GOS 2 - Early Review

By Adena Schutzberg

GOS 1 and GOS 2 are now both online and the team behind the new version is anxious to receive feedback on the new offering.I spent some time with the new portal and offer this early review.

The main page is full of resources, but by default, the Search tools are front and center.There are two box used for queries: What? and Where? On the left is the community list - a very long list of links to special interest categories (Lewis and Clark, for example) and data categories (from administrative boundaries to utilities, in alphabetical order).The data categories seem to double as communities/channels as well.Some of the data categories are puzzling at first: One is called "locations." That category refers to resources related to positioning (GPS, surveying, accuracy standards)."Facilities" includes a subset of high priority features (key facilities) from the full list of content of the National Structures Dataset of The National Map.The categories are based on the International Organizations for Standards Metadata Standard (ISO 19115) Topic Categories but include some others as well.

Partial Communities List

A Featured Map is below the search boxes.It appears to be the "marketing part" of site.It displays maps and data that registered on the portal.Clicking on the maps presents the user with the Geodata.gov viewer (a separate window, which looks just like the original viewer) with the data loaded into it.I looked at "Westchester County Community F." Be careful, legends are a pop-up, so be sure to disable any pop up blockers! The featured maps cycle through, so you are likely to see a different one on each visit.

The right hand pane includes a Quick Start paragraph and link to a complete quick start guide.Tabs along the top of the page help you know where you are.They are: Home, Search, Maps, Marketplace, Communities, Statistics, Help Center.The connection between Data Categories and communities is illustrated via those tabs.Click on a data category and you are moved to the community associated with that data and the Communities tab is highlighted.

For my first search I used "forests" and "Astoria, Or." I used the town name and two letter abbreviation for Oregon, just as the sample suggested.So, I was surprised to get back: "Did you mean forests in the area of: Astoria, Oregon, United States?" It offered no other possible options for my query, but did offer to use an area on the map (one appeared at the left, titled "My geography") or no geography at all.Alternatively, I could key in a different Where? and search again.To be fair, on a more challenging query, with just "Cambridge" it offered 5 choices, including towns by the same name in Massachusetts, Alabama and Idaho.

I chose the default listed for my Astoria query and was presented with 27 metadata records in 11.5 seconds.My search criteria were summarized at the top and the results, listed in groups of 10, were below.Instead of the Home tab, I was now under the Search tab.

I could filter for just "Downloadable data" or "Live data and maps." Each result had an abstract, typically a paragraph, though one had a huge, unstructured block of text that was very difficult to read.Each record also offers four buttons, only some of which may be available depending on the data type: View Summary, Full Metadata, Add to Map and Go to website.

I added a Web Map Service (WMS) service call Last Frontier Forests to the Viewer.The addition failed.(Again, turn off pop up blockers or you may not see the message about the failure!) I tried another WMS service and it loaded fine.

Some of the options for a community.(Click for larger image)

The tabs show off the communities and the marketplace as promised in early demos.The limited entries make these difficult to appreciate in the early days of GOS 2.Once populated, they should be more interesting.The statistics tab revealed that as of July 18 there are 688 publishers and 51,272 publications.

Once you have an account (which requires providing very little information: name, e-mail address) you can customize the portal.Each time you log in you will see the changes you selected - which portlets (the mini apps such as Search or Featured Map) to show, which to hide, and how they are arranged.In fact you can customize each individual tab.

Part of a customized page.(Click for larger image)

With an account you have the option to save searches.Doing so prompts a dialog as to whether you want to be notified via e-mail when new metadata is added for that set of criteria.

Saving a map saves it the MyMaps portlet.Downloading data allows it to be saved either as a bitmap or vector depending on its source format.

Facts and Figures
The FAQ lists these new features in GOS 2:

Improved user experience
Suitable for multiple audiences
Sub-second search responses
Support of evolving standards
Support data download
Marketplace community
Allows for personalization
Portlet implementation to accommodate other geodata.gov searches in other portal applications
Greater Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) interoperability
True Web Feature Service (WFS) support

Browser support includes:

Internet Explorer (versions 5.5 and higher)
Netscape (versions 7 and higher, excluding version 8)
Mozilla Firefox (version 1.0 and higher)

While exploring the website I did find a few things that need to be updated.

In the FAQ, there's a note that one should look on the Free Viewers page to find software that reads some of the data available.There is no link to that page.A quick search of the site turned up a page, but several of the products listed are no longer available (Autodesk Express Viewer and ENVI Freelook, for example).

The navigation, on the whole, is quite elegant.I did find myself challenged by the frames on occasion.The webpage had a scroll bar on the right, and then individual frames also have scroll bars.I often chose the wrong one to try to see more content.

I was disappointed that the only way to know that a service was "restricted" (typically available for a fee) was to try to add it to the Viewer and see a dialog pop up asking for a user name/password.It'd be nice to know from the metadata that it's a restricted service.

Overall, the pieces are in place for the next generation portal.A few things I could not explore may ultimately make or break the effort.I could not test out the developer access tools or explore the customization and data download capabilities in depth.These, I suspect, are some of the most widely anticipated offerings.Further, the portal is only as good as the data that's behind it.How well GOS 2 will be populated, especially by state and local providers, remains an unknown.Plan to take your own tour of GOS 2 and provide feedback.

Published Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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