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For many organizations, such as local/county/state governments, providing public access to GIS data is a challenge.

Simply knowing what data is available, what it is, who owns and maintains it, and where to get it is probably the most immediate challenge. Therefore a GIS data inventory is a necessity. Of course, creating one is one thing, getting people to maintain it (and assume responsibility for their data) it is quite another. Therefore getting buy-in from internal stakeholders is also very important.

Another important consideration is a solution's support for metadata. If the data cannot be described, it is almost useless. With some solutions there may be limited support for metadata in the form of a limited number of proprietary fields. Support for metadata in its full and original form seems to be rare.

There may be limitations on the size, number of records/attributes, field lengths, or the geometric complexity of common GIS data, such as address points or parcel data that might make some solutions unusable. Often, the sheer size of some types of data (e.g. LiDAR, aerial imagery) makes it difficult or impossible to host them over the internet in their raw form, and instead they must be delivered via physical media (e.g. hard drives). At best, these large files may be hosted on something like an FTP server or Dropbox/Box, but it may be quite costly to do so.

Additionally, in many implementations, the spatial nature of the data may not considered to be important - or considered at all - making finding, viewing and using spatial data spatially difficult or impossible. Things like being able to symbolize the data in any useful way may be nonexistent.

Lastly, keeping the data up-to-date is vital. If there is no automated way to update data then the whole thing becomes unworkable for non-trivial amounts of data.

So with that out of the way, the main question is:

  • What open data portal solutions are available and how do they compare?

Side questions:

  • What are the most important considerations when deciding on an open data portal solution?

  • Are there scenarios where using more than one portal is beneficial (and cost-effective)?

  • Can spatial and non-spatial data be successfully integrated into the same portal?

  • Are there any examples of open data portal implementations you would consider to be successful or exemplary?

Addendum:

In our case, because we have an ESRI ELA and have an ArcGIS-based spatial data infrastructure, it seems quite likely that at least one of the ArcGIS solutions will be selected.

Personally, I'd rather see us use more open source software, but it seems unlikely we'd be able to put something together that could compete with ESRI's offerings, at least not without a paradigm shift in the way people use GIS in our organization.

However, I hope that this question becomes a useful resource to anyone looking to improve access to public data.

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Vancouver has it right data.vancouver.ca/datacatalogue up-to-date,clean,common GIS formats (an FTP service is used webftp.vancouver.ca/OpenData) –  Mapperz Jun 6 at 19:36
    
That is interesting, thanks for the links. One thing that I've heard recently from developers is to just provide access to the files via something simple like FTP or HTTP and to not worry about elaborate geoportal solutions. However, this doesn't really work for the average layperson. –  blah238 Jun 6 at 19:44
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Hennepin County in MN has a really great site for their open GIS data as well. Check out the design work for the metadata! hennepin.us/your-government/open-government/gis-open-data –  Kevin R Dyke Jun 6 at 20:01
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Thanks, that is a good example of an elegant, simple data download site. They are quite lucky in that they only have 9 datasets to host. Try 900+ :) –  blah238 Jun 6 at 20:53
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@PolyGeo Agreed, I have requested it be made community wiki. –  blah238 Jun 6 at 22:36
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2 Answers 2

This is a great question, and one my organization (a large Midwestern research university) is actively engaged in. We've been focusing our attention on OpenGeoportal (OGP), but as we're in many ways a very Esri-centric place, a lot of our development effort has been implementing support for working across Esri products to the open source side (previewing ArcGIS Server services in OGP, for example). I'll focus my answer on OGP and our experience with it.

I think a big question is how much developer time you have access to. We've been able to implement OGP with basically one part time graduate research assistant doing the coding and sys admin bits. Having Esri support would be attractive in some ways, but I so far I think having the code base open for hacking and adaptation outweighs it.

OGP utilizes a Solr index on the Java (Spring framework) backend, which is very speedy with tens of thousands of records, and via sharding potentially scales really well.

With Solr on the backend, the real power of OGP, and the aspect seeing a lot of active development (this, for example), is the ability to harvest metadata from other instances of OGP. With a robust governance structure currently in the works, there's an eye towards a future of a federated system of OGP instances sharing metadata across institutions and really improving the discoverability of spatial data.

That said, there are always concerns about FOSS projects running out of developer juice and dying on the vine. Yet, its embrace of open standards would make any future move out of OGP far easier than could be the case with more "secretive" solutions on the list.

A small note is that the state of Minnesota is launching a CKAN powered geospatial commons this summer, hopefully tying together what had long been a laundry list of different agencies housing and distributing GIS data in myriad ways. You can view a BETA version here.

I'm looking forward to reading others' responses and experiences!

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That's encouraging to hear that you've been able to implement an open source portal in an ESRI-heavy environment. We have two full-time developers and two part-time developers on our team and could probably wrangle a few more on a short term basis from other parts of the org, but pretty much all are locked up on current projects. Scaling is an important consideration, as I imagine that at first adoption will be slow but will ramp up rapidly once people catch on to the idea of open data benefiting everyone. –  blah238 Jun 6 at 21:03
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A nice solution for cataloging geographic data is GeoNetwork. It support several standards.

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Cool, thanks -- any experiences using it, and how do you think it compares with OpenGeoportal? –  blah238 Jun 6 at 20:58
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