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This is my personal blog. I'm not obsessive about blogging. They're more like 'random sightings'...


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  • OGC EarthCube Summit Recap (Originally posted on EarthCube blog January 23, 2013 at 3:52pm)On Friday, January 18, 2013, about 40 folks attended the OGC EarthCube Summit, co-located with the OGC Technical ...
    Posted Jan 23, 2013, 1:12 PM by David Arctur
  • Science Magazine Policy Forum: Standards and Infrastructure for Data Exchange (Originally posted on EarthCube blog November 18, 2012 at 7:15pm)Those interested in the shape and governance of EarthCube should read this article in Science, vol.338, 12-Oct ...
    Posted Jan 23, 2013, 1:06 PM by David Arctur
  • TED Talk by Clay Shirky, and how open-source tools could enable EarthCube (Originally posted on EarthCube blog, October 8, 2012 at 9:45pm) The title (and link) for the TED talk is Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government ...
    Posted Jan 23, 2013, 1:02 PM by David Arctur
  • Geosciences in OGC: 2010 Update Posted in OGC News, December 2010, as This Month's Staff Message -- some more of the history of geosciences' emergence in OGC. This unintentionally left out mention of the very ...
    Posted Jul 17, 2012, 2:14 AM by David Arctur
  • The OGC Helps Research Communities Achieve Interoperability Goals Posted in OGC News, March 2009, as This Month's Staff Message -- It's a bit dated now, but reflects some of the history of geosciences' growing influence in OGC ...
    Posted Jul 17, 2012, 2:15 AM by David Arctur
  • Maiku (my haiku) I like remembering these from time to time. I wrote them between 2004-2007...     1.    dew on twisted burl    glistening in sun's harsh rays    keeps returning here        2.    moth ...
    Posted Jul 17, 2012, 1:40 AM by David Arctur
  • Helping the academic/research community to have more influence in OGC standards Posted on OGC website, 2 July 2012, 18:41 EDT    (updated 4 July 2012)    http://www.opengeospatial.org/blog/1644    Effective the first of July 2012, my work with OGC ...
    Posted Jul 4, 2012, 8:08 AM by David Arctur
  • Status of the OGC's Water Resource Activities Posted on OGC's website, 19 January 2012, 16:39 EST    http://www.opengeospatial.org/blog/1535There are several projects underway or already committed in the OGC related to ...
    Posted Jul 2, 2012, 4:28 PM by David Arctur
  • Big Data vs SDI? It's not an either/or. Posted on OGC website, 20 October 2011, 16:00 EST    http://www.opengeospatial.org/blog/1492  (some insightful comments are also on the OGC blog page, not copied here)There ...
    Posted Jul 2, 2012, 4:40 PM by David Arctur
Showing posts 1 - 9 of 9. View more »

OGC EarthCube Summit Recap

posted Jan 23, 2013, 1:12 PM by David Arctur

(Originally posted on EarthCube blog January 23, 2013 at 3:52pm)

On Friday, January 18, 2013, about 40 folks attended the OGC EarthCube Summit, co-located with the OGC Technical Committee meeting earlier that week. We had two breakouts: one on Architecture, especially to do with brokering requirements; and one about how Standards Development Orgs can relate to EarthCube. These discussions are summarized in the OGC EarthCube Summit Agenda and Report. Here's the final agenda with links to the presentation slides etc. (These are also available in this dropbox folder.)

00-OGC EarthCube Summit Agenda and Report 20130118.ppt (650kb)

01-Eva-NSF Update 1.18.13.pptx (800kb)

02-Joel-OGC Stakeholder Survey Overview.pptx (1.2mb)

02-Joel-OGC Stakeholder Survey supplement.pdf (640kb)

03-George-OGC Support for Geosciences.pptx (6.5mb)

04-Ilya-Interop_Readiness.pptx (2.1mb)

05-Gil-EarthCubeWorkflows.pptx (2.3mb)

06-Philip-Discussion on Decision Support.pptx (6.7mb)

07-Krzysztof-Semantics CG.pdf (1.4mb)

08-Reagan-interoperability mechanisms.pptx (320kb)

09-Lesley-Australia's EarthCube.ppt (28mb-too big for easy upload, see the dropbox folder linked above)

10-WhyEarthCubeMustBroker-sjsk20130110.pdf (113kb)

11-EarthCube Community Newsletter

Thanks to all who helped make this work, from OGC, Esri, NSF, and the participant organizations!

