Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A map of the world

We prepare maps frequently for our client's planning efforts. For some, the maps are associated with traditional media planning. For others, maps show opportunity clusters of customers prospects and the hybrid also known as "distribution".

We love maps...especially when we are trying to figure out where we are headed. The problem with maps is getting the data to make them. You know data is out there, you just don't know where to get it. Or if you do, you sometimes have to pay upfront for the prospect that it may be of high quality and use. What's one to do?

Well, here's an answer: GeoCommons

Their tag is 'Actionable maps in five minutes'.

Their offering consists of two components: The Finder!, which scans the global web for accessible data sources and then allows you to search for the datasets.

And The Maker! which allows you to create maps from the data you have found.

The Finder! search function is not nearly as nuanced as a Google search in its results, so the more specific your input, the less wading one will do.

The Maker!, unfortunately, is coming soon.

In the meantime, you can download datasets from the Finder! in file formats like Excel or in .KML format, which can be imported directly into Google Earth, or other mapping software.

Here's a screen grab of an FCC dataset on High Speed Lines by State, 2002-07 that I imported into Google Earth using the uber-complicated drag-and-drop method (for the record it took me 7 minutes and 15 seconds, to find, download and create this, but that's because I'm an ID10T):
(click to enlarge)

What my shiny new point-and-click interface shows me is that Wyoming actually has a higher broadband penetration among businesses than residential locations...a whopping 50.8% of businesses are connected at hyper-speeds. Now if I could just find a dataset on wi-fi hotspots, I might be able to publish a point-and-click Google Earth wi-fi locator density map!

In the end, GeoCommons has the potential to remove the inefficiencies in finding and employing data in novel ways. In the short term, it may also challenge proprietary mapping software like MapPoint. What's unclear is whether access to publically available data--with tools to put it to use in 5 minutes-- will encourage or discourage the sharing of that data.

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