EDINA hosts an annual gathering for it’s GeoServices with an aim to connect with users from institutions from around the country. This years event was held in Edinburgh on the 19th June. The event went well and there was a buzz around the informatics forum venue. I don’t really want to provide a summary of the event as there is already a great summary on the Digimap Blog and if this doesn’t provide enough detail, the live blog transcript should (reps to @suchprettyeyes for the live blog – no idea how she can record everything in real-time).
What i would like to do here is to discuss a couple of topics that seemed to surface during the day.
Know your users
Who uses GIS data? Geographers of course is the obvious answer, but the use of geospatial data is now much wider than just earth and environmental science. EDINA has recognised this for some time and has worked hard to make it’s service interfaces as intuitive as possible. In addition, there has been a conscious decision to promote best practice through the interfaces and to use the correct language so that users actually learn about GIS and geospatial terms just by using the services.
Geoforum provides a vital link between the service team and users. It is our chance to speak to users directly and for users to provide feedback on what they like, what they dont like and what they would like to see in the service.
Turning Data into Information
Some users want to get their hands on the raw data so that they can use it as basedata for their own analysis, others prefer to receive a polished product that will add value to their coursework or research. EDINA‘s geoservices tries to accomodat such diverse user needs. The role of many geospatial professionals is to take data and turn it into useful information.
This message was echoed by keynote speaker Peter Gibbs of the UK Met Office. Peter eloquently demonstrated the vast number of data sources that fed into our weather reports. The meteorologists job was to take this data, analyse it, produce a best case scenario and present this in an easy to understand format accessible to the general public. The public don’t really care how you created the forecast, they just want to spend less than 2 minutes finding out if they need to take a brolly to work. This encapsulates much of the geospatial industries role, turning data into usable information which can inform decisions.
Connected systems and data
Everything is linked. Virtually nothing can be considered in isolation. This means that many users will be consuming geospatial data from EDINA and combining it with other datasets. EDINA has recognised this and has started to connect some of its collections in Digimap. For example, you can create an annotation in one collection and then access it in another. This allows users to map historic features, or trace geological features and visualise these on modern OS maps. But we are now thinking about taking this further and investigating how to overlay data from one collection in another. There is a bit of work to be done here but it could open things up. Why stop at just overlaying EDINA Digimap data in other Digimap collections? Would it be useful to be able to overlay external feeds from organisations such as the Environment Agency or SEPA in Digimap Roam?
The rise of the smartphone seems unstoppable. Almost everyone has one and we are increasingly accessing web services through our mobiles. Fieldtrip GB is a free app from EDINA that runs on Android and iPhone and allows users to collect data on their smartphone. What does it do?
- good, clear cartography, just as you would expect from EDINA’s geoservices team
- users can design their own data collection forms that suit their needs.
- the app is designed to work in “offline” mode meaning you can pre-load maps and dont require a 3G signal to use it in the field
- exports data to csv, kml and geojson
- did i mention it is free!
What’s on the horizon?
The geoservices team are constantly updating and upgrading services. Some of this work is invisible to the user as it is backend stuff. Optimising databases, improving searching and just making sure the services are as fast and reliable as possible. But there are a number of exciting projects that should offer users new functionality over the next year. The easiest way to find out more is to flick through Guy McGarva’s forward looking presentation.