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Three Ways Open Data is Already Benefiting GIS Users

Adoption of ArcGIS Open Data has big implications well beyond the Esri user community.        
According to Esri’s 2014 Open Data  year in review,  more than 750 organizations around the world have joined ArcGIS Open Data,  publishing 391 public sites, resulting in 15,848 open data sets shared.  These organizations include more than 100 cities, 43 countries, and 35 US states.  At the beginning of 2015, the organizations represented included 390 from North America, 157 from Europe, 121 from Africa, 39 from Asia, and 22 from Oceania.  More than 42,000 shapefiles, KML files, and CSV files were downloaded from these sites since July 2014.  Recently, we wrote about one of these sites, the Maryland Open Data Portal.  Another is the set of layers from the city of Launceton, in Tasmania, Australia.

GIS data categories on the Maryland Open Data Portal.
While these initiatives are specifically using one set of methods and tools to share (ArcGIS Open Data), I see three big implications on the data user community that are quite profound:

  1. The adoption of ArcGIS Open Data increases data availability for the entire GIS community, not just Esri software users.  This is because of the increased number of portals that result, and also because the data sets shared (such as raster and vector data services, KMLs, shapefiles, and CSVs) are the types of formats that can be consumed by many types of online and desktop GIS and mapping tools.
  2. As we have expressed in our book and elsewhere, while there were noble attempts for 30 years on behalf of regional, national, and international government organizations to establish standards, to share data, and to encourage a climate of sharing, and while many of those attempts were and will continue to be successful, the involvement of private industry (in this case, Esri), nonprofit organizations, and academia will lend an enormous boost to government efforts.
  3. The advent of cloud-based GIS enables these portals to be fairly easily established, curated, and improved.  Using the ArcGIS Open Data platform, organizations can leave their data where it is–whether on ArcGIS for Server or in ArcGIS Online–and simply share it as Open Data. Esri uses Koop to transform data into different formats, to access APIs, and to get data ready for discovery and exploration. Organizations add their nodes to the Open Data list and their data can then be accessed, explored, and downloaded in multiple formats without “extraneous exports or transformations.”  Specifically, organizations using ArcGIS Open Data first enable the open data capabilities, then specify the groups for open data, then configure their open data site, and then make the site public.

I see one of the chief ways tools like ArcGIS Open Data will advance the open data movement is through the use of tools that are easy to use, and also that will evolve over time.  Nobody has an infinite amount of time trying to figure out how to best serve their organization’s data, and then to construct the tools in which to do so.  The ability for data-producing organizations to use these common tools and methods represents, I believe, an enormous advantage in the time savings it represents.  As more organizations realize and adopt this, all of us in the GIS community, and beyond, will benefit.

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Learn more about ArcGIS Open Data.

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