GeoNode Motivation, Design, and Challenges

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A presentation of the underlying motivations and institutional context behind GeoNode, some of its major design decisions, and unresolved challenges for its sustainability. …

A presentation of the underlying motivations and institutional context behind GeoNode, some of its major design decisions, and unresolved challenges for its sustainability.

I gave this talk at UC Berkeley School of Information's research seminar on Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD).

Much of the material comes from an older presentation I wrote with Rolando Peñate.

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  • I’d like to talk a bit about SDI's. Specifically what I think is the last step in building the dream of INSPIRE. If we're to look at this one definition of SDI INSPIRE has already done most every thing needed - it's written in to law, there are standards, everyone's agreed and it's moving forward. But I have a worry:
  • Traditional SDI : Metadata catalog, sometimes provides access to data, rarely incorporates users. GeoNode : Data first, then users, then metadata is derived where possible. The focus on data means we strive to make it easy to upload data and have it all served up automatically in all available formats.  It's easy to access with a URL to a page with the data and the metadata. It's the actual data so you can see it's rough distribution, and you can easily make a map of it, combining with other data.  It has links to the services, but also direct links to formats people may want from the services.  I always wonder how I am supposed to give someone a link to a layer in a WMS.  Is it the capabilities document?  A top level tile?  Or a catalog response in ISO19115 that gives me the service links?   Then we bring in users.  Every data set is associated with a user, and that user's profile information populates the ISO metadata fields, so you don't have to fill it out every time. From users and data we get to metadata.  We use GeoNetwork as the CS-W engine but we try to populate as much as possible from the user who uploaded the data (via the user profile) and the data itself (by extracting bounding box, etc). Finally we make 'maps' a top level concept that people can share and use, so you can more easily explore data, and from there also derive more metadata (eg, if 5 maps that all use the same layer have a tag 'fire' then perhaps that layer is about fire).  Another thing GeoNode does is always coordinate the right links between the capabilities documents of the CSW and WMS/WFS/WCS, so each refers to the other, and also contains the same abstract, keywords, etc.
  • In many ways, GeoNode is the product of several very abstract ideas voiced by Stuart Gill of the World Bank and Chris Holmes of OpenGeo.   Top-down == mandating policy. 
  • The Bank has an interest in promoting IT infrastructure in the regions where it works to promote development   Can pay for proprietary software in an initiative, but that sticks countries with costs after the Bank leaves
  • was started to encourage bottom-up data sharing while limiting costly proprietary GIS installations to only those agencies that really needed them.
  • Global Earthquake Model
  • Harvard WorldMap
  • Emphasis on public participation—architectures of participation, yay!
  • Whereas we had approximated open source community-based developed as a team internal to opengeo, we used the opportunity to transition to an official, public community model.  -- though one that is still over-represented by OpenGeo and World Bank developers thus far.
  • RP: Notes for this?
  • RP: Notes for this?
  • Trevor as an example of turnover at AIFDR. He has largely spearheaded the idea of propagating GeoNodes across government agencies  in Indonesia but his term is almost up.


