Leica TITAN and the TITAN Network: The Next GeoData Sharing Solution?

By Adena Schutzberg

Among the whirl of announcements a few weeks ago at Where 2.0 was the press release about the open beta of Leica TITAN and the Leica TITAN Network. I'd blogged about the closed beta that began in the winter, but now the wraps are off and everyone can download the free client and provide feedback. Mladen Stojic, director of Enterprise and Visualization Products, Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging, gave me the tour recently.

Is TITAN just another 3D client? No. Is it complete enough to compare to other offerings? No. Is it interesting? Yes. Why? I'll suggest that Leica TITAN is something like the result of putting WeoGeo, GeoCommons, Google Earth, AOL Instant Messenger, Napster and MySpace in a blender. To be fair, Stojic offered that inspiration came from the last four, and I put in the first two because of the focus on finding and sharing geodata.

Stojic explained that the goal of TITAN and the network is to solve the challenge of finding, viewing and retrieving geodata. I'm all for that, as I've continually argued that we don't yet have tools to effectively find geodatasets on the Web. A complete search means going to state clearinghouses and blogs, searching KML via Google, and doing other sorts of text queries, and even then it's hard to be sure all avenues have been explored. Will TITAN change that? I'll go so far as to say, "in part."

Only datasets that you, the data provider, make available will be on the TITAN Network. That is to say, people need to do some work to share the data. The good news about Leica TITAN is that making data available involves simply dragging the data file (raster, vector, 3D, terrain...) to your world (called "MyWorld") in the free client. The data stay on your machine, but are accessible to participants on the Leica TITAN Network. For now, the data can only be viewed by participants (figure 1), but down the road the data will be available for download. In time individual datasets will be able to be "blocked" so that only you can see them. That's valuable for data that are not shareable.

Figure 1. Viewing data from another participant in the TITAN client. Note the IM tool, the Geospatial Instant Messenger, is available, too. (Click for larger image)

Figure 2. Who else is on the network? Those icons with a green background are selected to be in this participant’s "friends" group. (Click for larger image)

The client has a simplified tool for navigation that allows zooming, panning and tilting for 3D visualization (below left in figure 3). The client tasks a GlobeXplorer (recall it's now owned by DigitalGlobe) server for "background data" onto which user data are layered. Those data and user-provided data are streamed to the client by Leica's own solution, which is built on some open source code including GDAL and an unnamed open source geocoder.

Figure 3. The default 3D globe launched when TITAN client starts up. The all-in-one navigation tool is lower left. (Click for larger image)

When a drag and drop of a dataset is complete, one other thing happens that's very powerful (and free!): the Leica TITAN Network creates a WMS link to it (figure 4). Said another way, the dataset is now published via WMS for any WMS client to use. This system is scalable from a single laptop up to a larger server. The only limitation for the machine? It must be on the Internet. And, to be sure, the machine hosting the data will see a CPU hit when others on the TITAN Network access the data. In testing, Leica had 50 concurrent users hit the same 2Gb dataset. The hosting machine saw a 35% increase in CPU usage.

Figure 4. Each dataset published has its own WMS link automatically available.

In addition to publishing your datasets and looking at those of others, another type of interaction is possible using the client. You can, if another participant allows it, visit his world. There's a great visual when you change worlds; you move to another side of a cube (figure 5). Once in another world you can interact - and in future releases, mark up - the data together in a single environment.

Figure 5. Choosing "change worlds" in the TITAN client shifts the view to another side of the cube. (Click for larger image)

Leica offers this release as beta, but many key items are not yet enabled, including basic data searching (for now you can only see datasets by clicking on individuals' icons to reveal datasets they've shared (figure 6), the ability to download datasets (it's look but don't touch now), details of licensing of data that are posted (Leica is still working with lawyers), support for GeoRSS, and the ability to host a "closed" community to share data via a secure network via the Peer to Peer Hub, a for fee piece of software.

Figure 6. This participant, actually a Leica repository in Atlanta, hosts a great deal of data, but for now, it's only findable if you know LGGIAtlanta hosts it. A search tool will be available in future releases.

Stojic noted that many U.S. state clearinghouses, local governments and federal government agencies are already testing out the solution. After the announcement at Where 2.0, he counted 500 downloads of the free client.

If the client is free, how will Leica make money? Sharing up to 10 Gb is free. After that there's a fee to publish more. And, as noted above, those who want to manage closed communities, and perhaps host their own background data, will have to purchase software to do so.

Will Leica TITAN be the answer to data sharing? I'm not yet convinced. It's got a rather complex story and it enters data sharing after Google and Microsoft have been beating the bushes to get local data. It also follows after the now-outdated clearinghouses and Geospatial One-Stop, which I contend were only moderately successful. Finally, I'm not sure how the fact that Leica is not the household name in mapping that Google, Ask, Microsoft and Yahoo! have become in recent years impacts the success of TITAN in the broader community. That said, I can see TITAN taking hold in military/defense arenas where Leica is better known.

Published Friday, June 15th, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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