Science Magazine Policy Forum: Standards and Infrastructure for Data Exchange

posted Jan 23, 2013, 1:06 PM by David Arctur

(Originally posted on EarthCube blog November 18, 2012 at 7:15pm)

Those interested in the shape and governance of EarthCube should read this article in Science, vol.338, 12-Oct-2012, pages 196-197, available here (subscription required): http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6104/196.full.pdf

Some excerpts and comments:

"Data on the global R&D enterprise are inconsistently structured and shared, which hinders understanding and policy.... Data exchange standards are a first step. We describe administrative and technical demands and opportunities to meet them."

The article goes on to describe the requirements for a distributed data infrastructure:  supporting open source & proprietary data providers, confidentiality, security and licensing, huge data sizes, private workspace "sandboxes", data versioning, and minimizing top-down control and costs. This article mentions only non-geoscience research data, but the defining issues and parameters are so similar to EarthCube, this bears consideration.

"Major data providers, including federal statistical agencies, standards organizations, and private vendors, as well as user communities, should establish a steering committee. The US National Academies Board on Research Data and Information, and the Committee on Data for Science and Technology of the International Council for Science [ICSU CODATA] are among the natural sponsors."

It mentions the Common European Research Information Format (CERIF) data exchange standard as one example of a successful model. And: "The Brazilian Lattes Platform provides an integrated system to manage research information... partnering with CASRAI (Consortia Advancing Standards in Research Administration Information), VIVO (an open research-networking community group), and EuroCRIS (Current Research Information Systems) to identify a shared exchange standard."

Also mentioned:

- Web of Science citation data;

- KNODE's work to link papers and patents;

- vendors working with universities to collect and manage research data;

- user incentives, such as US STAR METRICS initiative;

- standards and interoperability across research reporting systems, for improved attribution of their work;

- Citation standards need to be developed, across disciplines and data types, from data sets to algorithms to organisms;

- Based on such standards, metrics should be developed that cover nonpublication research outputs, to further incentivize researchers' data sharing.

"The new NSF National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) secure data access facility provides a model of managed access to restricted data, balancing security and access for cleared researchers. Such models can work for commercial providers, such as the tiered security MarketScan repository, which contains medical claims data and is used to support analysis of health-care cost and treatment and patient behavior."


"Researchers lament the lack of data sharing (6). By linking data and algorithms to the infrastructure, researchers could—with permissions—access other research projects, encouraging replication and resource utilization. Users would register for access to security-sensitive parts of the infrastructure, use public data and tools free of charge, and pay for access to private work spaces, intellectual property–controlled data sets, or customized analytic tools. Users could post comments on components. Providers would document their data with standard metadata, including data elements, sample frame, access levels, terms of use, and any fees, which could vary according to the amount and nature of use (e.g., scholarly, commercial, or algorithm development), and vary across providers (e.g., academics and government agencies might set prices to cover expenses, with commercial providers setting higher prices for different functionality and tools). Payment could be managed much the way e-readers manage access to applications and content. Such a structure minimizes centralized support and subsidies; allows data to be maintained by providers who can manage access, data updates, and algorithms for data processing; and users can distribute their own tools and algorithms. These objectives are in line with the U.S. government memorandum on data sharing and privacy (7). The proposed model offers potential benefits from combining and mining the vast data already available. The first step is to coordinate existing data exchange efforts, the foundation on which the entire effort relies."

Have they been following EarthCube? It doesn't look like it from their references, but it sure sounds like it from the issues and direction.

TED Talk by Clay Shirky, and how open-source tools could enable EarthCube

posted Jan 23, 2013, 1:02 PM by David Arctur

(Originally posted on EarthCube blog, October 8, 2012 at 9:45pm)

The title (and link) for the TED talk is Clay Shirky: How the Internet will (one day) transform government,  about open-source tools and "cooperation without coordination". This talk really addresses some of the core complexities in EarthCube's mission to democratize knowledge. How many ways could we use github to enable EarthCube?

Geosciences in OGC: 2010 Update

posted Jul 17, 2012, 2:13 AM by David Arctur   [ updated Jul 17, 2012, 2:14 AM ]

Posted in OGC News, December 2010, as This Month's Staff Message -- some more of the history of geosciences' emergence in OGC. This unintentionally left out mention of the very significant role of Australia's CSIRO researchers' contributions toward the formation of the Hydro DWG and WaterML.    

