impediment to building our products. The ToC (which is just a JSON file) gave us the means to offer up TIGER/Line 2009 data for the USA. Unlike the TIGER/Line website, you can easily select across counties and states for your data in one download. If I want Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA, it is a simple order. I don’t have to navigate through Oregon to Multnomah County and then back out to Washington and THEN back down to whatever county Vancouver, WA is in (seriously how do you figure that out on their website ). The clicks involved are just nuts.

Get Multiple County TIGER Downloads for Free

Take this example below; I can order all the TIGER/Line data between New York City and Philadelphia (including all those counties in New Jersey), select only the layers I want, clip it to my area of interest, re-project it and even deliver it in another format (such as TAB files).

TIGERLine

“How many trips through the TIGER/Line website would it take to grab all that data

TIGERLine2

Grab only the TIGER layers you want, leave the junk behind.

Thus, WeoGeo is now hosting the entire TIGER/Line 2009 (TIGER/Line 2010 will come out as more states are added) for everyone to use. Because this dataset is about 150 GB, we are subsidizing the cost of hosting and delivery ourselves for basically anything smaller than the State of New Jersey (As much as I’d love to let you all download the whole thing as much as you wish, I still have my son who wants an iPad this Christmas. We just want to cover our costs here). This means that I can grab the Los Angeles Metropolitan area and get every TIGER/Line shapefile for free. Not a bad resource considering that you can place that order in less than one minute.

TIGER LA Metro

What is that Census data for like 17 million people. For free!

So Yea, I’m Excited

Yup! Having the TIGER/Line 2009 Layers in WeoGeo and making it available free to users solves some of the problems I’ve seen with federal data sharing websites. While I do think hosted basemaps such as Bing and Google Maps are the future, having some free local data is still very valuable to those who need data unencumbered by licensing. And you can use our REST API to access this data outside of the website or with our MapInfo and ArcGIS connectivity.

Amazon put TIGER/Line 2008 on AWS a couple years ago and then let it die. We’ll keep our archive of 2009 and soon 2010 up for those who need it in the Amazon Cloud.

In addition, we’ve got lots of other datasets available for free on our Market including the whole FCC geo-database, natural hazard rankings, National Land Cover and Natural Earth Data. If you’ve got some good suggestions of free data that we should be including in our WeoGeo Market, please don’t hesitate to contact me via my email address which is located at the top of the sidebar on the right.

The Google Cr-48 Netbook, Chrome OS and GIS

I’m rolling here with the Google Cr-48 Netbook and after a weekend with it I’ve come to some conclusions about how we work with GIS data today, how we’ll work with it in the future and what it means to try and use one of these cloud netbooks in 2010. I won’t rehash what others have said about the hardware, it’s really bad in places (the trackpad on it could be the worst input device in 20 years), but it does give us a glimpse into where many of us will be in December 2011.

First off, moving between the Cr-48 and my iPad is pretty easy. Both boot up almost instantly, don’t have hard drives, are connected to the Internet via WiFi and 3G and break the traditional concept of a file system with your OS. Browser-wise, they are both derivatives of WebKit so they handle most of the latest JavaScript apps with ease. There is some issues with lag on the Cr-48 vs the iPad on these web apps, but I have to assume when Google Chrome OS is release, it will be as snappy as Chrome is on my Mac or PC.

A quick spin to WeoGeo Market seems to show that the Chrome OS is just as compatible with as the the Chrome browser is with existing websites. (no duh, right?). I was able to order a dataset, save it to the the Chrome download folder (or whatever this disk space is called in the Chrome OS) and forward it on to a friend. While I can’t really work with shapefiles (yet) on the Chrome OS because you can only run web apps, you can still work with files and even upload them to websites to share.

WeoGeo on ChromeOS

My next stop was Esri’s ArcGIS.com and their web map app. Works just as you’d expect (at least when you fight through the trackpad), but I was shocked when I tried to view some of their Flash API maps. Chrome OS ground to a halt. Adobe says they are “totally on this” (paraphrasing), but it is yet another reason to question why anyone would built apps with Flash anymore. Hardware on these Chrome OS netbooks is going to be very weak, so much like we’ve seen on Android, Adobe better be really good at making their plugin run on these minimal configurations.

