Sunday, August 07, 2011

Group demonstrates open access & update for geonames

Access to consistent, reliable and local geographic names information is essential for understanding communities and geosocial dynamics. In many situations, ‘geonames’ provide one of the most important keys for referencing and accessing a variety of other information. Geonames databases, called Gazetteers, are used to represent place-names - and an interagency group recently came together to demonstrate new ways to share this important resource using online web services.

The demonstration was hosted at USGS and highlighted the ability to deliver data from both US domestic and foreign place-name databases using ‘Web Feature Services for Gazetteers’ (called WFS-G). The WFS-G services provided easy, real-time access to both domestic and foreign place-name databases from common geospatial clients - a primary goal for the WFS-G effort.

The OGC developed the Web Feature Service (WFS) to enable geographic feature data sharing and updating across a standard web-based interface - and the group highlighted its work on a profile of WFS to support geonames. It's also interesting to note that the WFS-G profile traces its legacy to the OGC Geospatial Fusion Services (GFS) initiative where an OGC Gazetteer interface was defined and eventually published as an OGC Discussion Paper. The latest version of WFS-G builds on this work and specifies a minimum set of feature types and operations needed for gazetteer services and includes collections of geonames that can be related to each other in vocabularies of geographic places – much like terms in a thesaurus. The information model was demonstrated as a Geographic Markup Language (GML) application schema and is based on ISO 19112 (‘Spatial Referencing by Geographic Identifiers’).

The foreign and domestic gazetteer databases combined contained about nine million names records – and were developed separately and thus don’t share a common model or schema. Any attempt to fit both into a unified database would be costly and difficult – but the WFS-G allowed geonames access from both data sets in a common geospatial client (in this case Gaia and others). The USGS service also supported WFS Transactions (WFS-T) and GeoSynchronization to show the potential for trusted stewards to update geonames. WFS-G implementing the standards demonstrated are being deployed as operational services now – and the future holds the potential for advancing open WFS-G standards, WFS-T and GeoSynchronization as a means for trusted stewards to update geonames and even easier WFS-G access using web browsers and mobile technology.

- Jeff

Note - WFS-G provided by CubeWerx, Gaia provided by The Carbon Project