GISCafe Special Report: From ESRI UC, National Geographic MapMachine Will be Expanded

By Susan Smith

The other evening, a group of GIS journalists got together for dinner. One of our topics for discussion was, what do you tell your friends and relatives when they ask you what you do for a living?

As we went around the table, recounting what we say to people, it was obvious that we looked for the simplest form of GIS to illustrate a small segment of our work lives. Mapquest, Google, GPS were all brought up. Just a few years ago, we didn't even have these simple examples to refer to. Now we have a few.

A new partnership announced at ESRI UC yesterday promises to help that description along, while simultaneously providing something of value for GIS professionals. A partnership between the National Geographic Society, ESRI and the Geospatial One-Stop (GOS) portal and ESRI partners GlobeXplorer, TeleAtlas and MDA (formerly known as EarthSat) envisions an extension to the National Geographic's MapMachine, an online atlas powered by ESRI's ArcWeb Services. Currently MapMachine allows users to find nearly anywhere on earth and view it by population, climate and more. There are 15 million maps made on MapMachine per month.

The extension will expand the offering in several directions:

  1. 2D to 3D maps
  2. The ability for GIS users to fuse their data on top of a set of maps
  3. Data content will range from 2D to the entire vocabulary of National Geographic datasets. This will include GlobeXplorer and TeleAtlas' street maps, MDA's free 3D viewer, ArcExplorer as a standalone viewer in GIS server-based environments.
GOS has been slow in taking off. Hank Garie, Executive Director, Geospatial One-Stop, said that GOS was intended to be a one-stop place to find geospatial resources. GOS is part of the Office of Management and Budget E-Government initiative to "improve the effectiveness, efficiency, and customer service throughout the Federal Government." "Part of our struggle is marketing GOS," said Garie. Right now GOS data is limited to national data yet they have wanted state and local government agencies to contribute data as well. Through partnerships they hope to grow the data store. GOS has worked with WebSphere from IBM with different catalog services, and also with Google and used their search engine. With the help of the National Geographic, they can streamline possibilities to get more data in GOS. MapMachine will also add 3D globe services plus ESRI's MapStudio which will allow users to make their own customized maps.

On the other hand, the main focus of MapMachine has been on education for the consumer. National Geographic launched MapMachine in 1999, benefiting from a long history of providing extremely high quality maps that in some cases take six months to produce. With the partnering of MapMachine with GOS, ESRI and others, MapMachine can be used to bring the educational aspect to consumers, who will be able to reach across the network to find a GIS service and can then pull it into a familiar environment.

Allen Carroll, Chief Cartographer, National Geographic Society, said that since 1888, the National Geographic's goal has been to diffuse and articulate geographic knowledge, and Carroll believes this extension maximizes this goal. The National Geographic pioneered cartography, color photography and many other technologies in their quest to produce better map data.

The creators of this extension envision custom subsets to serve special audiences and want to nurture communities online. Our hope is that MapMachine becomes a primary front end, said Carroll. "The means of access will not always be visible."

ESRI's role is to host National Geographic's data with a public ArcWeb free website. Jack Dangermond envisions that the richness of this alliance will allow them to link 2D to 3D for children to discover each other in programs such as Jane Goodall's Roots and Shoots.

The appeal for professional GIS users is perhaps to use MapMachine and MapStudio (the new name for MapShop) to make high quality, up to date maps. MapStudio (originally designed for the media industry but now used generally) allows users to make maps and can use National Geographic cartographic map data inside the GOS viewer. Ultimately the data from National Geographic is going into GOS. The other plus for GOS is that now they will be able to reach the vast National Geographic audience.

Included in this package is free access to TeleAtlas and GlobeXplorer as long as it's at the consumer level, or for GIS users and conservation organizations.

One journalist asked if it would become worldwide, as currently the extension is only focused on the U.S. Ultimately international will be a goal. The extension is only available in English right now, but as there are 28 local language editions of National Geographic Magazine, they will want to make the offerings available in other languages.

One reporter asked if there was any extraterrestrial data to be placed on the service. "GOS is open to any extraterrestrial data and metadata," said Garie.


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