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2005 June 30


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Editor's Introduction

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The supply of free digital maps is exploding. In May Microsoft unveiled MSN Virtual Earth, on Tuesday Google launched Google Earth, and programmers are busy hacking these services to create new variations and permutations. Meanwhile, Navteq and Tele Atlas continue to expand and update their enormous stores of digital map data, which are the foundation of Google Earth, Yahoo! Maps, Mapquest, and other mapping services.

Nevertheless, demand for geographic applications continues to grow and a dearth of geographic data is impeding their more rapid adoption. In this week's issue of GIS Monitor I report on two responses to these challenges. First, the Yahoo! Maps API (application program interface), an extension of the Yahoo! Search API, made available today by Yahoo! Local. I discussed it with Jeremy Kreitler, Senior Product Manager, Yahoo! Maps & Local. Second, the Mapdex project, which has developed an index of publicly available ArcIMS services — comprising approximately 1,550 servers, serving 26,000 map services, containing more than 400,000 GIS layers, and covering more than 3,250,000 columns. I discussed this project with Jeremy Bartley, Assistant GIS Coordinator and Geoinformatics Project Lead of the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas.

— Matteo

Yahoo! Releases Map API

According to an e-mail message I received from Yahoo!'s public relations firm, its Maps API is "free, stable, backward compatible, fully supported, and documented." The API "gives developers of all levels free public access to Yahoo!'s SmartView Technology — enabling them to see their own geographical data on Yahoo! Maps. Developers can now create customized maps by overlaying a variety of content onto an existing Yahoo! Map, including weather reports, school district boundaries, open houses, garage sales, vacation photos, and more."

I caught up with Jeremy Kreitler on Wednesday at the Where 2.0 conference, shortly after he announced Yahoo's new offering. "Yahoo! is very interested in working with the local communities to generate as much local content as possible," he told me. "We also want to work with developers, to help them provide applications." The Yahoo! Maps API, he pointed out, is based on open standards — particularly geoRSS, which is RSS 2.0 augmented by a geo position tag, and w3c geo extension. This is intended to encourage developers to put their content into an open standard and contribute more local data and applications. Yahoo! can come up with only a limited number of applications, Kreitler explained, but by making this API available it unleashes the creativity of software developers. "It's a sandbox!"

Does Yahoo! get its map data from Navteq and Tele Atlas? Yes, Kreitler answered — but hastened to add a distinction, which he felt was important, between raw "map data" and "maps." Yahoo!, he told me, contributes the latter, allowing developers to leverage the former through its API.

I asked Kreitler whether his company's public announcement was also its first communication to developers about the API. No, he said, "We've been talking to the users of that product (that is, developers) and asking them what they wanted in there." Developers' main concern was whether Yahoo! would be willing and able to embrace open standards. Several developers told him that they did not want to have to do their work twice — to conform to both open standards and a proprietary standard. Developers also pointed out that they did not always have the latitude and longitude of points. In response, Yahoo! configured the API so that street addresses are geocoded on its servers.

"One of the unique things about this API," Kreitler continued, "is that it does not require developers to download any software." Rather, he explained, "it is really a vocabulary you use to talk to the application. We borrowed much of this vocabulary from the RSS standard and expanded on it. You don't have to download a software and hack it up; we do a lot of the hard work on the server side. Basically, the API enables users to tell the server 'Here's some [geographic] information; can you display it on a map in a certain way?'"

I was puzzled as to how the company envisions the interplay between Yahoo! Maps' familiar features and the new applications. I also wondered how Yahoo! will ensure that its data and functionalities are not abused or used in ways that would not reflect well on the company. Kreitler acknowledged that this is "a bit of a gray area." He then explained that the page generated by a new application using the Yahoo! Maps API would be a hybrid: the content overlaid on the maps, the way in which users interact with the map (for example, what happens when you click on a point), and the co-branding of the page would be entirely controlled by each new application — while Yahoo! would provide a template and a set of tools (such as the familiar panning and zooming). Yahoo! also intentionally kept the legal language in the "terms of use" to a minimum, to keep the emphasis on its purposes: "You come up with the content and can display it on Yahoo! Maps. We have no editorial process to select content."

