“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
So goes the well-known philosophical thought experiment, however rather than a discourse on observation and perception I’d like to hijack the experiment for an argument I have been making on and off for the last couple of years and which was well summarised in a tweet summarising my point last month..
Does information published on the web which is not easily linkable actually exist ?
Well of course if I chose to publish my large spatial database of whatever using a Web Feature Service or some other application server the data actually exists, but as far as users of the web does it exist if I cannot find it using web search or more importantly as far as the way the web works cannot link to it?
This issue of making the so-called Deep Web more discoverable is still challenging , efforts such as the sitemap protocol have had only limited impact.
I would argue for the geospatial community in particular we need to take a more fundamental look at how we make information accessible and linkable on the web. We need to start from the basic use case, common if you think about it but radical it would appear in the GIS world..
I need to let people link to each record in my spatial database and to share that link..
This actually requires perhaps a much more granular approach to making spatial data available, something that nearly got started with OS Mastermap but which for many issues was never fully implemented.
Rather than publishing online a database of railway station locations in the Netherlands and expecting a user to then query the database for “Amsterdam Centraal Station”, publish the database giving each record a URI so for example Amsterdam Centraal Station becomes;
Now this is something I can paste into an email, tweet or even share on Facebook !
Kudos to the Dutch Kadaster for taking this approach and providing this example, Ordnance Survey you could do the same ?
This approach also results in such data becoming part of the “mainstream” web indexable and searchable, but I argue the key benefit is the “linkability”
The Spatial Data on the Web best practice document, something of course I recommend you taking a longer look at provides many excellent practical pointers to taking this type of approach.
Maybe really this is just an issue of semantics rather than publishing spatial data should we be talking about sharing spatial data ?