Whenever a large office building is being constructed, it seems like a long time goes by at first, with very little visible progress. The foundation and infrastructure are often below ground level and behind a fence, making it even harder to see progress. But once the walls start to go up, every day brings dramatic changes.

We seem to have reached the "wall building" stage now, regarding OGC standards in the geosciences. It was just 2 years ago, after 16 years of work within OGC on the core standards for mapping and sensor observations, that we first talked with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) about letting us help shape their future standards. At the ‘First workshop on use of GIS/OGC standards in meteorology' OGC and WMO both realized that many members of the meteorology community were using OGC WMS, WCS, and WFS standards in interesting ways, but different than we expected, and not all the same, handling some concepts that were new for us, such as forecast time and mapping of weather variables like temperature and pressure. The workshop, organized by the UK Met Office, the European Centre for Mid to Long Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), and Météo France, was a first attempt to determine best practices for using and extending OGC standards in European meteorology.

Similarly in the hydrology field, the US-based Consortium for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI) had been working for 8 years to evolve a service-oriented architecture for cataloguing time-series observations from the millions of stream gauges in the US maintained by USGS, EPA, NOAA's National Weather Service, and various state agencies. As this system was coming online and being adopted within USGS and NWS, CUAHSI realized that OGC could help ensure global application of the architecture. They started working with us to adapt their initial customized SOA to OGC standards, which turned out to be a good fit. But they realized the need to draw in more hydrology domain scientists, so CUAHSI sent OGC to the WMO Commission for Hydrology (CHy) meeting in Geneva, just a couple weeks before the first meteorology workshop, to see what we could develop.

From the serendipity of these two meetings being co-located with meetings of the WMO's key domains grew a commitment between OGC and WMO, formalized a year later, to support each other's standards program through designated experts chairing the relevant working groups in both organizations. This goes beyond meteorology and hydrology to include climate, oceanography, and atmospheric science commissions within WMO. This ensures that WMO retains intellectual control of the domain sciences of concern to them within OGC, while taking advantage of OGC's strengths in convening interdisciplinary collaborative meetings four times a year, around the world.

Steven Ramage and I recently attended the ‘Third workshop on use of GIS/OGC standards in meteorology' hosted by the UK Met Office at their facilities in Exeter, co-sponsored again by ECMWF and Météo France. The meeting was attended by experts representing national agencies in weather, climate, aviation, and defence from Europe and now North America. This year, OGC members on the European INSPIRE Thematic Working Group on Atmospheric Conditions and Meteorological Geographic Features are planning to implement the INSPIRE requirements for a limited part of the complete information model, through an OGC Interoperability Experiment.   

Still another thread of geosciences outreach for OGC is our participation in the annual conferences of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco each fall, and the European Geophysical Union (EGU) in Vienna each spring. We have chaired sessions at these conferences since 2008 within a newly created domain section of both called Earth and Space Science Informatics (ESSI). At the AGU meeting just held, we saw that OGC standards and practices are being included in the core architectures of important new NSF-funded observation networks and archives, such as DataONE.org and IEDAData.org. We also see new areas we need to work with, such as provenance automation and integrated modeling frameworks. As an indication of growing recognition of the role we can play in fostering interdisciplinary collaborations of domain scientists and cyber-infrastructure developers, we have been asked to be a sponsor at ESSI's future meetings and to contribute to its publications. The future for geosciences in the OGC is bright!

On behalf of everyone on the OGC staff, I thank you for your support in 2010 and wish you all a very happy and successful 2011!

--David Arctur
Director, Interoperability Programs

The OGC Helps Research Communities Achieve Interoperability Goals

posted Jul 17, 2012, 1:59 AM by David Arctur   [ updated Jul 17, 2012, 2:15 AM ]

Posted in OGC News, March 2009, as This Month's Staff Message -- It's a bit dated now, but reflects some of the history of geosciences' growing influence in OGC...  

Today's global need to mitigate and prepare for climate change adds urgency to the longstanding need for hydrologists, oceanographers, meteorologists and climatologists to share information. The physical interconnectedness of large-scale natural phenomena—such as the water cycle and weather—demands that scientists be able to easily share data and processing resources.

Researchers in many of the sciences that use geoprocessing are using OGC standards, but the current versions of these standards are not always adequate in terms of handling the complex data types required. Meteorologists, for example, want to extend OGC's Web Mapping Service and Web Coverage Service interface standards to better support meteorologists' weather analysis and forecasting software and data products.