Yahoo! provided me with the following two examples of "cool Yahoo! Maps API development." (Both work best in IE.)

Yahoo! promised to support the API "via a group forum at yws-maps." However, when I tried to find the group, it did not appear to exist yet.

Mapdex Project Searches the Internet for Public GIS Data

Jeremy Bartley has been working in GIS for about ten years and has been at the University of Kansas for about seven years. He is the technical lead for a Web-based distributed atlas for carbon sequestration funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. This loosely coupled distributed portal leverages existing map server technologies (ArcIMS, which Bartley has been using since version 3.0, and WMS 1.1.1) in the creation of this atlas. "We have linked together over 140 layers from 20 servers — for example, orthos from Terraserver and the National Elevation Dataset from," he told me.

In working on this project, Bartley found that there is much GIS data available to the general public and GIS users through Internet map servers. "I realized that users would not find this information easily by using traditional search engines like Google," Bartley explained. "The public needs a way to search the actual data behind the interactive maps. Users can use GOS and the National Map, but these services will only search sites that have full metadata, omitting many servers and services."

For this reason, Bartley sought a way to effectively extend the traditional Google search to GIS data. Using the Google API, he programmatically searched for possible map servers by looking for keywords like "interactive map," "zoom," "pan," and "GIS," within each website. He then queried each of the possible map server sites to determine whether they were publishing "public" map services (for ArcIMS sites he executed a "getclientservices" request, for WMS 1.1.1 he looked for a "getcapabilities" file).

When he discovered a public map server, he stored information about that server and its associated map services in its native XML structure in Oracle 9i's XMLDB. "We did not want to have to hard-parse the responses — just store them in a database," Bartley told me. "Oracle XMLDB allowed us to take the XML file response from the server and store it with its appropriate schema." Then, for each of those map services, he recorded what maps and fields are available, whether the file is raster or vector, and several other attributes.

The result was Mapdex, an extensive database searchable by layers, fields, and map service names. "The project is still ongoing," Bartley told me. "Once complete, users will have access to an even larger number of map services than exists today via Mapdex. I think this is a great resource for the GIS community, especially since it is becoming common for GIS specialists to spend more time searching for data than they do creating it."

I asked Bartley what someone would need to know to use Mapdex. The first step, he told me, is to find a relevant server. To do this, however, you need not know its entire name — a fragment, such as "," will suffice.

Why did he use ArcIMS and WMS 1.1.1? Because they are standards-based, Bartley told me, and therefore "give you a pretty strong foundation to build a database." Currently Mapdex has indexed over 1,500 ArcIMS servers serving nearly 26,000 map services and 84 WMS 1.1.1 compliant servers serving nearly 130 services.

Here are a few examples of how to use Mapdex:
  1. Select the ">service" tab, enter "hydro" in the text box, and click on "search." You will get all of the map services that have "hydro" somewhere in the service name. Now, in the lower left hand corner of your screen, click on "Expand all." For every server and map service combination you will see the many layers that make up each unique service.

  2. Select the ">layer" tab; from the "Find layers that start with" drop-down menu select "A" (the default); to he right of the drop-down menu click on "go." You will get 7,436 layers starting with "a." Now, click on "Number of Layers," the heading for the second column. The layer "airports," which has the highest number of entries, will appear at the top of the list. This list gives you a good example of the variety of layers that are searchable via Mapdex. You can add one of the layers in the layer index to your search by clicking on the layer name.

  3. Select the ">layer" tab, enter "road or street" in the text box, and click on "search." You will get more than 7,500 distinct layer, server combinations. Now select the ">all" tab, enter "layer="road or street" column="addr"", and click on "search." This will find all layers that have either "road" or "street" in the layer name and have "addr" in at least one of the columns of the road or street layer. Mapdex allows you to order your results by server, service, projection, and layer names. Click the "Layer" sort arrow and you will have access to over 1,000 distinct layer, server combinations of road layers that probably contain address ranges.
Clicking on the "View" link for any entry will allow you to see it, in a generic viewer that Bartley and his colleagues developed. Alternatively, you can go into ArcMap and add the relevant server to your ArcMap project. An advanced map viewer, in development, will let you overlay different maps on a single screen. This, Bartley points out, will be particularly helpful to emergency managers or analysts who need to quickly find and merge multiple map servers from multiple locations.

