MapBox: Open Data Should be Open, Free and Accessible

    by Chris Herwig
    December 20, 2012

    Earlier this month MapBox launched [MapBox Satellite](http://mapbox.com/blog/mapbox-satellite/) — an aerial imagery basemap of the world created [entirely from public domain open data](http://mapbox.com/blog/open-aerial). Here are a few examples of the maps we made with this public imagery.

    ![Brawley, California | MapBox Satellite](http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8223/8283791795_45f3faa43b.jpg)
    Brawley, California | MapBox Satellite

    ![Lago Ohiggins, Chile | MapBox Satellite](http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8361/8283791673_6866663fbf.jpg)
    Lago O’Higgins, Chile | MapBox Satellite

    ![South Korea | MapBox Satellite](http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8200/8283791541_d9b2255865.jpg)
    South Korea | MapBox Satellite

    I spent the past four months acquiring dozens of terabytes of high-resolution imagery for the continental United States from each state’s GIS agency, the [USDA Farm Service Agency](http://fsa.usda.gov), and the [U.S. Geological Survey](http://usgs.gov) to clean, process and render the images into an aerial map of the United States. Eventually, our aerial map will cover the entire world.

    The government — at the local, state and federal levels — provides some amazing sets of public data. Unfortunately, many public data sets are difficult to access and download, especially for bulk users like myself, because of the data portal sites. Two exceptional examples of great AND accessible data are the [Arkansas GeoStor](http://www.geostor.arkansas.gov/G6/Home.html?q=ftp) and the [Utah Automated Geographic Reference Center](http://agrc.utah.gov/), both of which allow users to access raw data through maps — better for casual users — and FTP directories, which are better for bulk data users.

    1. Making open data more open
      Open data is not truly “open” if it is inaccessible. Open data projects should include bulk data access and retrieval options that are as free and open as the open data itself, along with access options for more casual and programmatic users like data interfaces and APIs. We should be discussing best practices for making open data more open and accessible in our conversations about open government data. I recently [blogged](http://mapbox.com/blog/trouble-with-geoportals/) my takeaways from accessing bulk aerial data for MapBox Satellite, highlighting some of the successes and failures in providing geodata I saw at the state and local levels, and providing some recommendations to make this process easier and more accessible.

    It’s time we move beyond just talking about the merits of open data, and start talking about the reality of how data needs to be made accessible to make it a truly open and public resource.

    You can read my full article “The Trouble with Geoportals: Why open data should be free, open, and accessible” on the [MapBox blog](http://mapbox.com/blog/trouble-with-geoportals/). Also, read [Open Aerial: The Data Behind MapBox Satellite](http://mapbox.com/blog/open-aerial/) for more information on the public data powering MapBox Satellite.

    Chris Herwig is a data analyst at MapBox, where he uses open-source tools to wrangle and visualize complex data in innovative ways. His tools of choice include R, TileMill, GDAL, and PostGIS. Chris is passionate about open data, civic engagement, and governmental accountability. In his spare time, Chris engages the larger open data community through Occupy Data and other data-centric civic organizations and hackathons.

    Tagged: best practices government data imagery mapping open data open government public good satellite tilemill

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