To support such domain-specific needs, OGC members who have had success in harmonizing OGC standards with netCDF (a key standard for scientific data arrays such as those used by the meteorology community) and WaterML (an XML schema serving the hydrology community) will be launching a Meteorology Working Group (WG) and a Hydrology WG at the OGC's Athens meetings in April. The OGC already has the Earth Systems Sciences WG serving as the nexus for coordinating and integrating requirements, specifications and best practices across various existing Working Groups.

OGC is also establishing a relationship with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO (originally the International Meteorological Organization, founded in 1873) was chartered in 1951 as a specialized agency of the United Nations to serve the world community's need to share weather information to support global weather forecasting. The WMO has departments and commissions devoted to meteorology, hydrology, and oceans, and thus it has a natural interest in working to help these communities share information. The WMO has a membership of 188 Member States and Territories. Both the WMO and the OGC are closely associated with ISO, so once the two organizations have member approval of standards, those standards will very likely gain ISO approval.

The new WGs and the relationship with WMO are closely tied to past, present, and future initiatives in the OGC Interoperability Program (IP). The IP provides organizational structure and processes to conduct rapid development projects such as the ongoing Oceans IE (Ocean Science Interoperability Experiment http://www.opengeospatial.org/projects/initiatives/oceansieii), and the GALEON IE (Geo-interface for Atmosphere, Land, Earth, and Ocean netCDF Interoperability Experiment, see http://www.opengeospatial.org/projects/initiatives/galeonie). Possible initiatives under discussion include another Interoperability Experiment to adapt the WMS specification to better support weather analysis and forecasting products and a Europe-wide OGC Pilot Study to develop a service-oriented architecture for collecting and aggregating water quality information across 39 EU member states.

At the direction of the Group on Earth Observation (GEO) Architecture and Data Committee (ADC), George Percivall, OGC Chief Architect, leads the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS, see http://www.earthobservations.org) Architecture Implementation Pilot (AIP), now in its second year. The upcoming third phase of the AIP is likely to have a strong focus on water availability and quality.

OGC members use the OGC consensus framework to develop and promote standards and best practices that are domain and content neutral as well as extensions to existing standards and best practices that are tailored for very specific domains, such as hydrology. The work being done in the OGC by the water, oceans, or meteorological communities is immediately accessible to all OGC members and often to non-members. By providing an environment in which parallel standards activities proceed under one roof, the OGC helps interacting communities develop efficient means of technical coordination and many opportunities to share costs and reduce the cost of software development and acquisition. I can think of no public/private partnership that offers Science a better bargain.

-- David Arctur
Director, Interoperability Programs



Maiku (my haiku)

posted Jul 17, 2012, 1:38 AM by David Arctur   [ updated Jul 17, 2012, 1:40 AM ]

I like remembering these from time to time. I wrote them between 2004-2007...
dew on twisted burl    
glistening in sun's harsh rays    
keeps returning here    
moth into a flame    
ecstasy, divine quick death    
what was the choice    
spider weaves each night    
joining grass, flower, tree branch    
wandering nowhere    
drumbeat floats gently    
across trees, rivers and hills    
never enough time    
Sun hides behind leaves    
Water glistens like laughter    
Does everything play?    

Helping the academic/research community to have more influence in OGC standards

posted Jul 2, 2012, 3:43 PM by David Arctur   [ updated Jul 4, 2012, 8:08 AM ]

Posted on OGC website, 2 July 2012, 18:41 EDT    (updated 4 July 2012)    

Effective the first of July 2012, my work with OGC will focus mainly on geosciences outreach, with my new title as Research/Academic Advocate. I requested this change to allow me to transition into the academic / research community to sharpen my focus on the cultural and institutional issues that relate to the acceptance of geospatial standards and interoperability in academia. I’ve really been doing this since I became involved with OGC, but until recently this has been in addition to my “day job” leading OGC Web Services (OWS) test bed initiatives OWS-6, OWS-7, and OWS-8

As I leave my full-time employment with OGC I have accepted an appointment as Research Fellow in the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, primarily to work with and strengthen UT’s interdisciplinary Center for Integrated Earth System Science (CIESS).   Starting in January 2013, I'll also be an Adjunct Lecturer in GIS at UT's School of Information. I’m grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve found at UT Austin and among scientists around the world, to continue working to improve the influence of geosciences research in OGC standards development, and vice-versa.

