The 11th Spatial Data Infrastructure Conference was held last week in Rotterdam, and like many SDI conference the focus of presentations and the profile of attendees was largely from the pubic sector, and in many cases public sector data producers.
Many of the sessions investigated in depth, progress to date across the many local, regional and global efforts to develop SDI’s, other focused on the building blocks of data standards and interoperability, metadata, portal design and legal/policy decisions.
I sensed, as I’m sure many others did, the missing perspective of the actual intended users of these SDI’s; who represented the users and consumers of these complex systems? who was providing the use cases, as to what sort of information was actually needed? and how would people like to access SDI’s and what might they want to do with the information.
The citizen as a potential user of SDI’s was almost completely ignored.
In my presentation I made the point that there is also a lack of emphasis on the development of the very necessary network and storage infrastructure needed to allow distributed users to find, access and use spatial data across the web, and made the offer than Google and I’m sure the other geoweb companies would be happy to host data on behalf of public sector bodies.
SDI people like the SD but ignore the I !
This was developed into a useful metaphor by someone in the audience, when I likened this type of infrastructure to domestic plumbing, vital but often invisible until it breaks.
It seems that at the moment much of the industries emphasis is on producing the best quality water that is possible ,while at the same time developing and agreeing on a method to illustrate how pure and clear the water is. To be fair we may also now be discussing the size and shape of bottles we might use to store our water and the colour and design of the labels we will put on the bottles.
As to how we might distribute the water efficiently, there is still little discussion beyond the vague idea that it will obviously need some pipes, valves and taps of a standardised size..
This is all good stuff, but if you ask my plumber Jez, to put in a plumbing system into your house, he will ask you some very pertinent questions first..
He will ask, how many bathrooms will the house have and where are their situated, do you need radiators or under floor heating, are you sure you want a power shower on the top floor of your house, do you need to run a garden hose.
These are, if your are following the metaphor, the applications that will use the SDI..
What Jez would not do is just go ahead and lay 150m of Hep2o 22mm water pipes around your house, install a Taco circulating pump, and connect all to a tanker full of Evian water outside your house, and then leave you without fitting any fixtures!
OK so this metaphor is a little facetious, but it can be extended, how about connecting my and my neighbours houses plumbing together to create a regional SDI… the point is that an infrastructure developed in isolation to it use runs the major risk of not meeting the users needs.
My second point and this is an important one also, is that we are beginning to see many applications outside of the SDI community really adopt the “cloud computing” model, where in addition to local repositories of data used to build and maintain data, data itself is published to the cloud and makes use of the robust and scaleable infrastructure that commercial operators like Amazon and Google and even ESRI are making available.
This type of architecture is perfect for deploying SDI’s as it has the potential to scale with need, Information is my design easy to find and share, and of course it’s cheap !
Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.
Footnote : Still unsure of what an SDI is, read the SDI cookbook