GIS MONITOR, Oct 26, 2000
- SRI Aims to "Map” the Internet with .geo Domain Name
- Northern Light Shines on Geographic Searches
- FGDC Publishes SDTS CADD Profile
- NowEx.net Provides Delivery Info Via Online Mapping
- Week in Review
SRI AIMS TO “MAP” THE INTERNET WITH .geo DOMAIN NAME
SRI International, a nonprofit organization, has proposed .geo (pronounced
"dot-gee-oh") as a method for geospatial referencing on the Internet to
ICANN, the Internet naming body.
SRI was instrumental in the early development of the Internet, early
routing protocols, and the implementation of the first wireless Internet
transmission in 1977. So, it’s not that odd that they would be the ones
suggesting a new, geographic top-level domain (TLD). A top-level domain is
“what goes after the dot” in an Internet address: com, org, mil, edu, etc.
There are many proposals to add new ones to help expand the choices of
universal reference locators (URLs). In the most recent period, 44
applications (each for one or more TLD, at a cost of $50,000 just for the
proposal) have been accepted by ICANN who will decide in mid-November
which ones will be added.
SRI’s proposal is to add “.geo.” Its purpose, quoted from the proposal:
“This new TLD will provide a complete, virtually free, and open
infrastructure for registering and discovering georeferenced information
on the Internet.”
According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, the initiative grew
out of two geospatial research projects -- TerraVision and Digital Earth.
Research funds came from the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency
(DARPA), the same agency that backed the ArpaNet, precursor to the
.geo is quite different from .org or .com. Domains like .com or .org) use
HTML to put up web pages. If you use the .geo domain, you instead put
geospatial metadata in a special “cell server”. Here’s another difference:
end-users will not see the .geo address – it’s simply used by software
when doing spatial searches.
I’ll be the first to admit when I read the press release, I did not
understand what the goal of the new domain was or how it would work. Dr.
Yvan Leclerc, Senior Computer Scientist and project director for the .geo
initiative provided some clarification.
The proposal suggests carving the world, based on latitude and longitude,
into cells. The cells come in several sizes based on further dividing
degrees, minutes, and maybe someday seconds. The geospatial metadata for a
10x10 degree cell, whose southwest corner is located at 20 degrees east,
30 degrees north, looks like this: quantum.20e30n.geo. The “quantum” part
is called a “brand.” That is where competition will come in, since several
different brands might serve that cell.
Each cell will be assigned to one or more “GeoRegistry.”
GeoRegistries will “own” geographic cell servers and will be contractually
obligated to provide services for the registration and discovery of
geodata. The GeoRegistrar will determine the cell corresponding to the
geographic location or area specified in the geodata according to the name
schema, choose a GeoRegistry, and transmit the geodata record to the
corresponding cell server(s) defined by the GeoRegistry name and
geographic domain name. And, the GeoRegistry will charge a fee for
registration that will be limited by the Sponsor (SRI).
Since more than one GeoRegistry may have cell servers assigned to the same
cell, the Data Publisher (basically anyone who wants to register some
data) might choose from various brands such as quantum, flash and
tortoise. The metadata for the above cell would then be:
quantum.20e30n.geo, flash.20e30n.geo or tortoise.20e30n.geo.
SRI argues that competition among GeoRegistries will be based on quality
of service and other terms. And, in case there are no cell servers for a
particular geography, there will be a default GeoRegistry, called “earth”
which will be maintaining by one or more organizations.
I asked Dr. Leclerc to explain how my kite club, Kites Over New England
(KONE), might use a .geo domain. He explained:
“You could indeed register geodata for events, places, or the geographic
locations of your photos. For example, let's say you want to register the
geographic locations of KONE's favorite [kiteflying] places. You would go
to a specialized web site called a GeoRegistrar. There, for every one of
your favorite places, you would” pay a small fee and “fill in a form that
specifies the location, some keywords or phrases, such as "Kites Over New
England" and "favorite places", and perhaps a URL pointing to a web page
on your web site that describes what's great about that particular place.
The GeoRegistrar would probably offer a map interface to make it easy for
you to identify the precise location of your favorite place, since it's
not likely to have an exact street address, like you might have for the
headquarters of your club.”
