Monday, October 12, 2009

Government spatial "infrastructure" helping power Google Maps

Last week users in the US started noticing a change in Google Maps - the familiar Tele Atlas copyright was gone from many tiles and "all of that new green park land was" an indicator something big was up. The change was that Google started working with publicly accessible geospatial datasets like Census, transportation, USDA Forest Service's Forest Boundaries and the US Geological Survey's National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) from the US National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) to create a new base map dataset. According to Google Maps blog, "these organizations that create the data do the best job of keeping it accurate and up-to-date." Of course, Google is also using lots and lots of data it collects from its own fleet of mapping vehicles - called Streetview - plus data from other sources like aerial and satellite imagery, walking trails etc.

What's the NSDI? It's a coordinated national approach to geospatial data creation, maintenance, discovery, and use - and includes access to geospatial data for the Nation developed by Federal, State, and Local governments, the private and non-profit sectors, and academia. Folks in this community often refer to NSDI "Framework" data - themes of common data layers like elevation of the land, map images, transportation, surface water, cadastral data, governmental unit boundaries, etc. Examples are shown above in the Gaia patform, a tool created to view and update individual components of an SDI. Strictly speaking, the NSDI includes not just data but policies, standards and people needed for geospatial information sharing throughout all levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors, and academia. NSDI coordination in the US is led by organizations like the FGDC. Anybody can get access to this infrastructure as raw data and standard web maps through online government services like this one and others.

So where's all this heading? Well, it's likely there will be changes in other areas like Europe coming, and more public-private partnering - but I think the emerging picture is bigger than Google only. One thing to keep an eye is that the NSDI is maintained and accessed as locally as possible, closest to the people that know it.
- Jeff


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