Geospatial Data and Web 2.0 - a MapMart Perspective

By Michael Platt

After its initial start in 1951 as a geological consulting firm, IntraSearch began selling geospatial data in 1997 over the World Wide Web through our online site, MapMart.com. At that time the GIS industry faced a real challenge locating digital mapping data. Companies sought firms like ours to digitize their analog maps and photographs, not knowing whether the data were available elsewhere. This was an extremely time-consuming and expensive process, but it was necessary for businesses needing to capitalize on the technologies of the GIS and CAD industries. Today, MapMart is a major provider of geodata and is moving into data hosting and other services.

Many of our clients would ask, "Aren't these data already available in a digital format somewhere?" The answer was that the data could be sitting on some government disk array or gathering dust on the shelf of a company like ours, but who had them and where they were located was difficult to know. The most common response from professionals was that they couldn't believe that an online solution for their mapping needs did not already exist.

The Internet seemed the logical choice to locate data that others had created. However, searches frequently yielded unsatisfactory results, with generic scanned images of maps or FTP sites with directory after directory of cryptic filenames. Trying to find the correct digital mapping data was a daunting task!

Then interactive mapping on the Internet started to gain acceptance. Websites such as MapQuest.com were introduced which displayed detailed street maps and delivered online directions. The sites were very popular and users enjoyed the ability to create maps on demand. Later websites added aerial and satellite imagery making the maps more interesting and informative.

Today's Web 2.0 sites immerse the user in a dynamic virtual mapping experience using three-dimensional and high-resolution mapping and imagery. These data on the Internet are now in demand by users ranging from homeowners desiring images of their homes or property, to backcountry hikers, to worldwide engineering companies.

Unfortunately, most mapping data are only available for use within certain online applications. Professional users of GIS and CAD are still faced with the problem of acquiring the data for use within their software systems.

The future of eCommerce in the GIS industry will include the ability to obtain the data as a service, enabling users to connect and use the latest imagery information over the Internet within a GIS or CAD application. The data will no longer need to be downloaded and stored on a local hard drive, but can be streamed over the Internet. This method allows the content to be as current and fresh as possible and does not require users to store and keep track of imagery.

Along these lines, MapMart is launching the next generation of data delivery, MapMart On-Demand. This service is a true Data Service Solution (DSS) serving the enterprise need for storage, retrieval and automatic ordering of GIS information. We believe that for many companies, it will become the cornerstone of the enterprise GIS strategy. MapMart On-Demand uses a combination of ESRI's new ArcGIS Image Server and the MapMart image libraries. Many terabytes of spatial information, covering the United States and the world, are available on a layer-by-layer basis.

For instance, aerial imagery can be loaded onto our servers as soon as it is downloaded from the airplane or satellite, making it instantly available to the entire enterprise. Companies will no longer need to dedicate a large IT/GIS staff to managing their imagery libraries. User accounts are created within the service to enable them to log in and directly use their data of interest from their dedicated server.

Other companies may wish to take the software and data in-house, behind their own firewall, on a preconfigured appliance. We have developed MapMart On-Site to address this need. The datasets are purchased or leased on a yearly basis. This is an enterprise-grade solution that combines user-friendly design in a turnkey, plug-and-play solution that is ready to install into the customer's environment.

Locating quality mapping data, downloading and organizing them, and then making them available to an entire organization is a challenge. Many GIS users would prefer to have access to all types of data in one place covering the entire world - available as needed, where needed and when needed. Advances in the Internet and in software applications, and digital data providers such as MapMart, are making this a reality.


Published Friday, July 27th, 2007

Written by Michael Platt



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