First off, I had an absolute blast. The city, the venue and the people have all been just wonderful to experience. Right now especially it is very interesting because the GeoWeb is finally being implemented in larger scales and we are beginning to see the results of those who work hard at trying to realize the promise of what the GeoWeb is. I think Ron Lake puts it best when he says the GeoWeb is the Internet, not some of little corner of it. If we think that, for the most part, the Internet can be used by anyone, anywhere, on any platform device. Simply put I can collaborate while sitting next to my pool in Tempe, AZ on my iPhone with colleagues using Linux workstations in Abu Dhabi sitting in high rise office buildings. The internet doesn’t care that I have a iPhone any more than it does that they have Firefox on Linux. The same is the case for the GeoWeb, my use of ESRI Servers should not limit someone using FOSS to access and use those services.
Now of course in practice it rarely works out that way. Most ESRI Server implementations doesn’t enable OGC standards even though ESRI has worked really hard at implementing them. And even FOSS servers don’t necessarily publish OGC formats that the GeoWeb wants to use. The technical limitations of the GeoWeb have been removed and now the problem is cultural. We need to start thinking about how these systems are going to come together and how we’ll be able to collaborate without having to all be on the same platform or language. People always use ESRI as an example of a company that is limiting the GeoWeb by not supporting OGC very well and they’ve probably earned that reputation. But to be fair, there are plenty of FOSS users who want to limit their products or services to only other FOSS systems. While ESRI’s might have been technical in nature (though I can see how people might have taken their stance as cultural), the limit of not allowing your products and services to be used by all because of some cultural or personal feelings about the spirit of Microsoft, Apple, ESRI, Oracle, etc is just as bad. Those who want to take part in this new open environment will grow quickly and leave those who put up artificial impediments to their participation will be left behind.
So what does this mean for those who want to see how they can take part in the GeoWeb. Well first off, make sure you are implementing solutions that aren’t closed. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use things such as Oracle, .NET or ESRI. Make sure those solutions offer up information and data in formats that people can use and build upon what you’ve done. I see great potential for government agencies that allow their data and information to be part of everything from mashups created by some neighborhood group to global companies who want to see new marketplaces and areas for expansion. This should be done through services, not FTP sites or zipped up shapefiles. I can’t be sure my applications are using the latest data if I have to manually browse an FTP site and somehow reconcile my data with yours. A simple service where I can subscribe to information is much simpler for all. Second, end users of the data should begin to recognize that their output shouldn’t be only paper map or even a PDF. KML, GML, GeoRSS and many of the other standards work very well when accompanying a paper or PDF map.
Making your data discoverable is also very important. That I would spend time making my data easily usable and not take the time to make it discoverable hurts my implementation. Making sure Google and Microsoft (assuming Live Search ever gets fixed) are crawling your information is critical to its acceptance. We will begin seeing spatial results start showing up in Google very soon and when that happens, those services will become extremely popular. If I’m the County of Maricopa, I don’t want my data hidden behind some old MapGuide Active X control, but as discoverable services that people can subscribe to and use. Think of it simply, if your data isn’t discoverable via Google search, someone else’s will and the parcel information that shows up will not be under your control. You can choose to ignore spatial search, but someone else is sure to step into your space and offer such services.
The time spend with everyone in Vancouver was well spent and I’ll continue to post what I saw an learned over this next week. Seeing real world implementation that take advantage of what the GeoWeb offers and seeing how successful those are, really validates the vision. It is still early enough in the process to be on the ground floor and there are still huge hurdles as far as data standards and security that need to be addressed so getting involved now can only help everyone. The idea that 10 people can use 10 different software packages and collaborate on geospatial products is very powerful. And of course the added benefit is that you can choose the software platform that best meets your needs and not worry about matching your clients or consumers platforms. That saves everyone time and money, just like the Internet itself has done.
You don’t want to be this guy, do you?
Vancouver Photo Credit: jahdakine