As I transition from OGC to UT, I will be in a position to share the values, methods and benefits of OGC's technology standards and process in support of academic and research programs across the university community, and not just in geosciences. It has long been my personal goal to gain greater acceptance for technology standards development as an authentic component of the scientific process, and to demonstrate the relevance of organized communities of interest such as OGC to the basic measurement and modeling constructs on which advanced research is increasingly based. I also think that we at OGC have not yet learned as much as we can from academia. As an OGC Research Advocate working in an academic environment I see a unique opportunity to advance not only my personal intellectual goals, but the collaborative interdisciplinary objectives of both the consortium and university as well.  

I will continue to participate in interdisciplinary programs such as GEOSS Standards and Interoperability Forum (SIF), NSF EarthCube, and helping organize sessions for AGU and EGU conferences. I also look forward to becoming active again in more OGC working groups. My strongest interests are in:

  • spatially enabling the semantic web (or semantically enabling the spatial web, take your pick);
  • helping drive better coupling and knowledge transfer among hydrologic, atmospheric and other sciences;
  • finding ways to improve the usability of climate model outputs among GIS users; and
  • finding the best practices and patterns for curation and long-term preservation of data.

I am organizing a seminar/webinar outreach series on data/model/knowledge integration and interoperability at UT Austin. If you have a topic of interest to stimulate other students and faculty, please let me know. I want to crack the technology barrier to make these seminars work with the world’s best talent and the least physical travel.  I’d love to see how we collectively can expand this outreach beyond our institutional boundaries through increasing collaboration with other key research and academic organizations. 

My thanks go to OGC for supporting my career aspirations with this appointment.  I look forward to shaping this new advocacy role to make the best use of my years of experience at OGC advancing understanding of the relevance of the standards process to academic research, as well as forging novel and well-resourced academic partnerships for the consortium as it continues to address society's most complex scientific and policy development challenges.

And my sincere gratitude goes to the uncountable number of you folks I’ve had the luck and pleasure to meet so far, who have made this work more rewarding and fun than I’ve had any right to expect. 

David K. Arctur, Ph.D.

Research Fellow, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin
david.arctur <at> utexas.edu  |  http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/ciess/

Research/Academic Advocate, Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)
darctur <at> opengeospatial.org  |  http://www.opengeospatial.org

Status of the OGC's Water Resource Activities

posted Jul 2, 2012, 2:28 PM by David Arctur   [ updated Jul 2, 2012, 4:28 PM ]

Posted on OGC's website, 19 January 2012, 16:39 EST    

There are several projects underway or already committed in the OGC related to water resources information systems, and because of the widespread and international nature of these activities it seems like a good time for a general update.

- The OGC WaterML 2.0 Standards Working Group (SWG) has just posted their final draft of WaterML 2.0 candidate standard for 30-day public comment period, prior to formal adoption. WaterML 2.0 is basically a profile of the OGC Observations & Measurements Encoding Standard. In parallel, it is being prepared for review and co-adoption by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Hydrology Commission (CHy).  WMO experts have played key roles in the OGC WaterML 2.0 development and co-chair the OGC Hydrology Domain Working Group (DWG). Other participants are hydrologists & IT folks from several different national meteorological agencies and from commercial hydrology and GIS vendors and consultants. This participant diversity exists in all the Interoperability Program initiatives. [Note: WaterML 2 was adopted as an OGC Standard at the TC meeting in Exeter UK, 21-June-2012]

- The OGC Hydrology Domain Working Group (DWG) is conducting a Surface Water Interoperability Experiment (SWIE) to work through semantics & institutional barriers for exchanging water information across agencies and national borders (US-Canada at the Great Lakes), using OGC web services and the candidate WaterML 2.0 standard for encoding. Hydrologists and IT professionals from Europe and Australia are also involved in the development, and plan to implement or adapt the results in their countries when practical.

- The OGC Hydrology DWG is also conducting a Ground Water Interoperability Experiment, now starting a second spiral (GWIE2), in which similar semantics & institutional issues are addressed as just mentioned, but using GroundwaterML from GeoConnections - Natural Resources Canada with different workflows and a different locale.

(These IEs have contributed greatly to the maturity of OGC Sensor Observation Service (SOS) 2.0, which was open for editing and is now also nearing adoption.)

