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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Feed The Community Your Spatial Data…

October 10th, 2008 by tamuwebmaster

Web services and feeds enable people to reduce duplication by sharing data and systems while retaining data ownership and logic. This post is about the benefits of sharing data and some suggestions for sharing solutions.

Benefits of Data Sharing

There are many benefits associated with producing and consuming web services and data feeds, including:

  • adherence to the Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) principle,
  • if data is popular enough, it will end up on the map and it will become outdated,
  • spatial data is becoming more important, and groups who share become more visible,
  • it can be difficult to maintain a spatial presence on the web while taking care of primary duties.

Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY)

Googling for “DRY”, the first hit is a Wikipedia entry for Don’t Repeat Yourself. This is a pragmatic principle for reducing duplication and waste in processes (especially software systems). The next benefit points out that if data is not available and it’s important enough, the data will find its way to the map even if it is not shared. This violates the DRY principle if the information has to be recreated.

Sharing data via web services and feeds helps reduce that duplication and makes everyone’s efforts more efficient and productive. Web services also help relieve the burden of managing those recurring data feeds and gives data consumers more timely valuable information. So instead of dumping data once a semester for various people, set up a live service that allows them to get to it on demand instead.

Where There’s Demand…

Until there is more buy-in from the community, the web team here will maintain information in the map system. It will start out in a database, but unfortunately the web team doesn’t have the time to keep everyone’s information updated all the time. The web team can make corrections when notified, but cannot spend time searching the web for spatial related updates.

However, data from web services keeps everyone updated and in line with the original intent and business rules that go into generating it. Live systems reduce efforts to make data available. Not only can these services be consumed by the maps application, but they can easily feed other systems for other purposes as well.

The Importance of Visibility

Sharing data enables people to concentrate on specific areas of expertise while adding value to the community as a whole. The more that others use and depend on data, the more visible and important it becomes as a result. There are data sets all across campus that people – students, staff, faculty, visitors – just don’t know about that could really help them make decisions. Keeping this information as visible and up to date as possible, without having to duplicate efforts, is the best way to ensure efficiency and good decision making.

The Spatial Web

Putting content on the web is already difficult enough. There are already hundreds of technologies, standards, and regulations to deal with. Add to that spatial data, which can be complex, and it becomes even more difficult. Sure, it’s easy to put up a Google map with a few markers on it. But doing complex spatial calculations, showing time sensitive information, supporting multiple presentation mediums (web, mobile, etc), and staying compliant with standards and regulations may be too much for the average group on campus.

That is why the web team has taken on this project! The web team here deals with those technologies, standards, and regulations everyday, and would like to take some of the burden of spatially enabling the data on the web. The point is that people have expertise and ownership of their data, and the web team has a specialty when working with web based applications. Having the best of both worlds is possible. It can also be pragmatic with web services and feeds.

Suggestions for Sharing Spatial Data

First of all, this is not a complete list of suggestions. There are many ways to connect systems through the web now, and this project aims to be flexible enough to accommodate most of them. The first, and possibly easiest way is to start enabling RSS feeds you may already publish with GeoRSS information. Putting a point in an RSS feed is pretty easy, and the campus map will give people a way to retrieve that information for inclusion in their feeds.

The second method is for more complex situations where an existing application has data that could be spatially enabled and shared, but still has to adhere to business processes and logic. Enabling a SOAP or JSON web service in front of the application allows those rules to stay in place while still making the data available for consumption elsewhere.

This section is brief on purpose because until a dialog is started, it is difficult to determine what methods will be used the most and by whom. By sharing data through solutions such as GeoRSS feeds and web services, it is possible to reduce duplication, improve efficiency, become more visible, and make the most of existing data.

So please contact us!

Friday, October 10th, 2008 Campus Maps
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