To actually gain access to the raw data, you will have to track down its owner. However, Mapdex provides you the URL for the server, so in most cases this should not prove too difficult. Bartley is working on linking metadata from sites that have a metadata service which will make the linkage to metadata better. I asked Bartley whether the fact that he was able to find these sites with a Google search means that they are, by definition, public. "Exactly right," he told me. "Just like there are ways to stop search engines from searching your website, there are ways to authenticate your ArcIMS map server to limit public access." Nevertheless, he added, he would probably remove a site from his database if the site's owner requested it.

Bartley sums his project up this way: "It is a quick way to find interactive GIS sites where data owners are actively publishing data to the public. It is a Geogoogle for geographers."

Briefly Noted

The New York Times on June 28 carried the article "Online Maps That Steer You Wrong," by Christopher Elliott. It describes the frustration of business travelers with online maps that are out of date or contain mistakes.

Department of Corrections

Last week's story about Metacarta referred to Miller City, Ohio (pop. 136), as being near the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. As two readers pointed out, the reference should have been to Miller City, Illinois. (Who was this Miller fellow anyway?)

News Briefs

Please note: I have culled the following news items from press releases and have not independently verified them.


San Bernardino County, California, the largest county in the state, has selected Accela, Inc., a provider of government enterprise management software solutions, to implement expanded e-government services with Accela Wireless, Accela GIS, and Accela VelocityHall. Accela Wireless, a .NET mobile government application, enables inspectors in the County's Land Use Services Department to shift daily tasks from the office to the field using laptops, PDAs, and other portable devices that allow them to remotely access permit-related data and input inspection results into the Department's database in real-time. The application also offers an off-line mode that can be used when wireless coverage is unavailable; updates are saved to the inspector's mobile device and uploaded to the agency database once a connection is reestablished or when the inspector returns to the office.
     Accela GIS, which is built on the ArcIMS platform by ESRI, allows users to pull information from the County's GIS database to automate map analysis and speed up the review process. It allows inspectors to analyze a list of addresses, calculate the most efficient travel path, generate driving directions and an inspection route map, and download this information to their Accela Wireless client device. The County will implement Accela VelocityHall as its new public access portal for providing contractors, development professionals, and homeowners with access to many government services on-line. The Land Use Services Department, which provides land use planning, building and safety, and code enforcement services to property owners, will offer several permits on-line beginning with simple permits that do not require plan review services (e.g., water heater replacements and meter resets).

PCI Geomatics is extending its partnership with GeoTango by becoming a global distributor of SilverEye, a software solution designed to extract 3D information from a single image. SilverEye is particularly well suited to rapidly generate 3D models of urban areas and facilities of interest. It can also obtain 2D and 3D measurements using a single satellite or aerial image. Building textures can be applied using information from the imagery, employing a texture library, or from ground photographs. Unlike traditional solutions, SilverEye does not require stereo image pairs and expensive hardware systems. Results can be exported to popular GIS and OpenFlight formats.
     In 2004 GeoTango and PCI Geomatics signed agreements allowing GeoTango's SmartDigitizer to be incorporated into PCI Geomatics' flagship software package, Geomatica. SmartDigitizer allows for semi-automated feature extraction from remotely sensed imagery.

Open Spatial Australia has entered a new partnership with New Zealand-based Matrix Applied Computing Ltd. The latter will be an official reseller for New Zealand of the former's products, including the spatial data capture and management application Munsys and the enterprise spatial distribution product enlighten.

