Getting map data on right course

Delaware DataMIL, a new Web-based mapping tool, is in the running to be a prototype for the National Map

Delaware has launched a new Web-based mapping tool that eventually will make all of the state's differently-sourced geographic data compatible, and it also will offer the public the chance to weigh in on how that data should be updated.

The Delaware DataMIL (www.datamil.udel.edu/nationalmappilot) is described by its managers as an "online collaboratory" through which data will be collected, integrated, maintained, distributed and made available as maps that can be downloaded.

It's in the running to be a prototype for the National Map, an online service that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is developing that will cover the entire country.

"We've taken data from various government agencies and other sources that were created at different scales and times, using different processes, and as a result, some things don't agree," said Mike Mahaffie, principal planner with Delaware's Office of State Planning Coordination. "Roads described by the USGS don't exactly match roads mapped by Delaware itself, for example, and we want those to align with each other."

The DataMIL will be the place where all levels of users can meet, in a virtual sense, and participate in an active discussion about what should happen to the data and why, he said. Test edits of the results of those discussions can also be posted for review.

The general public also will have a chance to comment on data and map features, Mahaffie added. After all, he said, the best information on geographical features often is created at the most local level, and who better than the people who live in those places to say how accurate the data is.

"The public can capture maps from the site onto their own PCs and then send their suggested changes into the DataMIL discussion forums," he said.

It's unclear how long it will take to produce a uniform set of data, according to Sandy Schenck, a scientist with the Delaware Geological Survey and chairman of the state mapping advisory committee. "No one has tried to do this yet, and certain things will happen quickly while others could take a long time," he said.

One thing that still has to be decided is how to make the public aware of the Web site, he said, adding that workshops for teachers have been considered as a way of showing kids how to use DataMIL. Similar workshops could be held for the public, he said.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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