GIS experts: Keep it simple

GIS experts: Keep it simple

Three geography experts yesterday urged agencies to strive for simplicity and time-saving strategies in their geographical information systems.

Agencies recognize the need for adopting geographic data standards but still have a lot of work to do, said the Federal Geographic Data Committee’s John Moeller at the E-Gov Conference in Washington.

Roughly 80 percent of government data has some sort of geographic component, Moeller said.

GIS development and use in the United States is similar to most 20th century technology in that it evolved through partnerships among companies, the government and universities, said Brady Foust, geography professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.

For example, after the automobile was invented, the government took on massive road-building efforts. “Neither one of them would have prospered without the other,” Foust said said.

Private-sector software is like the automobile and the Census Bureau’s Topographically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system the roads, Foust said. TIGER amounted to a national street map, and yet the government gave it away for free, leading to the development of commercial map services on the Web, he said.

“In Europe this information is incredibly expensive,” so online GIS services on that continent haven’t taken off in the same way, Foust said.

“Users value their time a great deal,” said Patrick Anderson, principal of the Anderson Economic Group LLC of Lansing, Mich. “If you don’t value your users’ time, they will stop using your system—if they ever started.”

Anderson encouraged agencies to consider developing simple interactive maps based on the Extensible Markup Language. With an XML version called Scalable Vector Graphics, agencies can create pop-up maps that users can adjust without repeated calls to the server, he said.

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