Among the many things I did at the Esri Federal GIS Conference was that I attended the Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data (HIFLD) community meeting. HIFLD is now an FGDC Subcommittee, being led my Mr. David Alexander, head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Geospatial Management Office (GMO). Now that the alphabet soup is out of the way (though there will be more), I’ll get to the significant news of the meeting: the announcement of the availability of the HIFLD Open infrastructure data sets for general access and download. Feel free to browse and get the data here: https://hifld-dhs-gii.opendata.arcgis.com/


HIFLD Open uses the Esri Open Data platform to make the data sets available. In yesterday’s meeting. Andrew Turner of Esri stated that it took just a month to implement the site and put the data online. As my friend Archie Belaney points out, this is an illustration of the fact that the impediments to getting this done before now have had more to do with anthropology than technology. The HIFLD data started out as HSIP Gold, which included a mixture of government and commercial data sets. The commercial data was distributed under a wide federal-only license. Because all of the data was only distributed via snail-mail DVDs, it meant that the license restrictions of the commercial data sets hindered the distribution of the government data as well. Physical media trumps all. HSIP Freedom was an attempt to make it easier to get some of the HSIP data to state and local users, but byzantine workflows again meant to protect access to commercial data sets proved unworkable. HSIP was always hindered by the ever-present cadre of single-issue voters who fretted about the potential vulnerabilities presented by the aggregation of such data.

Luckily, the culture (anthropology) of open data has rendered those dissenters mute. States and localities have been publishing much more detailed data sets for some time now. Thankfully, the new stewards of HIFLD and the data formerly known as HSIP have understood this, reorganized the data into segments that can be freely distributed (Open) and that which requires access control for any number of reasons. As a result, data that should have always been freely available is no longer bound up by restrictions on other data that happen to reside on the same physical media. The government leadership deserves credit for recognizing and solving this cultural issue and the technical leadership and contract support (Ardent Management Consulting) deserve credit for making it happen so quickly.

As my career has progressed, I have become much more removed from HIFLD than I was at the outset. It’s now something I watch from afar, mainly for nostalgia. As a technologist, my experience with HIFLD and HSIP was a lesson in the primacy of anthropology over technology. Numerous times, technical solutions were presented and subsequently discarded as proponents could not overcome the concerns of those single-issue voters. As a result, I was very happy to see this significant step represented by HIFLD Open toward the fulfillment of the vision that was articulated for HIFLD years ago.

Thoughts On TUGIS 2015

I spent yesterday at TUGIS, Maryland’s GIS conference. It is an annual, one-day event, held at Towson University. As such, it is a bit of a sprint, especially when bracketed on either end by a double-beltway commute. The day started with the plenary which included a brief talk by Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor Boyd K. Rutherford, who reaffirmed the new administration’s commitment to the importance of data and metrics in decision-making. Julia Fischer, the current MSGIC Chair, also gave an update on MSGIC, including its renewed focus on advocacy and on providing free or low-cost GIS training in Maryland. The plenary wrapped with a keynote by Dr. Chris Tucker of the MapStory Foundation, who discussed the importance of capturing temporal change data as a way of visualizing our history.


From there, it was all about tracks and sessions. I won’t go into a blow-by-blow of everything I saw but I attended the Public Safety, Lightning Talks, and Application Development tracks. I generally saw two flavors of content: “JavaScript all the things” or “Look at this really cool thing I built with ArcGIS without programming.” There was also an undercurrent of open data as Maryland’s open data sets drove many apps I saw.

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f=geojson, Part 3

So it seems this thing may be snowballing. The idea of GeoJSON support was originally floated (not by me) on Esri’s ideas.arcgis.com site a few years back. The entry can be found here.

A few days after Esri announced support for GeoJSON in AGOL, they updated the above entry as follows:

Note from Esri (Dec 16, 2014): We are considering this feature to be included in the next minor release after ArcGIS 10.3.

So, it appears ArcGIS Server users have something to look forward to after the 10.3 rollout. It would seem to me that, after implementing all of this back-end support, the next logical step would be to add consumption support in the web and (preferably) desktop clients. (Note: That is purely speculation on my part.)

BTW, the language in the note above is still a little ambiguous so now may be a good time to log in and upvote this idea if you haven’t already done so.

It’s great to see my favorite data format making inroads into the vast Esri user community. Perhaps all the tools I use will finally be interoperable in a modern, web-friendly way.

f=geojson, Part 2

In which I say nice things about Esri. You have been warned…

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk at a local Esri GeoDev Meetup (which also served as a convenient way to tell a room full of developers that my company is hiring developers) on a GeoJSON server object extension for ArcGIS Server that I open-sourced some time ago. I started that effort a little while after giving another talk in which I called on Esri to start supporting GeoJSON. I’m not one to wait around so I built an approach myself.

At the most recent meetup, the Esri staff who were there updated the group on upcoming efforts with regard to GeoJSON. Honestly, I’ve known for some time that there are a lot of people inside Esri who “get it” and that various things have been percolating with regard to GeoJSON.

So I was happy to see the official announcement of support for GeoJSON in ArcGIS Online (AGOL) feature services. Included in the support is access through the REST API using an “f=geojson” parameter. This makes it much easier to consume AGOL services in the web client of your choice. (The announcement shows a Leaflet example.)

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GIS StackExchange Analysis, 2014 Edition

It’s time again to revisit my periodic look at GIS StackExchange (GISSE) and what it may or may not tell us about the state of things geospatial. By now, the process is fairly routine. I have single Python script that gets tag data and parses it to CSV. I then hand-edit categories into the data for grouping purpose. While it’s  perfectly valid to quibble with individual category assignments, I’m fairly consistent with it at this point, using previous data sets as a guide. Compared to last year, the all-time look hasn’t changed much. Open-source and “general topics” have switched places, but there were no great shifts that I could see. The roughly 4% increase in open-source topics could be a result of QGIS support moving to GISSE.


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Personal Thoughts on the AppGeo Announcement

I read with great interest today’s announcement that AppGeo is no longer an Esri Business Partner. I find the announcement significant for a number of reasons, which I will explore shortly. I have always respected AppGeo’s work. As a small business that does geospatial consulting, they have foregone the “grow at all costs” approach that is seen all too often in the consulting world. They generally stuck to what they do well and branched out conservatively in ways that tie logically back to their core business.

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ArcWhat? I Just Want My Map.


What follows is probably my last post related to the Esri User Conference and is highly Esri-centric. Open-source readers may want to jump off here, or exercise a willing suspension of disbelief.

A couple of posts ago, I did something that I generally try to avoid. I took Esri to task for its confusing product names without really offering any thoughts on how to make things better. I don’t really like it when people do that to me so I’ll try to correct that here. It bears noting that I was not the only person feeling this way at the UC. I was happy to see Adena’s post over at Directions touch on this and it also came up in a number of conversations I had while I was in San Diego.

Here are some things that I think may help. They represent most of the stumbling blocks I typically encounter when doing consulting/integration with Esri-centric users, especially new ones.

Spaghetti”. Licensed under Wikimedia Commons.

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