Beyond SDI – Michael Gould (Esri, Univ Jaume I)

When I started working seriously in the field of SDI, around 2001, and then got involved in the drafting of the INSPIRE Implementation Rules for Metadata, I stated publicly that the end result of INSPIRE was not going to be an operational, single SDI: an information system.  We were not building a bridge or the electricity grid (even though we used that metaphor to describe our new infrastructure). Just like the digital libraries we were copying, where there was not one, single library but rather a collection of libraries that followed common standards. Similarly, the SDI was going to be a set of agreements and best practice examples to guide us in the overall improvement of access to geodata. And I stated that that was ok, a good enough goal. We could already see this happening in the USA where things started a decade earlier. The good news is that today many government geodata producers and users agree on a relatively small set of interface and data sharing standards from OGC, ISO, and a few other relevant organizations. More institutional data is available, for sure, in large part due to the wider open data movement in many parts of the world. The not so positive news is that in the 2 decades it took to get this far, our geodata industry has been transformed or “Uberfied” in a similar way (not so radical) that transportation, the news media, bookshops, and the music industry have been affected. Today the average citizen, in developed countries at least, can pick up their smartphone and access street views, satellite imagery, crowdsourced geodata from OSM, live traffic data and real-time navigation, live weather data, curated thematic geodata from sources like Esri’s Living Atlas of the World, and can create and share their own data as well. The canonical “one stop shop” SDI portal is not what made this possible. People get their geodata from services, commercial or otherwise. These services hide the details, but under the hood they access open data via APIs, build specific data provider agreements with government agencies and commercial providers, or have created their own data.  The services exist, in many cases, as business opportunities. Services, APIs, and open data: is that the new SDI? One of the early visions of SDI was that it would be like opening the tap and getting water, only in this case geodata. Are people starting to do this on their smartphones?  Two final thoughts. One is that it worries me that many developing nations today seem to be trying still to catch the SDI train as defined 20 years ago. We would do well to help them to leapfrog and transform thinking to what is now viable and now not only affordable but even economically beneficial. The second is that we are now in a position, thanks to WebGIS, to teach GIS and related technologies in a way that assumes and promotes data sharing. GIS learners can be online at all times and can access, process, and share results in a way that my generation was not taught to do. Teaching methods and perspective will need to change to make this new view of GIS (powered by the new SDI) a reality.

Michael Gould
Esri, Inc., and Universitat Jaume I, Spain

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