Intermap Technologies, Inc. has announced new contracts for its digital topographic mapping data totaling more than US$2.6 million. In conjunction with Aero-Metric, Inc., an aerial photography, surveying, and geo-spatial services firm, the company has received a follow-on contract from the Department of the Interior to map additional areas in the state of Alaska for the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA).
     Intermap has also received a follow-on contract to support the continued processing of elevation data from the NASA Shuttle Radar Topographic Mapping (SRTM) mission. Intermap is utilizing its expertise in accurate digital mapping software and processing techniques to fill voids in the SRTM data with alternate sources of elevation information. In February 2000, NASA's Space Shuttle flew the SRTM mission, collecting digital elevation data of the majority of the planet. It is the first, near worldwide, radar coverage that provides for the creation of three-dimensional digital elevation model (DEM) maps.

At the O'Reilly Where 2.0 Conference, Stephen Lawler, general manager of Microsoft's MapPoint business unit, announced that Microsoft and ORBIMAGE have agreed to deliver expanded international satellite coverage for MSN Virtual Earth. Under the terms of the 5-year agreement between the two companies, ORBIMAGE will allow Microsoft to incorporate its global library of satellite images into MSN Virtual Earth. ORBIMAGE collects data from several satellites, including one that orbits Earth every 94 minutes. Microsoft will also have an exclusive source of updated imagery that ORBIMAGE will continue to produce with its OrbView-2 and OrbView-3 satellites as well as new satellites it plans to place into service in the next 18-24 months. The OrbView-3 satellite, the newest high-resolution commercial imaging satellite in operation today, can collect up to 210,000 square kilometers a day of panchromatic (black and white) imagery at one-meter resolution, and color imagery at four-meter resolution of virtually any area on Earth.

The Houston Airport System (HAS), one of North America's largest airport systems, has implemented ArcGIS Server software to deliver geographic data and functionality enterprise-wide via its intranet. This system is known as the Online Airport Spatial Information System (OASIS), and it will be a way to present up-to-date and accurate information about the airport facilities to HAS personnel. ArcGIS Server is ESRI's software that allows GIS functionality and data to be deployed throughout an organization from a central environment.
     Carter & Burgess, Inc. implemented the system with assistance from Lockwood, Andrews & Newman, Inc., ESRI-San Antonio and Sunland Engineering. OASIS allows users to access many different layers of information about the airport such as high-resolution aerial photographs; land use (including properties and facility leases); details about the utility infrastructure; airside information such as airfield signage, lighting, and navaids; BAE Systems has signed an International Distributor Agreement with International Computer Systems Ltd. (ICS), of London, to distribute its Geospatial Exploitation Products (GXP) in Jordan and United Arab Emirates (UAE) through sister companies in Amman and Dubai. The distributor agreement with ICS extends BAE Systems' commitment to involve international partners to distribute its photogrammetry and image analysis software, which includes SOCET SET and SOCET GXP.

CDR Group has recently delivered solutions to a new batch of clients tackling Ordnance Survey's Positional Accuracy Improvement Programme. CDR has been a partner to TENET for both the resale and use of MapRite software in support of project work for more than a year. The end and start of a new financial year for local authorities has seen another flurry of activity, building upon CDR's expertise in tackling this thorny issue of re-aligning GIS data with Ordnance Survey's new releases of digital map data.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a contract to Space Imaging to provide high-resolution IKONOS satellite imagery of Alaska for the USDA's Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) program. This program serves as the federal government's principal source of information on the status, condition, and trends of soil, water, and related resources in the United States. For the first time ever, the USDA will use a combination of archive and newly tasked IKONOS satellite images to map and apply NRI primary data elements to inventory land use, evaluate loss of farmland to urbanization, measure the effectiveness of conservation practices, and detect changes to the landscape from soil erosion.
     The NRI is a statistical survey of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on U.S. non-federal lands. As part of its urban assessment program, the NRI can determine how much land has been gained or lost over a period of time.

Digital Mapping Inc. (DMI), a firm in Huntington Beach, California, specializing in photogrammetric mapping, has purchased a Z/I Imaging DMC digital mapping camera from Intergraph Corporation. This gives DMI a digital production environment for projects from small-scale orthophotos to large-scale engineering mapping products to multispectral products for remote sensing applications. The DMC will allow DMI to acquire multi-spectral data that enables the generation of black and white, natural color, and false-color infrared imagery from a single airborne data set.


