The hammer for every nail

I am going to jump on a bandwagon, one we are probably all on at some level, and give a mighty ‘hear-hear’ to Adena for pointing out that OpenSource isn’t always the answer, often open standards play as much, if not more of a role in our data oriented industry.  Despite a few slips of the keys or tongues in the past, and our apparent inability to nail down someone from the OGC for an interview (wink-wink, nudge-nudge…the microphone is your friend), I think open standards are huge.  The fact that ESRI let the shapefile specs loose on the world years ago (along with the geodatabase XML schema more recently) has made their vector formats a defacto standard in most of the GIS software packages, open source and proprietary.  Just to toss in my word on Intergraph, I have always been a big fan because of their attempt to take advantage of as many formats as possible (same goes for GDAL)…the opposite side of their breadth of compatability is the fact that there are so many formats for geospatial data. 

With the web services movement well underway and standards coming out such as the various W*S formats from the OGC, we can now begin to better unify around ways of serving data. However, I think that we are still missing a component in this mixture of open standards.  We still lack an ISO standard for distributing flat data.  SDTS, DEM, E00, DLG, it is the alphabet soup that leaks out of the goverment kettle of data servers, and even though I have a converter for each…can we not just go with 3 formats, one each for vectors, rasters, and tins.  Heck how about one format with the header information for the converter to figure it out…

So, to wrap up this little diatribe, I think that we should all keep in mind Adena’s suggestion that we keep an eye on interoperable standards, whether they come out of the semantic web or new computing ontologies that we haven’t latched onto yet.  Either way they can only help us in our day-to-day lives as we get access to more, and larger, datasets.

PS…OpenSource still rocks 🙂

2 thoughts on “The hammer for every nail

  1. Your identification of a need for an ISO answer to data encoding is right on and it is being met as I write this: The OpenGIS (r) Geography Markup Language (GML) Encoding Specification from OGC is being processed by ISO TC 211 as ISO 19136. It is scheduled to be released for a Final Draft International Standard ballot this fall and should be published as an International Standard in 2007.

  2. One could equally argue that having ‘so many formats’ is not necessary bad – what is truly bad are overly complex and incomprehensible Standards. “Standards” of all stripes become truly standard not simply because they are certified by some Standards Body but rather because they prove to be robust and useful in practice. I would propose that smaller and more focused standards tend to be more successful than those more comprehensive ones designed by committee because they solve a particular problem well and can be more easily understood. The disaster of SDTS is a case it point (even its Profiles didn’t help much). The brilliant complexity that is GML is at a tipping point of being useable by humans (it’s profiles may be more workable).

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