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Open Geodata – Pros & Cons

Why Open Geodata may be a blessing or a curse.

“Open data” aims to release original data to the public for free, authorizing it be edited and distributed without restriction. It can be traced back to that the European Commission proposed an open data strategy in 2003, to provide government collected information to be reused by the public for free or low charge, which raise the discussion about open geo-data” at the time.

For many GIS users, obtaining raw geospatial data can present quite a challenge. Expensive copyright fees, unknown data sources, duplicated datasets in varied government departments, different formats, definitions and more can create a data nightmare, not to mention all the additional obstacles that often result from direct usage or other application with such data. However, the development of open geo-data around the world has promised to elevate some of these headaches.

Free or low cost data.
The major objective of open Geodata is to make collected and generated Geodata able to be used again and again, to avoid repeat data processing and revisions by many organizations or institutes in both public and private sectors. Therefore, end users could obtain what they need from available sources much more easily.

Standard geospatial contents.
The goal of Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is to provide free and openly available standards to the market, and allow geospatial content and services to be seamlessly integrated into business and civic processes, the spatial web and enterprise computing. Thus, the available datasets have to meet certain format requirements for compatibility concerns.

User discussion forums.
Open Geodata is powered by experts and end users around the world, so one can ask questions in discussion forums for possible technical support from members encountering similar issues. Moreover, certain datasets can be generated or updated by participating volunteers with proper movement coordination, such as the free and open-sourced Open Street Map (OSM) created in 2004 via international group “Wiki” editing.

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Unorganized in developing countries.
The government policy would be less mature and the department structure would be less organized in most developing countries, and sometimes the official bureaus set strict laws against Geodata distribution due to confidential reasons, which means there could be very limited access to open geo-data.

Questionable quality.
Though Open Geodata could be downloaded and reused by anyone, its unstable quality must be used at one’s own risk. It could be modified and redistributed because of its open source goal, but it comes often with confusing metadata and unknown updating frequency as well.

Maintenance concerns.
Open Geodata can be modified by specific users, but users cannot request it to be updated periodically without additional efforts and resources, which means there is not reliable maintenance for such data, adding to the quality concerns.

In conclusion, it’s almost impossible to acquire turn-key in-shelf Open Geodata totally compatible with one’s own distinct systems without doing any data cleaning or customizing tasks, all of which still require professional expertise, yet Open Geodata is worth keeping an eye on, as it’s development presents some interesting opportunities for data professionals around the world.

  By Ethan Li 
  Project Manager

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