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White House to merge mapping and data sites

US: The White House has contracted with ESRI to merge Data.gov, the government’s depot for downloadable data sets with Geodata.gov, the federal website that publishes geospatial information. ESRI began last summer tying the two, according to Jack Dangermond, President, ESRI, in an interview with Nextgov.

He said that he expects Geodata.gov’s map services, which enable Web-based applications from different sources to communicate with each other, to be available on Data.gov within two months. The new content on Data.gov will benefit not only Web developers who mix government data with outside data sources to find trends, but also nontechnical individuals. Anyone will be able to create mashups on the free website ArcGIS.com.

The site already allows anyone to search for graphic layers of information from data sets ESRI retrieved from federal GIS databases. Visitors then can add the layers to a base map, or a background map, to complete the picture. ESRI is offering the site free of advertisements and does not claim ownership of any content that people and agencies contribute, Dangermond said.

Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for Data.gov, told Dangermond “to make sure your private sector investments help us leverage private expressions of data,” according to Dangermond who declined to disclose the cost to the company, but said it is in the range of tens of millions of dollars and involved three and a half years of work. He added, “we can afford to do it through our software licenses.”

Users can share their work with a defined group of people, sell their creations on their own websites or share them with the public to let others enhance them. For example, individuals with little or no programming skills can use ArcGIS.com to see how the oil spill could affect livelihoods along the Gulf Coast. The site is in beta mode so some of the content does not list the source of the material.

The tool is an example of what President Obama would like to see agencies pursue under his open government initiative. A day after taking office, he issued a memo that called on federal managers to use new technologies to foster transparency collaboration with industry and governments, and public participation. With ArcGIS.com, state and federal agencies allow ESRI to tap geographic information stored in government databases, encouraging collaboration. The site invites the public to participate in the process by allowing people to save in a gallery any map they create so others can view it, by generating links to their maps, and by adding data, or metadata, to data sets based on personal knowledge they may have about a subject. The mashups also provide transparency. 

ESRI won a contract in 2004 to build and host Geodata.gov and last summer began informally helping the White House move thousands of geographic data sets from the site to Data.gov so users could extract and manipulate basic maps. Earlier this year, the government paid ESRI about USD 50,000, as an add-on to the Geodata.com contract, to accelerate integration of the two sites, including the map services.

Source: Nextgov