Monday, September 15, 2008

Google and Geospatial Data

I would like to recommend the September 14 Very Spatial podcast for an informative interview with Dylan Lorimer and J.L. Needham of Google. The main topic of this interview (about ½ way into the podcast) was Google’s effort to partner with local governments for data sharing. Some of their answers were surprising to me so I thought I should share. Here are some highlights.

The data (imagery, elevation, transportation, etc.) that Google uses for Google Earth, Google Maps and Maps for Mobile are collected from every county in the U.S and are provided on hard media, or hard drive delivery. Of course, that kind of coverage is not nearly as comprehensive internationally, but Google is always working on it and has representatives all over the globe trying to establish partnerships for data sharing.

Google has, since it launched Google Earth and Google Maps, been rather secretive about their data, how it is gathered, who provides it, projection information, and so on. But in the last six months Google has been working on establishing a “front door” for open access for data sharing at: gisdata (at) google (dot) com.

Lorimer and Needham were enthused by the recent ESRI Users Conference and met with many jurisdictions and have become more open to inquiries and offerings of a variety of data types. Of course the standard data desired are aerial imagery, they also seek 3D models (textured or not), terrain data, elevation models and transit system data.

Google is not in need of U.S. baseline data but do seem to seek parcel data, address points and routing data. Lorimer and Needham were clear that local data sources, local governmental agencies, are the authority of the data and they trust the integrity of the data from these jurisdictions. Google has a program called “Cities in 3D” to reach out to local jurisdictions for their localized geospatial data.

To assess where to provide the most up-to-date and complete data, Google maintains heat maps of where their users are and where they are looking in Google Earth and Google Maps.

About the public versus private partnerships and the question that some might ask “why should I pay for the GIS group when it’s already available in Google?,” Lorimer and Needham had three points to make. 1) Google attributes the source jurisdiction of any given data set, 2) they blog about any partnership they’ve assembled and promote how-to information on the web, and 3) Lorimer and Needham said we “engage with law makers who ask uninformed questions like ‘why do we fund our GIS office or agency when all these maps are free on Google Earth?’ We help them understand that it’s because of that funding, because of that public investment, that places like Google Earth and many others are available to the public.”

Google is trying to utilize the tremendous public investment in geospatial data and get that magnified. To bring those data out of the small circle of people who use the data and provide it for everyone. They feel this is transformational.

Google is working on a self-service approach to data sharing. So a person in a jurisdiction could upload updated imagery, for example, to a web site. In the next couple of months, Google will make it more clear and streamlined as to how to share geospatial data that Google is looking for, but for now, it seems that one should go to gisdata (at) google (dot) com.

To hear the whole Very Spatial podcast:

Click to directly download MP3

Click to directly download AAC

Or go to Very Spatial.


Anonymous said...

let's be clear--google doesn't do this out of the goodness of its heart. they've created a formidable advertising machine, and more content equals more page views which equals more revenue. i'm all for the profit motive, but don't get too enamored without having perspective.

Meg said...

Anonymous - I thought the podcast was interesting. I have wondered for a long time (and I am not alone) about some of the points touched on in this interview. So I thought it would be a good idea to share. Thanks for your thoughts but I do not necessarily share them. Meg