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The GISList (popular email discussion list hosted by GeoComm) has been buzzing with threads concerning the decision to make USGS DEMs available via The GISDataDepot. The following is a message sent from GeoComm Managing Editor, Glenn Letham to the list

Greetings all,
(sorry for the delay... I actually composed an even longer
email yesterday afternoon, only to have my computer GPF me
and shut down prematurely before I hit the send button!)

As you likely know, I've been away for about 10 days - hence
my noticeable absence in this very interesting (albeit
getting rather sidetracked) discussion. When I went away I
decided to do minimal office duties and my relationship with
my wife and family has definitely benefited from this!
Anyway, I did manage to check the email while I was away and
I must say I was getting pretty ansy and eager to jump in,
particularly when threads with subject lines that read "DEM
Ransom" start popping up.

So now I am left to sift through about 2500 emails (tons
with those blasted .PIF files attached to them $##$), hoping
that I don't accidentally miss something urgent or
interesting... if I have, please excuse me and resend or
contact me.

So here I am back at GeoComm in our new office and find that
we have loads of new data being served up at the The data has been housed here for all of
two weeks and it looks like the feathers have been ruffled
pretty good already... Bill, we have a vacant congress seat
down here in Florida and I couldn't help but think of you as
you seem to be very eager to lobby people to jump on your
band wagon and wave "we want data" banners up on Capitol
Hill... [I couldn't help myself!]

I'm not going to use this opportunity to attempt to discuss
public policy or GeoComm's perception of it. This matter is
best left to the USGS and the Government. In my role as
managing editor I do like to voice my own personal opinion
and often this may differ from that of the company - I'm
fortunate enough to have enough creative licensing to do so.

DEMs... So what's all the fuss about?
The USGS want to get away from serving up DEM data. The data
are large, often changing or being corrected/updated and
more recently, been positionaly corrected. GeoComm has
worked closely with the USGS over the last 2 years in an
effort to help make their data available to the public. All
too often we are abused and criticized because we have "the
nerve" to put ads on our site and to charge people for a CD
write service (which is priced lower than anywhere else
around). On top of that, we systematically respond to an
endless stream of phone calls and email from people wanting
to know how to translate SDTS data, what to do with a DDF
file, and even explain what an E00 file is. Sure we may take
a while to respond to some questions, however, if you had
any idea how many requests for help come in here you would
fall off your chair. Over the years we have developed
discussion lists, boards, FAQs, tutorials, etc... to attempt
to resolve commonly asked questions yet still the calls keep
coming in.... "how do I translate an E00 file to something I
can use" ... "where can I get colarless data" etc... We are
always available and openly publicize our phone number and
email contacts - something you won't find at many sites. So
why am I ranting?

The USGS has recently corrected the DEM data. I imagine that
since the data was needing to be updated that this was a
logical time to make the data available via a new
mechanism... makes sense doesn't it? Of course it does. Do
you think the USGS is going to simply hand over their entire
collection to anyone who asks for it and then give their
stamp of approval and start linking to the new site? Of
course not. Establishing a strusted and respected
relationship with an agency such as the USGS takes time...
something we have been doing for at least a couple of years
now. This is a new method of distributing data and like
anything else, the bugs will have to be worked out. C'mon,
the data has been here for what, about 2 weeks now and a
vocal few people are quickly jumping up and down and
screaming "ransom" "revolt" "conflict" "favortism"... yada
yada yada. Lets get things worked out. We are already adding
more bandwith in order to serve up the data for free... I
know, but we make $$ off banner ads..., sure we do - perhaps
a nominal fee, however, if you know anything about running a
.com business and think your going to strike it rich serving
ads then you better wake up and smell the coffee. 

It has been already pointed out that the arrangement that
GeoComm has is not an exclusive one and that users can
expect other nodes to pop up in the future (that's up to the
USGS to decide). Don't expect hundreds of nodes (keeping
data current would be a nightmare) but I'm sure there will
be others. So why the GeoCommunity? Well, maybe its because
we provide a good service and pretty decent support. Don't
get me wrong, we're not here to be a free help line to the
GIS community - that's what the GISList, discussion boards,
and newsgroups do best - but we do offer loads of our time
helping people and offering advice or at least pointing
people in the right direction. At the GeoCommunity users can
download data, grab a translator, download a viewer, read a
tutorial, or search for other sites where these resources
can be found. 

Finally, what about all the gripes about download speeds.
Sure the downloads could be faster. One of the cornerstones
of the GeoCommunity's success is the vast amount of free
data and resources that are available. The site takes it
roots in serving free data and that's not going to change.
We have an agreement to make the DEM data available for free
download and we have done that. Data is available for free
download or "premium" access can be obtained by purchasing
space on a dedicated line. the other option is to have data
written to CD ROM and usually shipped the same or next day -
at a very nominal price that can't be matched. The main
reason that the premium pipe is available only by $$ is that
it would likely be abused if it was free (greedy data
mongers with multiple sessions grabbing the entire data
catalog would prevent needy site visitors from getting
acceptable download speeds). Argue this until your blue in
the face, I'll never change my feeling about this.

More band width might be needed and we are addressing the
issue... will it be fixed tomorrow... give your head a
shake. However, as soon as we can get the guys from Sprint
in here we will be addressing the issue. Will it be
screaming fast after that... likely not. Free data
warehouses are like highways... widen them or add another
lane and the route will simply fill up (often before
construction is complete). When data is posted for free the
average user is not content to come in and grab what he/she
needs. Most people would rather grab everything they can get
- the net effect is that concurrent sessions from tons of
users will eventually back up even the fattest pipe. I've
done it and I'm sure most of you have as well... have you
ever stumbled onto a new FTP address and fired up your
cuteFTP client to go sniff around? Of course you have!
Public agencies serving data have struggled with this
problem for years.

The moral of the story here is as follows:
- the data is still free and accessible
- the data is NOT hard to find (a search engine can be found
on every page on the GeoCommunity site. Keying in "Florida
Data" will yield a top hit that takes you directly to the
main Florida State data page at pretty
simple and only one click)
- the data is supported by numerous resources such as
tutorials, links, translators, viewers, etc..
- GeoComm staff are accessible and respond to requests for
help in a timely manner (we never state that we are
obligated to provide support, however, we attempot to help
when we can)
- data can be obtained on CD ROM quickly and cheaply 
- the arrangement is brand new and already we are working to
address issues that have come up

Lots of people are coming to the GISDataDepot for data as a
result of this arrangement. Our logs show that the interest
is not only in DEMs but a huge surge in DRG and DOQ
downloads and sales has resulted. This tells me that people
are coming here as a result of the need for DEMs but they
are taking advantage of other resources that are accessible
from the site. This arrangement is working well to make data
available to the public.

A couple of publications have addressed this topic. Check em

Adena from tenlinks had this to say: 
"I donít think that private hosting of public domain data is
necessarily a bad thing.  It does cost money to buy and
manage huge servers and provide bandwidth for downloads. 
Still, Iíd like a few choices of
where to go; competition can only improve service.  And, if
a public or non-profit organization could provide yet
another option for downloads, thatíd be nice, too."

Bill huber, Directionsmag


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