March 28, 2005
Between Two Worlds: GIS and Knowledge Management
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! This month, MetaCarta won a one-year contract with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Directorate of Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) to provide their Knowledge Management tool for managing unstructured text for geographic intelligence. Founded by a team of researchers from MIT in 1999, MetaCarta has developed a geoparsing software that finds documents related to geography and in essence, combines keyword search with mapbased search. Read about it in this week's Industry News.

GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, Appointments, New Products, Around the Web and Upcoming Events.

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Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Between Two Worlds: GIS and Knowledge Management

By Susan Smith

This month, MetaCarta won a one-year contract with the Department of Homeland Security's 9 (DHS) Directorate of Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) to provide their Knowledge Management tool for managing unstructured text for geographic intelligence.

MetaCarta's tool is valuable to the DHS because the IAIP “identifies and assesses current and future threats to the homeland, maps those threats against the nation's vulnerabilities, issues timely warnings and takes preventative and protective action.”

When I spoke with Randy Ridley, Vice President and General Manager of the MetaCarta Public Sector Systems about a month ago, this contract was not yet a topic for discussion. However, MetaCarta has already among its customers, the Department of Defense, National Intelligence Security Framework, EPA, federal and civilian sectors, plus the energy and oil and gas markets, agencies and industries that have a lot of unstructured documents and also a lot of geography. Founded by a team of researchers from MIT in 1999, MetaCarta has developed a geoparsing software that finds documents related to geography and in essence, combines keyword search with mapbased search.

“We put documents on maps,” explained Ridley. “Underneath it has to do with understanding the human language that people write naturally, i.e., if you write an email, report, or message, you usually write it in a language like English and not in lat/long. You might say I went to Baghdad over the weekend. We would go to the unstructured text and in a fully automated fashion, extract all the geographic names in that document and plot them worldwide instantly. You take 50 million documents with our technology and folks in a small village in Afghanistan can find every document that's ever been written about that village in any way, shape or form, or even surrounding
countryside or individual blocks.”

This information, although similar to doing a Google search, brings up all the topics on a certain subject related to a particular geographic area so that you don't have to sift through volumes of extraneous unstructured text. When you go to the
MetaCarta website, you can do a live demo and find your location and what is available in the area. The product automatically identifies geographic references, using advanced natural processing (NLP) from any type of unstructured content such as email, newswires, reports, web pages or cables. It assigns a latitude and longitude to each of these references so that users can analyze the text using geographic maps, keywords and time as filters. On a map, the results of a query are shown with icons representing the locations found in the natural language text of the documents and as a text results list (below the map). Both the icons and the
text summaries are hyperlinked to the documents they represent.

“Where this technology has been used extensively is in intelligence, defense, and law enforcement because it demonstrates patterns and because the automatic feature sifts so quickly through this information using knowledge and the natural language processing,” Ridley noted. Also, “Everything the government does is tied to geography. These are all agencies that are concerned about things moving on the ground, the enemy or toxic spill, etc. Our technology has the ability to track and understand those things whether they are activities, events, or people. We can analyze those things instantly and give a picture to our customers.”

Law Enforcement

MetaCarta is doing a pilot project with the state of Arizona on law enforcement. They have the ability to take all their case files, focus on those geographic patterns and decide where to put the police and answer other questions such as: How are homeland security issues important at the state level? In what areas is there a lot of activity? “All this raw information comes in in basic natural language, like email,” Ridley explained. “We link directly into ESRI products, ESRI's ArcGIS products mainly, so when we get deployed all the ESRI users in the enterprise can see all these documents on top of the GIS system.. Our main fit is to look at unstructured text and bring that
in to focus geographically.”

Geographic Text Search is a very geospatially oriented activity, according to Ridley, “we exist between two worlds, on one side is GIS (MapInfo and ESRI) and on the other side we have knowledge management: text search, content management, document management. We're sort of the glue that holds the two areas together.”

MetaCarta's product can go through criminal reports and find out where the hot spots are, for example, why did we pick up someone five times in a row in the same block? Why are 3 different surveillance teams watching the same building? Users to not have to spend time putting metadata into documents because it is automated in the geographic text search.

“We create metadata -- we don't require metadata,” confirmed Ridley. “We created our indexing system, the GeoTagger product that pushes out XML tags.”

How It Works

MetaCarta sells an appliance-based software product that fits in a rack with server and uses a Web Service to provide turnkey functionality. It can be up and running within hours. The customer decides how much license they want and where they want it deployed, then MetaCarta comes in and makes it work for them. The appliance delivers a thin client web browser GUI. “With this one client we probably have 15,000 people using the software and they're using it through our provided browser GUI that they can access directly deployed across the enterprise. It's very quick and understood by everyone since everyone can understand a browser. It comes with worldwide maps. We can do a lot of
integration with GIS but we have good turnkey start up capability,” said Ridley.

How does the text search capability differ from what we're accustomed to with a regular browser, or rather, how do you search for text with the technology?

“We deploy this in government agency X. bring in the appliance, put it in a rackmount server rack, then we would tell it where the documents are in the enterprise. We would then go through a process called “ingestion”- that means we create copies of the documents on the appliance, we don't manage it, we just create copies for our own purposes, and then we go through each document at a time. It's very fast, we can do a million or so a day, depending upon the size of the documents, then we display those results to anyone that the system administrator grants access to by web browser. So they
could type in “restaurant” or “terrorist organization” as a key phrase and find out what that organization is doing across that enterprise. They can search every document and have every document be an intersection between the geographic area of interest - for example, “Iraq,” and that word, “terrorist organization.” We find that subset of documents that are both in Iraq and talk about that topic. We can zoom in and down as far as the customer wants.”

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.


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