Esri API

Stick to the Esri JavaScript client for now with Chrome OS Netbooks

So just to be safe, I dropped into Geocommons to see how their flash front-end works. As with Esri’s Flash API, it gets there, but the Netbook practically just stops responding when working with it. At least Geocommons has a workaround, you can append view=javascript to the end of any map url and get the JavaScript version which works great in Chrome OS. You lose come functionality, but at least it works and works darn well.

GeoCommons Flash

The Geocommons Flash frontend works, but causes the Netbook to stutter. Google and Adobe need to fix this pronto.

GeoCommons JS

Geocommons JavaScript front end works great, but isn’t as feature complete as their Flash front end.

A quick check at the Esri Silverlight Showcase returns what you’d expect with Chrome OS. It is a JavaScript and Flash world at Google and at least for now, Silverlight isn’t part of it.

No Silverlight for You

Yea, you’d expect this. The problem is that Netflix doesn’t work either. Bah!

Yea so don’t rush out and try and buy one of these Cr-48 Netbooks if Google wasn’t nice enough to send you one. They are really not usable as an every day device today. I’m sure as we get close to the release of these Google Chrome OS Netbooks next year, the OS will become more stable and usable. That said, the writing is on the wall for traditional apps. Niche use is all we’ll see of them moving forward. Google, Apple, Microsoft and others are all committed to running consumer apps as hosted services and these Netbooks (plus all the iPads and Android tablets that are going to be sold next year).

Now don’t think for a minute that I’m talking about ArcView in the Cloud or any other wacky thing that someone might come up with while drinking some GeoKool-Aid. No, I’m talking about eliminating the need for ArcView on 95% of all desks and using web apps for these people to work with the data. Those that need the editing and analysis capabilities wouldn’t be on a netbook in the first place so they are really unaffected by these changes. But I just can’t see how any organization can afford to pay for ArcView (or MapInfo, or whatever) licenses for users that are viewing data. We’ve been talking about how those days are over for it seems like a decade, but I think the pieces are coming together in 2011 to finally put the fork in apps such as ArcView (real GIS pros need ArcInfo, sorry Esri), Microsoft Office and other “enterprise” apps. Geo isn’t special enough to need hundreds or thousands of ArcView’s on desktops across the organization. Time we started facing up to the fact.

Wait, what!?!?! File Geodatabase API is on it’s way!

So I had resigned myself to the fact I’d never see the File Geodatabase API; then this happened.

While not exactly an early Xmas present (as a certain beaksnake may have promised), the API for the file geodatabase will be hitting the beta stage in January.

Read the details on the GeoDatabase Esri blog, but there is some reason to be hopeful. The File Geodatabase API will allow access to the File Geodatabase without ArcObjects which is a big thing for those of us trying to read and write the file format. The File Geodatabase API only supports file geodatabases from ArcGIS 10 or later, so no help for those who did things with 9.x. Some of the proprietary Esri stuff such as annotation, networks and topologies still require ArcObjects and I think we are all fine with that.

More good news is that the API is a C++ library and not some weird Java or .NET thing. Oh, but a huge caveat… This release is Windows only. Thus those of us working with Fedora, Ubuntu or Mac OS X need no bother to look. Esri was just so close to making this a Merry Christmas.

FME Webinar — Practical Techniques for Loading Data into SQL Server

Ed Katibah says that there will be a Webinar next week on loading data into SQL Server Spatial.

One of the most often asked questions about SQL Server Spatial is How do I load data into the spatial types?. Safe Software has long provided solutions for this dilemma with their excellent ETL tool, Feature Manipulation Engine (FME). On December 14th, Safe will be presenting an FME Webinar entitled Practical Techniques for Loading Data into SQL Server.

Sounds interesting as Esri doesn’t really give you the right tools to load data into SQL Server Spatial like FME does.

Tis the season for a webinar!

Google Fusion Tables — So Easy, So Disruptive

Andrew Zolnai shows how quickly you can start working with Google Fusion Tables and Google Maps. There are limitations to Google Fusion Tables that will probably confine it’s use in the near future (data has to be public), but that will all be resolved when it becomes part of the Google Docs suite soon enough. I really can’t imagine visualizing data outside of Google Fusion Tables anymore with web mapping. The pieces are all there.

GoogleZilla

Not pictured: The world benefiting from Googlezilla’s breath.