Arguably the largest positive externality to the Web ecosystem that geospatial technologies can provide is creating more linked geo-enabled data. The beauty is the externalities work both ways. Not only does the Web get more useful content we also create more reasons for the public to use geospatial tools and software. Without the ability to geoereference data none of our collective mapping brilliance is terribly useful. Yet we put all sorts of obstacles in the way of the most basic geo-enabling capabilities – namely geocoding. We treat geocoding as a precious resource that needs to be metered and monetized. In short we put a strangle hold on the lifeblood of our business, geo-enabled data. Without geo-enabled content our relevance to the larger Web diminishes immensely.
The major providers all put restrictions around geocoding making it especially difficult to do batch geocoding operations to get large chunks of data geo-enabled. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s geocoders are all geared to single address look ups, and not for mass data geo-enablement. There are services like batchgeocode.com that get around some of the limitations but are still restricted by provider’s TOS.
The second big issue with current geocoding is further upstream. All the geocoding API’s are dependent on NAVTEQ, TeleAtlas’s and a few other providers data to geocode against. So, if the street data companies don’t think a country has a big enough market you can’t geocode in these areas. This especailly limits the ability to geocode data in developing countries.
We’ve taken a slightly different approach. One, we enlisted the brilliant help of Schuyler to evolve his work from Geocoder.us to best take advantage of the work and community already existing. Second, we decided to make the Geocoder street data neutral. Meaning that you can plug whatever street data source you want into the geocoder and have it work – sometimes with a bit of tweaking. In the first go we’ve set up the geocoder to work with TIGER data and NAVTEQ. We chose these two mainly because they both use all CAPS for their names.
The hope is that with the community’s help we can extend the geocoder to work with a large number of other data sources. As Andrew mentioned in his post OpenStreetMap is top of the list. Integrating OSM data will be key enabling geocoding in developing countries and other areas overlooked by current commercial providers. I think this is one of many areas where the OSM community is really going to show its power. While the geocoder is currently only accessible to developers through github, stay tuned because we’ll be exposing it as a web application in GeoCommons shortly. We want everyone to be able to geo-enable their data and access it in whatever format meets their needs. Data wants to be free and we all win when the gates are unlocked.
Welcome to the Esri DC Development Center blog. We write about features of our work on big data analytics, open platforms, and open data, what is new and exciting in the Esri and community, and general industry thought leadership and discussions of geospatial data visualization and analysis.
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