Is there a tool / library / plugin / API that recognizes geographic place names in their various forms (for example: "USA", "United States", "United States of America" would all map to the same object)?
I seem to run into this problem all the time. I have a file containing data about some geographic places (e.g. GDP by country) and I want to join that data to the corresponding map features (e.g. a shapefile of world countries). But the names of the places do not match up (one file says "United Kingdom", the other says "UK").
The only solution I've found so far is to go through and change the names manually, but it seems like there has to be a better solution. Any ideas?
I should also mention, I expect to be doing this for a large number of places, so a paid geocoding service like Google's would end up being very expensive. I'm hoping to find a free alternative.