PCI Geomatics released Geomatica 9, Version 9.1.7. Geomatica is the company's flagship image-centric geospatial software solution capable of handling both large- and small-scale geomatics projects. This update offers significant enhancements to Geomatica's orthorectification and mosaicking capabilities. New features include improved accuracy of Rational Functions (RPC) modeling for multiple-image blocks, enhanced automatic mosaicking capabilities, and Toutin's Rigorous Model support for the IRS-P6 (RESOURCESAT-1), the latest of the Indian Remote Sensing series of satellites.

Bentley Systems, Incorporated has released the XM Edition of its flagship MicroStation V8 product as a beta release to all Bentley SELECT subscribers. The new version contains four major innovations: structured workflows, structured content, 3D in PDF, and an updated GUI and new display subsystem.

The latest release of ESRI's Military Overlay Editor (MOLE) is capable of rendering Military Standard (MIL-STD) 2525B, the standard symbology for military mapping, from an Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (OGC) Simple Feature, Web Feature Service (WFS), or Geography Markup Language (GML). In addition, MIL-STD 2525B symbology can be rendered into an OGC Web Map Service (WMS).
     MOLE is included as part of the ArcGIS Military Analyst extension, which provides support for standard war fighting symbology (point, line, and polygon); automatic leadering, stacking, and decluttering of symbols; and user customizable symbols. Order of battle databases can be imported/located and displayed in accordance with MIL-STD 2525B, and corresponding symbols and attributes can be created and edited in MOLE. It also enables other applications, such as ArcIMS and ArcGIS Server, to take advantage of military symbology in creating custom applications.

AlphaPixel, LLC, of Evergreen, Colorado, has released version 1.02 of PixelSense CIR, a tool for processing color infrared remote-sensed imagery into natural-color georeferenced GeoTIFF images, mainstream GIS, and visualization software. The product enables users to access commonly-available high-resolution data that were previously unusable due to their unconventional color balance. PixelSense CIR offers multi-file batch processing via command-line or user-interface.

Alchemedia Inc. has released JetStream-3D a location-based service (LBS) that supports the streaming of geospatial data through a standard Web browser environment. Leveraging industry standard Linux / Apache technology and built around Web services, Java, XML and OpenGL technologies, JetStream-3D uses ortho-rectified aerial or satellite imagery overlaid on a digital elevation model (DEM). This data is then streamed to a robust and light-weight Java-based 3D viewer that operates inside of a standard web browser. The JetStream-3D viewer is controlled via a JavaScript-enabled API allowing users to fly the globe and examine different resolutions of available data, overlaid with vector and 3D, overlaid with vector and 3D objects.
     The target customer base is aerial and satellite image providers and solutions providers with access to content. By using the JetStream-3D platform, a client can upload ortho-rectified image data, choose a bandwidth delivery option and in a secure manner allow streaming access to that data to distributed applications. The JetStream-3D platform automatically converts the uploaded ortho-rectified image data into a highly compressed and structured format optimized for streaming. Pre-processed DEMs are available for the USA (30 meter NED), Japan (50 meter GSI), and Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) coverage (90 meter CGIAR-CSI). In the future clients will be able to upload their own DEM data. After the imagery is processed, the client can then use the JetStream-3D API to further customize the 3D application. This environment provides the necessary building blocks for clients to on-sell secure 3D streaming access to their imagery.

GeoDecisions, a firm that specializes in geospatial solutions, has introduced IRRIS 6.0, offering improved mapping, reporting, and querying capabilities. The product enables users to integrate and display information about transportation infrastructure — including roads, bridges, tunnels, and dams, as well as real-time weather, traffic, and real-time vehicle locations — in a Web-based map format. Also, the technology's Total Asset Visibility (TAV) and In-Transit Visibility (ITV) functions make it appropriate for transportation logistics and real-time tracking.
     The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command Transportation Engineering Agency (SDDCTEA), the Naval Operational Logistics Support Center-Ammunition (NOLSC), and other military and homeland security agencies have used this system to deploy armed forces and emergency personnel, as well as to manage the movement of cargo and equipment on a global basis.


