ESRI UC 2000: ESRI Launches The Geography Network

By Bill Huber

The Geography Network, officially announced on Monday by ESRI (Redlands, California), hopes to be a major provider of geographic data over the web. It will do so by allowing organizations to provide, or "author," their data in a standard format.

Jack Dangermond, president of ESRI, likens the Geography Network to a collection of postage stamps glued to a globe.Each stamp represents the area covered by a particular data provider.Stick on enough stamps and you can cover the globe.It is a "bottom up" approach to mapping the earth.

Web-based queries fetch maps, prepared according to their authors' specifications.For advanced GIS users, map data are offered in "layers" for further processing.This approach solves the problem of letting authors control the appearance of their maps while allowing others to incorporate and re-publish the layers.

The key, says Dangermond, is that the data are "open and shared." Anybody (using ESRI tools) may author, integrate, or republish data on the Geography Network.Each provider authors data on its own site."All it [the Geography Network] is, is a beautiful portal" according to Dangermond.He emphasizes that it is a portal to actual, "streaming," data, rather than just an on-line bibliography of other data sets.

Dangermond asserts that "there's no money in it [for ESRI] ...we get something out of the e-commerce [generated by providers charging for their data] but our experience is that's not sufficient" to pay the costs of the portal."ArcData online [a three year old ESRI venture in web data distribution] doesn't [even] pay for the web site."

Dangermond waxes idealistic."When it [the data] moves out for everyone to use, it will change behavior.It will cause more societal accountability for behavior" when people can see where, and the geographic reasons why, events happen.He cites the role of the mountainous terrain bordering India and Pakistan as an example of how understanding geography can help to understand events.

The postage stamps will overlap.A user query could turn up many providers offering similar data.ESRI will not provide editorial content, though. Instead "we're going to let everybody play ...and let people decide [which provider] they like."

Data "branding" may play a leading role.First to step up are leading names like National Geographic, the United States Geological Survey, and the Associated Press.You can already get almost real-time NEXRAD weather data, too.ESRI hopes small local data providers, like county and municipal governments, will not be far behind.

Dangermond is clear that this is an evolving experiment."I don't know totally where it will go....Most GIS data is locked up in single-user environments.For example, the USGS has $20 billion of data.How can that be leveraged? ...It's like having money in your mattress."

With the Geography Network, ESRI thinks it has the answers to those questions.

--William Huber
San Diego, June 27, 2000.

Published Wednesday, June 28th, 2000

Written by Bill Huber

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