have a favorite search engine.If you type the words "search engine"
into your favorite one and hit enter, the outcome will be something
overwhelming like; "Results 1 - 10 of about..." followed by a number of
six digits or more.This illustrates one of the fundamental issues of
the Web and modern computing - how to find things quickly and easily.
Theoretical concepts that make Web content more meaningful have been
debated in academic circles for many years - knowledge representation,
ontology, the Semantic Web.Recently the topic of how to find
information on the Web is shaping up as yet another important
battleground in the Internet wars, along with browser wars (it isn't
over yet), media player disputes, Web Services standards controversies
and many other information technology issues.The evolution and future
trends of commercial content search engines can play an important role
in the geospatial industry.
If we go back a decade or more - ancient history in the information
technology industry -accessing information on a research topic was a
central issue.Remember the time when following up on a promising
reference involved an interlibrary loan taking one or two months?
Today, the issue has shifted from access to search.There is instant
access to information, but finding the right information and judging if
it is current, accurate and high quality is more difficult.
Much of today's electronic information is stored in folders.The
folders are organized in a hierarchical fashion.Searching for a file
or an e-mail message usually implies traversing the hierarchy, trying
to remember exactly where we placed it.An item could have been placed
in more that one folder with multiple versions of it.For example, a
report on a trip to New York in 2003 could be in several different
folders such as "Reports," "New York 2003" or "Miscellaneous Reports."
Much of a search's success depends on personal organizational habits
and memory.This is a familiar process to many of us.Computer file
storage is basically the electronic equivalent of a big, bulky file
cabinet.Spreadsheets and databases are not much better.In both
situations computer technology offers the ability to query and search
based on keywords.While a tremendous value over the old world of paper
searches, this is still a rather primitive concept.
The geospatial industry is confronted with the same searching issues in
relation to data, functionality and Web Services.There is significant
activity exploring the creation of queryable spatial data
infrastructures at various levels to help address search difficulties.
To help with this development the industry is placing an increasing
emphasis on metadata and service catalogues that rely on international
standards such as ISO and OGC.These efforts rely on the current
technologies - keyword search engines, spreadsheets and databases.The
search quandary is not just a technology issue, but also a public
policy issue.For instance, standardization of metadata for both data
and services plays a fundamental role in improving the quality of
search results.But implementing and deploying these standards on a
global basis is very hard because of awareness, coordination,
management and economic considerations.These difficulties are
compounded by security and privacy considerations.Who can have access
to which data? Is the data free?
The geospatial community will continue to work on these issues.
Searching data and services is the focus of intense activity in the IT
industry, which is fueled by the explosion of text, digital images,
music and video data accessible via the Web.There is also a data
explosion in the geospatial industry that encompasses all forms of data.
What are the trends that will impact future geospatial search
technology? Extending the Web with information that gives it well
defined meaning is the idea of the Semantic Web.This concept is
described by Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila in their
article "The Semantic Web" in Scientific American magazine, May
2001.The World Wide Web Consortium is enabling a collaborative effort
for development of the Semantic Web.The activity is based on XML and
the Resource Description Framework.More information on this initiative
is available here.Once these
concepts make their way into usable implementations they should
influence research on Semantic interoperability applied to geospatial
There are many other innovative changes starting to happen.Leading
search engine players such as MSN, Google and Yahoo! continue to
introduce features like desktop search and geospatial processing and
content.Of special interest to the geospatial community is the company
MetaCarta.Their products enhance text searches with a geographic
context (1, 2).
At the core of the system is 'geoparsing,' which is a concept that
appeared in the OGC's Geospatial Fusion Testbed in 2001.MetaCarta
uses sophisticated algorithms to identify and tag geographic
At a fundamental level, Microsoft has unveiled ideas for a new
revolutionary file system.Initially part of the Longhorn release of
Windows (2006), it has now been pushed forward a couple of years.With
WinFS Microsoft is moving the "search" battle to the operating system
level.Microsoft explains that WinFS technology is about the ability to
"find, relate and act" on information.The find ability will be
supported by new capabilities that extend the file system with richer
information.Relate capabilities will rely on encoded object
relationships to enable richer data exploration.The act part of the
technology will be implemented by a system to handle events and create
agents to facilitate automatic data management.Macintosh enthusiasts
are quick to point out that with MAC OS X Tiger, Apple is already
delivering some of the advanced search concepts planned in WinFS.
Geospatial data and services searches are an extensive challenge with
technical and political ramifications.The Semantic Web; the efforts by
MSN, Google and Yahoo!; and WinFS and Mac OS X Tiger technologies
collectively represent exciting new advancements.It is up to the
geospatial industry to leverage these developments to improve access to
data and services.