  • 1. GeoNode Motivations, Design, and Challenges Sebastian Benthall UC Berkeley School of Information ICTD Seminar (Based on a presentation written with Rolando Peñate OpenGeo)
  • 2. What is...
  • 3. Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI)
  • 4. Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI)“[Spatial Data Infrastructure] provides a basis for spatialdata discovery, evaluation, and application for users andproviders within all levels of government, the commercialsector, the non-profit sector, academia and by citizens in general.” – SDI Cookbook
  • 5. The theory of SDI developed before we learned what waspossible with the Internet
  • 6. Imagine......what an ideal SDI would be like
  • 7. Imagine... SDI that makesuploading, sharing, and working with data as easy as blogging
  • 8. Publishing dataAnthony has some spatial data and wants to display it as part of a blog post.
  • 9. Publishing dataAnthony uploads it to a public SDI, styles it,provides a background, and then puts a map widget on his blog.
  • 10. Publishing dataMeanwhile, the data, style, and map remain available on the public SDI for others to use.
  • 11. Metadata and reputation The World Organization tells Cameron, theirconsultant, to put data she has gathered on their SDI.
  • 12. Metadata and reputationOther users notice mistakes in the metadata. They notify Cameron and give it a low rating.
  • 13. Metadata and reputationCameron fixes the mistakes, and the other users rate the data more highly. Her reputation on the SDI improves.
  • 14. Federated searchA regional Health agency and a regional Transit agency have separate SDI systems.
  • 15. Federated searchTom, a GIS analyst doing research, seeks outcorrelations between health and bicycle routes
  • 16. Federated searchTom searches for data in a single federated index and downloads the data as a batch.
  • 17. What is GeoNode? GeoNode is a spatial data infrastructure It focuses on data, then users, then metadata.Data upload, sharing, cartography, user profiles, dynamic metadata generation, and more.
  • 18. What is GeoNode?GeoNode builds on open source geospatial projects like GeoExt, OpenLayers, GeoWebCache GeoServer, GeoNetwork, and PostGIS with application functionality built on Django.
  • 19. GeoNode Vision ⇒GeoNode Involvement ⇒GeoNode Community
  • 20. GeoNode Vision ⇒GeoNode Involvement ⇒GeoNode CommunityHow did this happen?
  • 21. Can the lessons learned can help other ICTD projects? A case study GeoNodesheds light on international disaster reduction efforts.
  • 22. Disaster Risk Modeling 101 Risk• Used for (busted stuff) determining = development Hazard investments (boom)• Once were a mess x• Now standardizing: Exposure (stuff) x Vulnerability (bust per boom)
  • 23. GeoNode HistoryThe World Bank had a problem:Disaster risk modeling requires lots of dataCentral American Probabilistic Risk Assessment (CAPRA) initiativeneeded participating agencies across various governments to sharedataTop-down approaches didnt workNeeded to work bottom-up
  • 24. GeoNode HistoryThe World Bank had a problem:Costly proprietary GIS solutions are a burden to developing nationsThe Bank wanted to build local capacity around financiallysustainable softwareSmart folks within the Bank turned to open source geospatialsoftware
  • 25. GeoNode VisionOpenGeo had an idea for a solution:The Bank provided the perfect use case for OpenGeos vision for opensource architectures of participation in geospatialProviding freely available web-based tools could be a great way tocollect and share data.GeoNode was born.
  • 26. GeoNode InvolvementTraditional SDIs have typically been designed by experts withabstract needs in mind—hence a focus on metadata.GeoNode is being designed in response to the needs andconcerns of institutional partners as they implement real-worldprojects—hence a focus on data and users.
  • 27. Metadata PainGood metadata for geospatial data is important but hard to produce.
  • 28.  GeoNode has user profiles and features themprominently Those profiles have ISO metadata fields withinthem
  • 29. Metadata Made Easy
  • 30. Metadata PublishedMetadata is published with open standard CSW using GeoNetwork
  • 31. Open Data SkepticismIsnt GeoNode an open data platform?Doesnt open data raise concerns about data quality and data security?
  • 32. Open Data OptimismYes, GeoNode is designed to promote open data.
  • 33. Open Data Optimism Features like User reputation Organizational endorsement Flexible securityaddress data quality concerns
  • 34. Open Data Optimism GeoNode supports the continuum of openness with a common platformfor institutional GIS and neogeography
  • 35. GeoNode InvolvementGeoNode seeks to unify data management acrossorganizations.Thus many different organizations have reason to get involved.The opportunity and challenge is effective collaboration.
  • 36. GeoNode InvolvementAs more organizations got involved, development had todecentralize.Not just a single team within OpenGeo, but a larger community
  • 37. How do we continue growth whenvision and development are decentralized?
  • 38. How do we continue growth whenvision and development are decentralized?
  • 39. Thats whatopen source communities are for.
  • 40. But how do we get institutions to get their employees to participate in the open community? Need to align broader visions, including...
  • 41. Disaster Reduction• Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction• Geoscience Australia• Global Earthquake Model• Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction• Secretariat of the Pacific are mapping infrastructure in developing nations, performing disaster modelling, etc. using GeoNode.
  • 42. AcademicMapStor Foundation and Harvards WorldMap seek to collect and share data across disciplines and institutions using GeoNode.
  • 43. Spatial MarketplacesThe Australia–New Zealand Spatial Marketplace seeks to increase data availability in the South Pacific by creating an online marketplace built on GeoNode and open to all.
  • 44. Community The World Banks vision was thecollaboration of many institutions and governments around common goals of data management
  • 45. Community As a result, many organizations are involvedin building and extending GeoNode
  • 46. CommunityHow can we keep these efforts coherent, not divergent?Efficient, not redundant?
  • 47. CommunityGeoNodes development requires many visions to be aligned.
  • 48. OpenGeo• Benefits from contributions back to core software• Has led effort to coordinate between institutions o easier management and development o stronger open source communities
  • 49. Our task has been toscale up open source development practices to large institutions
  • 50. Roadmapping Summit May 2011• Explicit transition to open source community model o Established a proper Project Steering Committee o Passed policies for contributions and code review• Official decentralization from OpenGeos core team• Identified common development goals
  • 51. How to discover common development goals?
  • 52. We collectedindividual organizations roadmaps
  • 53. We standardizedindividual organizations roadmaps
  • 54. Participants shared their visions with each other, explored the roadmap, and contributed new items that were missing.
  • 55. We identifieda common roadmap
  • 56. Then we collectively prioritizedthose roadmap items.
  • 57. Which do we build first?
  • 58. Outcomes• "Rock Solid" 1.1• People entered the summit to big ideas to impress their bosses• People left having committed resources to docs, bug fixes, and other work necessary to keep the project running.
  • 59. Outcomes• Framework for future improvements• We have principled roadmap for the software with real institutional backing• We know who to call when we have the resources
  • 60. Outcomes• Community solidarity• “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world” — St. Arnold
  • 61. Remaining challenges for OpenGeoAchieving open source best practices while being a primary contractor.
  • 62. Remaining challengesMaintaining consensus among large organizations despite natural tensions and turnover.
  • 63. Remaining challengesAs the process decentralizes, who is responsible for the hard work of this coordination?
  • 64. Remaining (technical) challenges Can the GeoNode community develop technology that works in regions with low connectivity?
  • 65. Remaining (technical) challenges Is the dream of a secure federated data network (both spatial and social) realistic?This ties into questions of federated social networking.
  • 66. Remaining (research) challenges This perspective on GeoNode is fromoffices in New York City and Washington, DC What does it look like in the countries where it is being deployed
  • 67. Remaining (research) challenges Is the open source model living up to its development goals?
  • 68. Thank you.Any questions?