The preliminary program for the 18th Annual GIS in the Rockies Conference has been posted to the conference website, The conference will take place September 21-23 in Denver, Colorado, at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Wednesday and Thursday will include technical sessions, the exhibition and job fair, and workshops. Full-day and two-day workshops will be Monday and Tuesday. Friday's program includes technical tours and a geocaching event. Program tracks include surveying and GIS; advanced data acquisition and map production; spatially enabling infrastructure management; imagery and remote sensing; homeland security; public policy; introduction to GIS & LiDAR; GIS and emergency response management; emerging standards; resource conflict management; professional development; and vendor showcase. The Wednesday luncheon speaker will be futurist Thomas Frey, founder of the DaVinci Institute.
     The sponsoring societies are the Colorado Section of the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM), the Rocky Mountain Region of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Geospatial Information Technology Association (GITA), the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado (PLSC), the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), and GIS Colorado.

Applications are now being accepted for a course entitled "Practical Remote Sensing Methods for Conservation Biologists." The course is designed for conservation researchers with little or no remote sensing experience. Using a mixture of lectures, hands-on computer lab applications, discussions, and fieldwork, course participants will learn to download and display satellite imagery for their area of interest; interpret the imagery by linking abstract image information with the landscape and use this information to support a range of conservation objectives; and work with image products and assess their advantages and drawbacks. Each participant is encouraged to bring along a project, so that lessons learned during the course can immediately be applied to a meaningful example.
     This course will be offered at the American Museum of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona on October 10 to 14. Posters for the course can be downloaded from


Applanix has appointed its co-founder and President, Dr. Blake Reid, to the new role of Executive Vice President and Dr. Steven Woolven, the company's current General Manager and Vice President Operations, to serve as President. Both appointments are effective July 1.
     Since the formation of Applanix in 1991, Dr. Reid has spearheaded the company's corporate expansion in a high-tech, business-to-business environment, as a supplier of inertial-based positioning solutions to commercial markets. In his new role, he will draw on his background in navigation and control technologies to focus on inertial-based product development and related business concepts. Dr. Woolven has been with Applanix since 1992, and has held several key positions in executive management, product management, and engineering. He will now take corporate-wide responsibility for business and strategic planning to expand the company's business platform.
     Applanix, a wholly owned subsidiary of Trimble (which acquired the company in 2003), develops, manufactures, sells and supports precision products that measure the position and orientation of vehicles in dynamic environments. Applanix' Position and Orientation Systems (POS) are used in a variety of applications including road profiling, GIS data acquisition, aerial survey and mapping, railroad track maintenance, and seafloor mapping.


The United Nations Environment Programme, in collaboration with organizations including the United States Geological Survey and NASA, has produced a new atlas — One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment. In the book, satellite images taken decades ago are printed next to current ones, showing, among other things, deforestation, oil and gas development, forest fires, the retreat of glaciers and polar ice, and the growth of major cities. The publication was released to mark World Environment Day 2005. The celebration, held June 5th this year in San Francisco, focuses worldwide attention and enhances political action on the environment. Researchers hope the atlas will have an impact on governments, private business, non governmental organizations, and private individuals by highlighting how globalization is driving local and regional change.

Pictometry International Corp., a provider of digital, aerial oblique imagery, plans to provide a limited number of grants that can be used by counties as part of their funding for Pictometry technology. The company also has added additional grants news and information services to its website that enable public safety agencies to search for and find details about national and regional grants.
     The Pictometry 9-1-1 Grants (P9-1-1) will enable new Pictometry county customers to receive up to $5,000 per PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) location. Counties with multiple PSAPs can qualify for an enterprise-wide county grant of up to $15,000 per county. The grants will be applied towards the 9-1-1 seat license fees that are part of the overall cost of a Pictometry image library and software. The P9-1-1 Grants can also be used by existing Pictometry county customers that have not yet expanded their Pictometry system into their 9-1-1 operations.

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