GeoWeb Conference: A High-Level Overview

By Jean-Sébastien Turcotte

Recently I attended the GeoWeb 2008 Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia organized by Galdos Systems. This year's theme was "Infrastructure: Local to Global." This conference focuses on the merging of GIS technologies, methods and applications with the Internet. Approximately 350 people attended the conference, ranging from the traditional GIS crowd to newbies using tools such as Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth to geo-enable their Web sites or applications. Following are some of the standout topics addressed during this conference.

The GeoWeb, to be truly geo-enabled, requires standards. Most of the presentations touched, in some form or another, on the importance of standards such as Geography Markup Language (GML), Web Map Service (WMS), Web Feature Service (WFS), cityGML and others. KML, recently approved as an OGC standard, was probably the most talked about format. One presentation from John Bailey of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks focused specifically on open source tools for authoring KML. He presented many existing tools available at various stages of development. Also, that University is developing its own open source tools to assist in KML authoring and plans to make them available in the short term.

Spatial data infrastructure
Many of the presentations dealt with defining and implementing spatial data infrastructures and the challenges associated with this. From a technical standpoint, some presentations talked about geographically distributed databases and federated GIS servers publishing to data warehouses. The nature of this type of infrastructure tends to be focused more for government-related organizations or organizations producing a large amount of geospatial data. Integrating standards and properly mapping the processes and policies are key success factors in implementing a spatial data infrastructure (SDI). A key point was the fact that, as in any other system, the main challenges are not necessarily technical but more human and organizational.

CAD-GIS-BIM integration
Bridging the gap between GIS and building engineering is still a challenge. Building Information Modeling (BIM) can be viewed at various levels. When using a visualization platform such as Google Earth, BIMs are most often used to render 3D models of building exteriors. However, BIMs may be further integrated into the engineering design process and management activities. Much of the conference focused on the simpler, outer shell modeling and integration of this information with GIS systems. But some, such as the BIMStorm Vancouver workshop conducted by Kimon Onum from FAIA, attempted to show the complete integration of the two worlds (GIS and CAD).

Time concepts in the GeoWeb
Although a little bit under the radar, this was definitely a topic of interest. The concepts of historically accurate data, managing data through time and keeping data current are becoming more and more relevant. Some analysts believe that this generation maybe the first in history not to have any traceability from an historical standpoint because most data have become digital. From file formats to unrecoverable files to actual deletion, much of the historical data now get lost in the computer age. The GIS world has to address this issue as well. Approaches are under development to address these issues but more work remains to be done.

Open source GeoWeb
One of the highlights of the conference was a panel that discussed three open source solutions used to share GIS content on the Web: MapServer, Geoserver and MapGuide Open Source. From this discussion came the conclusion that each tool fills a specific need and they all can play a role in the GeoWeb. MapServer is a fast and powerful API toolkit that enables programmers to build Web-based mapping applications, but offers little in the form of out-of-the-box functionality. Geoserver is a JAVA-based engine that is built mostly around the OGC standards specifications that it supports (WMS, WFS, WCS, SLD…). Finally, MapGuide Open Source, donated to the open source community by Autodesk, is more geared toward an out-of-the-box approach with both back-end and front-end applications, simplified data management and Web mapping application deployment.

Public offering (Google and Microsoft)
There was a lot of interest in two keynote presentations given by representatives from Google and Microsoft. Their mutual roles in the advancement and popularization of the GeoWeb are undeniable. Both presentations gave a sense of the importance of geo-enabling the Web and its future. On that note, I quote what Dr. Henry Kissinger said to Michael T. Jones of Google when the two met previously: "Searching is not knowing." The future lies in giving accurate representations and analysis capabilities to make better decisions, rather than just finding information.

Published Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Written by Jean-Sébastien Turcotte

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