I, for one, welcome our new proprietary SDI overlords…

So I’ve been slow on the uptake, as the geo blogosphere’s conversation about Google’s KML Search‘ took place awhile ago. Mostly because I’m only about half way through my meandering series of essays to make several points, one of which is that SDIs are crap, and that once there’s enough geospatial information of real value out there then a company will come along and let us search it. Well, reality has caught up with me as I’ve lost any kind of consistency with blog posts.

Allan, for one, asks the question of whether Google’s KML search is an Spatial Data Infrastructure or not. For me the whole SDI question is irrelevant, as they’ve been working at it for close to twenty years, dumped millions upon millions of dollars in to it and have come up with nothing. I read a paper that pointed that the Geospatial One Stop (GOS), a top dollar SDI portal, the center of US SDI development, had an ‘average 5622 user visits per week’ in April 2004. And lest you think this was them bemoaning that so few people were using it, this was an example of ‘success’. One of my non-profit’s blogs, focused on new york city traffic problems, gets more traffic than that. The GOS’s current Alexa rank is 491,396. Blogs about Google Earth get far, far more traffic. The paper goes on to point out that SDI’s take years, if not decades, before they are ‘fully operational’.

In less than two and half years Google has built a better ‘SDI’ than anyone else in the world. The whole point of SDI’s is to ‘facilitate the availability of and access to spatial data’. In my opinion they accomplished this before they even had search, since you could find more spatial data browsing the keyhole bbs than you could with a search box on any SDI, and could certainly access it more easily. You can pick just about any definition of SDI’s (of which there are many) and Google KML + Maps Mashups succeed on all their criteria except for explicit agreements between organizations (which is sort of just overhead, since the Web doesn’t need these kinds of agreements to have lots of information available).

Like everyone else, I have major concerns about putting all our eggs in the basket of a single company, no matter how much they promise to not be evil. A ‘true’ SDI is obviously not one controlled by a corporation (even if a GIS monopolist was trying and never really got anywhere). But I think they’re making steps by looking to standardize KML within the OGC. But I disagree with Raj that the intellectual property matters all that much without the corresponding harmonization with current or at least future OGC standards. And I really hope he’s not hinting that such a harmonization is not on the table and that OGC’s willing to rubber stamp KML because Google was so kind to donate it. The CTO of Opera explained the problems of this quite well in a nice article on CNET He was talking about Microsoft’s attempts to standardize its Office Open XML spec, which is a direct competitor of Open Document Format. His point can be summed up with:

While it’s healthy to have competition between different standards, it’s rarely productive to have competing standards within an organization.

He points to a couple cases where there have been competing standards and both have suffered. I believe it will be to the detriment of all if KML does not align its geometry objects with GML, and eventually separate data from presentation, as one does with SLD.

I’ll try to dig a bit more in to my feelings on KML itself in a future post, but the main thing I think they need to do is get a clear separation of concerns. GeoRSS/GML should not be viewed as a competitor, but instead a more standard way to handle the issue of geometries. KML is great as a package for delivering content to Google Earth, but google earth is a special environment, and it’d be nice if pieces of it were re-usable in other environments, and there were clear profiles on what makes sense to support in a 2d environment, what makes sense if you want to be crawled by KML search, which elements you need for 3d, ect.

But the main point of ‘KML search’ (could you please add GeoRSS, WMS and WFS and do ‘geospatial search’?) to me is that this raises the bar of what availability and access to geospatial data means. Though SDI builders have been dreaming of it for years, it will now be unacceptable if they provide anything less capable than the GoogSDI. So though I don’t trust even a ‘non-evil’ publicly traded corporation, I think they’re pushing the bar in a very positive way. We just need to be sure we build a truly open ‘geoweb‘ together, with innovations coming from all corners by leveraging and crafting open standards and platforms.

4 thoughts on “I, for one, welcome our new proprietary SDI overlords…

  1. Hi,

    I still have ambivalent feelings about the Google “Do no Evil.” As much as the innovation at Google has benefited us all it still seems to be stifling innovation outside of Google. KML is still a one way street into GE. Unless it spreads into a many to many (unlikely) it will continue to make the interoperability goals of OGC less likely to gain traction. If KML could be used in any browser apart from Google branding it would be a better direction, but this seems unlikely.

    Perhaps Google could backport html/javascript into GE and make it “The Browser”.

    Or perhaps the US could release world coverage imagery at sufficient resolution.

    Or perhaps Microsoft will try to leverage WPF into the spot GE holds now.

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