Proposal:WikiGIS -- Setup a GeoServer to Share Georeferenced Data

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  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
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  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation

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Geospatial information has come of age. This means that many people and organizations now have the ability to create georeferenced data, i.e. map layers, points, lines, polygons, aerial photographs from Google Earth, podcasts, etc. that have latitude and longitude coordinates associated with them. While the Wikimedia Commons features a fine Atlas section and Wikipedia is well represented on the Google Earth platform, Wikimedia should also sponsor a GeoServer [1] that will allow users to distribute georeferenced data that can be called directly by GIS applications, browsed on Wikipedia or viewed via a GeoRSS [2] feed.


This proposal is a work in progress, but will focus on a Wikimedia sponsored Geographic Information System (GIS) [3] that would provide an international open source platform for sharing geospatial data.

Technical Framework

Here are some bits and pieces that could be used to integrate an OGC map server solution with Wikimedia projects:

"...GeoNetwork opensource implements both the Portal component and the Catalog database of a Spatial Data Infrastructure [7] (SDI) defined in the OGC Reference Architecture[pdf] [8]. It provides tools for managing and publishing metadata on spatial data and related services. GeoNetwork opensource allows a distributed search providing access to a huge volume of metadata that come from different Clearinghouses and also provides a web-based interactive map viewer that allows people to composite maps picking layers from distributed servers on the internet..."


Of course, Wikimedia can't host all the geospatial data in the world. No one facility can.

  • LiDAR clouds and large scale topographic assets of huge areas would not be appropriate candidates, at least initially.
  • National or global data sets of general features like roads, hydropgraphy or elevation that already exist elsewhere should not be duplicated at Wikimedia projects.

However, county sized parcel data could be accommodated. Metropolitan scale layers of parks and recreation areas could be accommodated.

Use Case: Student Projects

STUDENTS could post their projects to the Wikimedia GeoServer under a Creative Commons license as a way to publicize their studies and research. Those layers could then be easily found and attributed by other students, organizations or agencies that find their work relevant.

Use Case: Municipal Data

MUNICIPALITIES are heavy users and distributors of GIS information, but GIS Managers often find it very difficult to convince local officials of the benefits of GIS because city governments don't want to finance or deal with the hassle. A Wikimedia GeoServer could become a platform of choice for under-funded municipalities to publish their data layers for public consumption. I suspect that many municipalities who have discovered they have articles on Wikipedia are enjoying some of the benefits. These articles would be tremendously enhanced by the addition of a mechanism for citizens to download municipal map layers. Organizations like the First Amendment Coalition have been working hard to establish county parcel geodata layers to be made available to citizens under the Public Records Act. Being able to find this information through a Wikimedia GeoServer would reduce the number of at cost CD-ROM duplicates local agencies have to make and save citizens a trip, and wait in line, at the planning office.

Use Case: Environmental Work

ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH is also a heavy user of GIS information because only with geo-referenced data layers can you ask complex spatial questions. In the United States, a primary source for GIS data is the USGS and there is no need to mirror or duplicate their massive catalog on a Wikipedia GeoServer. However, once an organization has performed geospatial analysis and created new layers with their results, these could then be added to the GeoServer for sharing with the world.

Additionally, were examples of the first two use cases available, I suspect that many environmental organizations would find student data and municipal data to be a tremendous complementary source of information to USGS data. Local watershed councils, for example, rarely have the infrastructure to publish their actual geodata because they are underfunded and hyper-focused on collecting the data. A Wikimedia GeoServer would be a great service to them and a potentially powerful way to increase awareness of Wikimedia at the grass roots.


My motivation for suggesting this is because geospatial capabilities are proliferating into the desktop application space and I think Wikimedia should be there as a destination for users to find geodata that they can immediately use. Protocols like WFS [10] and WMS [11] allow for georeferenced data to be called across domains.

Key Questions

  • I don't know anything about GIS. What exactly does GeoServer do?
GeoServer is Java-based application that managers data "layers" in a variety
of formats, but most notably in shape files and using a PostgreSQL extension
called PostGIS, as a geodatabase. GeoServer can also take these layers and return
them to users in many different formats like KML (used by Google Earth), vector (SVG),
raster (PNG) image formats, PDF files or as Javascript that you can include in a
web page. You could add links in Wikipedia to actual geospatial resources instead of
just images. Pretty cool!

  • Would contributors be able to edit data on the Wikimedia GeoServer?
The GeoServer would be a read-only resource initially, not intended for
large-scale use as an online GIS application per se. (Sorry if my proposal title
is not representative of my proposal in this regard.) However, knowledgeable
users could send GML requests to the Wikimedia GeoServer that return a
filtered selection of large data layers. Applications like Google Earth,
Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, QGIS, uDig, Manifold, ESRI products and OpenStreetMap
could also make similar requests.

  • Why is this proposal preferable to some of the other map oriented proposals?
I don't know that it is. Fortunately we have conveners to make this decision :-)
I think it might be more robust and scalable.
Like them, it is also compliant with OGC [12] standards.
I think it might be more likely to draw in a larger number of NEW Wikimedia users.
I'm not sure I'm willing to allow that duplication of effort is a de facto reason
not to do something, especially when to some extent other projects are duplicating
the efforts of Wikimedia. One of the attractive things for me about Wikimedia
projects is that they are free of corporate oversight. For more on this point,
compare the GeoCommons Community [15] to the history of HostGIS Linux[16].
  • This proposal opens the door for any and every location to record and store geo-tagged pictures here. Suddenly, we are flickr [17], overwhelmed by the volumes of data that could come from any one particular data store.
Good point! I wonder how Wikimedia Commons manage this problem already? Of course there
is nothing to prevent you from linking to flickr for this puprose in the first place.
That might even be faster, easier. But it is possible someone might not already use
or not want to use flickr. Or Google Earth. Or WordPress. Or...

More to the point, however, GeoServer is about publishing and sharing map data layers. I
think that a geotagged photo gallery should be a different project. I hope someone with an
interest in photography will write that up (if they haven't already).

Potential Costs

  1. A cluster of hardware would be the primary capital expense.
  2. Stipends for a GeoServer project manager, and perhaps some initial GIS experienced contributors, would be crucial to seed existing Wiki projects with GeoServer links, resources and documentation on how to use it. The GeoServer team might be willing, and best qualified, to perform project management in exchange for the tremendous exposure it would bring their project.



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