- The OGC Hydrologic Forecasting IE (ForecastIE) got underway at the OGC Technical Committee meeting in Boulder, Colorado, USA, June 2012. The main driver is to decide on best practices for handling and portraying multiple time dimensions in WaterML 2.0 and in OGC Web services. This is partly a WaterML schema issue, and could also result in change requests to OGC WMS, WFS, SOS, etc.  The meteorology community has similar needs for hosting forecast data with OGC Web services, so the OGC/WMO Met-Oceans WG will be watching this closely. This WG has co-chairs and other members who are experts within WMO CBS (Commission for Basic Services, i.e., operational meteorology)and national meteorological offices in several countries. 

- The OGC Hydro-climatology Information Sharing Pilot (HISP) is just now being organized, with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Geological Survey (USGS), GeoConnections - Natural Resources Canada / Environment Canada, and some other sponsoring agencies to be confirmed. This represents a migration from the current CUAHSI-based WaterML 1.0 system (huge central catalogue handling all queries and semantics mediation) to OGC WaterML 2.0 system with a scalable network of networks concept for federating the millions of time series datasets and associated metadata catalogues.  [Note: Lew Leinenweber will be the program manager leading this initiative]

- The GEOSS Architecture Implementation Pilot is starting its 5th iteration (AIP-5). This will have a water resources thread driven by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to help further institutionalize WaterML 2.0. It's in its early stages, just now getting the Request for Proposal (RFP) together for release in the next few weeks. George Percivall and Nadine Alameh from the OGC are leading this initiative.

(See the OGC Interoperability Program page for an explanation of the differences between OGC testbeds, pilots and interoperability experiments.)

- US National Science Foundation (NSF) EarthCube - Water resources informatics in a network of networks will be an essential theme of EarthCube, an NSF initiative "to greatly increase the productivity and capability of researchers and educators working at the frontiers of Earth system science." Scientists from dozens of research centers are preparing proposals this month for NSF. These submissions are for several short-term funding awards to form the organizational framework for federating data across all geosciences communities - really trying to break down the barriers to sharing data between research centers. There won't be funding from NSF to support international participation, but we already know of groups in Europe and Australia who want to coordinate with this using their own national funding. I'm also leading OGC's participation in this.

- Eye on Earth: Eye on Water Security (Special Initiative) – As per the recent OGC Blog posting by my colleague Steven Ramage, this was proposed for development by a global team of national agencies and commercial partners at the Eye on Earth Summit and Exhibition last month in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  The emphasis of the conference was on finding ways to coordinate the many environmental data networks in current use among UN agencies, GEOSS contributors, and national governments, in preparation for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.

Big Data vs SDI? It's not an either/or.

posted Jul 2, 2012, 2:25 PM by David Arctur   [ updated Jul 2, 2012, 4:40 PM ]

Posted on OGC website, 20 October 2011, 16:00 EST    
http://www.opengeospatial.org/blog/1492  (some insightful comments are also on the OGC blog page, not copied here)

There's a debate in the geo blogosphere about "Big Data" versus spatial data infrastructure (SDI), that is, deriving information from searches of unstructured data versus deriving information from structured data. 
Thierry G's blog post last week, "From Lego to Play-Doh: I plead guilty at the altar of Big Data" provides a fine and amusing summary of the argument for big data. The opposing argument is one that spatial data coordinators, data managers and standards organizations have been making for twenty years -- we should all be working with others to develop and use data standards, metadata standards, encoding standards and geospatial software interface standards, including catalog interfaces. 
One reason the debate is important is that geospatial semantics is emerging as an important part of the Semantic Web, and the Semantic Web, along with linked data, is going to make search engines even more powerful and useful. 
Anyone interested in this debate would have been torn apart trying to decide which sessions to attend at the recent OGC Technical Committee meeting in Boulder. There were discussions about architectures that use both OGC Web Services and linked data; discussions about where data sharing communities should draw the line between sufficiently and insufficiently harmonized ontologies; and discussions about GeoJSON, REST, GeoSPARQL, and whether to develop a specification for writing RESTful specifications. Big data vs. structured data figured in discussions about augmented reality, urban modeling, sensor discovery, and crowdsourcing.
As Carl Reed, the OGC's CTO, says, "It's not an either-or. There are requirements for both, whether they're used independently or in blended approaches. Scientists, researchers, military analysts and others will continue needing to assess the resolution, provenance, accuracy, and other measures of spatial/temporal data quality and fitness for use. At the same time, they, along with many others (business intelligence, GEOINT, social networking, etc.), are grateful for the gooey Big Data tar ball and innovative tools to make inferences and discover trends."

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