“After submitting the form, the geodata you've just creating would be
transmitted to the appropriate cell server, ready to be discovered by
users. That is, people could then search for your events/places/photos by
using the phrase "Kites Over New England" and the keywords "place" (or
"event" or "photo" for your other examples).” And, I presume, some
geographic parameter as well.
Dr. Leclerc also provided an example of how a seeker of spatial
information would use .geo, though they’d not really “see” it.
“To find the 5 closest pizza places to North Station in Boston, you would
literally specify a search for keywords ‘pizza restaurant’ and location
‘North Station, Boston’. The search engine would first translate ‘North
Station, Boston’ to a geographic location, and the search engine or plugin
would then contact the appropriate cell servers and send the query ‘pizza
restaurant’, and list the results in order of distance from ‘North
SRI posts several letters in support of the proposal from organizations
such as the United Nations, the Association of European Travel Agents and
NASA’s Digital Earth Office (although NASA Digital Earth requests that SRI
not administer the domain, but act as secretariat with some worldwide
commercial, government, not-for-profit groups as members).
I found little active support in the SRI sponsored or ICANN sponsored
areas for comment.
Reactions to Excerpts of the Proposal
After reading the executive summary, I asked for some comments from the
This week my comments, (AS) are included with those of Jim Meyer (JM), a
PhD geographer, and Dmitri Rotow, (DR) product manager at Manifold.net.
Next week, we’ll cover the proposal from the perspective of the OpenGIS
Proposal: Online maps are a form of georeferenced information. These maps
are inaccurate and often incomplete. They are also expensive to maintain,
proprietary, and difficult for the average Internet user to use.
Tellingly, more than 70 percent of adults cannot read maps. A new, more
ubiquitous way of accessing, displaying, and working with georeferenced
information is needed.
(JM) Indeed, it is sad that 70% of adults can't read maps, but how will
presenting this info in 3D or with time series solve that problem? Access
doesn't overcome illiteracy. How does that make it easier to comprehend
(DR) It (the proposal) shows no technical comprehension of existing
Internet naming conventions, but rather proposes a logically sideways move
that causes more problems than it solves.
Proposal: It will not be a mapping convention, although it will be used to
generate maps more complete than any on the Internet today. The .geo TLD,
in combination with the Internet, will organically generate a dynamic
universal atlas of natural and human phenomena - on land, beneath the
waves, and in the skies (even in outer space).
(AS) Simply having a way of registering and searching for spatial
information does not an atlas make. Similar reasoning would suggest that
Yahoo! makes the Internet an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias and atlases
compile, summarize and give context to information.
Proposal: Unlike proprietary mapping systems, the .geo schema will
distribute the responsibility for locating georeferenced information,
putting its control squarely in the hands of Data Providers rather than
self-appointed second and third party intermediaries.
(AS) That is true, however, the key issue, at present still remains:
interoperability. Even if .geo does in fact help find a piece of data of
interest, it may be incompatible with your GIS.
Proposal: With .geo, individuals and organizations that cannot now afford
to have their information made searchable by location (especially with
search engine providers now charging extravagantly for the privilege) will
be able to do so.
(AS) I think we need to be realistic. Northern Light, among others, allows
free registration of your site with them. They have a GeoSearch
(US/Canada) that is applied, from what I understand, to all sites.
Granted this is not yet worldwide and is dependant on “traditional”
geocoding, but it is a start.
Proposal: Since end users' client software will be directed to the cells
for given geographic areas, single points of failure or congestion will be
(JM) What about when the "whole world" wants "be at" one cell at once,
like the Olympics cell or the Academy Awards cell?
Comments about the organization required to run .geo:
(DR) It is a formula for bureaucratization of geospatial data and
restricting access thereto.
Comments on the technology:
(DR) It fails to take advantage of technical advances in networking, such
as peer-to-peer organization of communications.
(AS) I suppose that is true that GeoRegistries will compete, but they are
all limited as to how high a price they can charge. My sense is, like
current web hosting companies, the registration may become one of many
services provided by the GeoRegistries, so they can make money. And, since
they must do some “geocoding” to assign cells, I would imagine some of the
leaders in that industry (ETAK, GDT, etc.) might step forward – or license
their tools to aspiring GeoRegistries.
