If you can’t link to it… does it exist ?

“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;

https://brt.basisregistraties.overheid.nl/top10nl/id/gebouw/102625209 

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 ?

 

Making SDIs work !

Excuse my voice I had flown in the night before and I had a case of “airplace flu” and two hours sleep, nevertheless a reasonably coherent discussion of the future of Spatial Data Infrastructure development for the new Geobuiz channel.

Inspire a moonshot not a blueprint ?

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to take part in the ImaGIne conference organised by the European Umbrella Organisation for Geographic Information in Dublin. The conference although not very well attended did contain both excellent presentations and perhaps unusually great discussions which really seemed to address some of the key challenges of using geospatial technology in Europe.

A talk on the use of Geo in the context of Europe brings us inevitably to the Inspire Directive and it’s progress and impact. Inspire which came into force almost exactly six years ago is the programme to build an European Spatial Data Infrastructure by October 2020.  Inspire was the topic of much discussion at the conference as this year a number of important articles of the directive must be implemented.

An obvious concern expressed by many, included myself, is the difficulty of legislating to build an information system over such a long time.  Developing quite prescriptive  rules as to how to share information is almost impossible with the speed of technological development online.

The issue is perhaps more problematic when you think that many of the ideas and principles enshrined in the Directive were developed during the five years leading up to 2007, a time before social networking, big data and the mobile internet.

In hindsight of course perhaps a less rigid approach which articulated the principles of sharing environmental data and their benefits might have been a better outcome, concentrating on policy issues around reuse of information rather than the actual mechanics. And yes of course I accept the point that without harmonisation of data and the creation of (limited) metadata data sharing is difficult, nether-less often inspirational ideas are best when they plant the seed of an idea and accept that how the idea is accomplished may differ.

Before the conference in Dublin, I was asked to speak at a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels and was asked to bring along a object which to me represented the Inspire programme. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments, but I brought along my rather battered copy of Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon“.

Along with HG Wells, Verne is credited with pioneering science fiction, and with this book although published in 1865  demonstrates the power of a inspiration idea. Both Wernher von Braun and Robert H. Goddard cite the book as a catalyst for their interest is rocketry and space exploration. Published 100 years before the actual moon landings Verne was able to make some uncanny predictions, correctly suggesting that three men would leave the earth in a capsule launched from Florida after much political horse trading!  Of course technology moved on and 1969’s great achievement was made with liquid fuel rockets and computers not the large cannon suggested by Verne – still the idea was the inspiration !

So perhaps we should look at the Inspire programme in the same way, a moon shot idea that today may be achieved is different ways to at first considered..

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)

 

EU Hackathon, Google can help you get there..

Google is supporting the EU Hackathon in November and is offering travel expenses to selected individuals !

The deadline to apply is October 17, and the Hackathon takes place November 8th and 9th, at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Applicants must be citizens or residents of the EU.
All expenses will be covered for selected hackers, and winners along each of the two tracks will receive €3,000.

Application, and more info, here.
Written and submitted from the Google Offices, Dubai (25.095N, 55.162E)

My Talk at the INSPIRE 2011 Conference

I was invited to speak at the annual INSPIRE conference in Edinburgh last month. INSPIRE remember is the European Commission programme supported by national legislation to build a Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) for European Environmental data. I was asked specifically to address how INSPIRE can foster innovation and “smart growth”.

These are excellent topics to discuss in relation to SDI development, SDI’s I’m afraid are still designed and where built operated almost solely from the perspective of data providers rather than users. INSPIRE is in some ways a victim of this mindset, although there is a clearly defined user in the form of European Commission organisations. Here the issue is one of scope to really maximise the innovative potential INSPIRE, organisations need to gone beyond the strict requirement to make their information available to the Commission and share as widely as possible by adopting the principles of Open Government Data.

Written and submitted from the Google Offices, New York, USA (40.741N, 74.004W)