I think most of what SRI wants to do can be done without a new domain (and
the money required to support it). Why not just put the metadata in
existing .com, .org etc. pages? If you want to, you do, if you don’t want
to, you do not. I’m sure some clever company or individual will provide an
ASP to “geocode your pages” for a small fee. Then, search engines can, if
they like, implement tools to take advantage of this information for
spatial queries. That will require some “standards” certainly, but it
certainly sounds simpler.
I’ll take a step further – I don’t think this proposal is really correctly
aimed at ICANN, but rather at the geospatial community, people who seem
conspicuously absent in these discussions.
Finally, Dmitri Rotow asks some questions to put geospatial information in
context with other non-traditional data types:
“One way of seeing the…proposal is to ask how it would work for analogous
data types that are far more popular than geospatial information....”
“Would we have a top level domain called .pic for images in this scheme?
No! Would we have a top level domain called .mp3 for tunes in this scheme?
No way! Would we have a top level domain called .video for moving pictures
without sound? Nope!”
NORTHERN LIGHT SHINES ON GEOGRAPHIC SEARCHES
Northern Light, a web directory/search engine, now has a GeoSearch tool.
According to Northern Light, GeoSearch provides users in USA and Canada
with the ability to narrow their search results to specific geographic
locations. Entering a street address, city, and state, ZIP code, or
telephone number including area code can provide geographic results. And,
unlike last week’s disappointing exploration of BigWhat.com (see link
below), I got relevant information!
I chose to use a city and state and the term “kite.” I was rewarded with a
count of how many were found (94), direct links to each, other related
terms (quad-line kite), whether the site was commercial or not-for-profit,
and was offered to have a map made of the location, at MapBlast. An
individual listing looks like this:
Directory of Kites Stores in the US
Matching addresses on this page:
Hull, MA 02045 1.2 miles
Hingham, MA 02043 (781)925-3277 4.0 miles
Show a map of these addresses
If the page includes a street address, Northern Light will present it,
along with a phone number if available. The bottom line? You may not even
need to click on the link to look at the site to find what you are looking
for, since Northern Light brings so much of it directly to you! On the
other hand, one of the links returned was for “09/15/2000 Medical
Radiologic Technologists Page 1.” Still some room for improvement, I
FGDC PUBLISHES SDTS CADD PROFILE
The (US) Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has published the
Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS), Part 7. This new profile supports
true CAD data, which until now, was not supported.
SDTS was begun some ten years ago to try to create a neutral data format
allowing the movement of spatial data between different software packages.
Despite fanfare and commitment by a few vendors, it never gained
widespread use. That changed dramatically on January 2000 when the US
government declared all data containing a spatial element must be
published using the SDTS file format.
Autodesk and Bentley, the two main CAD vendors, have not exactly embraced
the other “GIS” SDTS profiles. Bentley committed to supporting SDTS for
its GIS, MicroStation GeoGraphics in a press release in 1996. However,
material on their latest version, the Geoengineering Configuration for
MicroStation/J, does not mention it. Their GeoExchange conversion product
does not support it, either.
Autodesk released the GIS Data Transformer Extension (dtX), a downloadable
data translation extension for SDTS for its AutoCAD Map® 2000 and AutoCAD®
Land Development Desktop Release 2 back in April 2000. As you can tell
from the following posting on the AutoCAD Map newsgroup in late 1998,
demand had existed for some time:
>November 24, 1998
>Do you need AutoCAD Map Data Drivers?
>VOTE YES TODAY!
>SDTS - Spatial Data Transfer Standard (USGS)
Will there be a similar demand for the support of the CAD Profile? Let’s
NowEx.net PROVIDES DELIVERY INFO VIA ONLINE MAPPING
NowEx.net is providing customers with free, Internet-based, interactive
shipment tracking. The idea is to let the customer know exactly where
their package is – not just the last scan it had as it moves through the
network. NowEx.net President Michael Oakes argues that business customers
“will be able to actually see where their part is, plan their day more
productively, and give their customers accurate information as to when
their repairs will be completed.''
This extra service for their clients, along with their distinguisher from
FedEx – that they deliver TODAY – may give them a leg up. And, it may
force other delivery services to do the same thing.
Alas, there were no demos on their website.
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