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Mapping the Future of Open Source Data

FortiusOne plans to open a public data repository and social network for data sharing to encourage the creation of dynamic online map mashups that combine multiple data sets.

In 2003, Sean Gorman, a George Mason University graduate student, used public data to create a map of the U.S. fiber optic network and the businesses it connected as part of his Ph.D. dissertation. Impressive--except to those like former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who told The Washington Post the dissertation should be burned to keep it from terrorists.

Gorman's still trying to set public data free, but his latest effort has a profit motive--and is a bit less incendiary. By year's end, Gorman's startup company, FortiusOne, plans to open a public data repository and social network for data sharing to encourage online map mashups that combine multiple data sets.

GeoIQ illuminates how U.S. commodity flows overlap with hurricane paths.

GeoIQ illuminates how U.S. commodity flows overlap with hurricane paths
FortiusOne recently released an online tool called GeoIQ that allows geographic data visualization in online mapping applications such as Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth. Using the company's open API, Web-based mapmakers can combine multiple data sets and represent data concentrations like a heat map, instead of pushpin-type data point clusters.

But Gorman wants people to have more data to work with. "The thing that always frustrated me was the ability to look at only one data set at a time," he says.

Data sharing may be the next logical step in the movement toward open systems. But security concerns over what gets posted will continue. Gorman says FortiusOne won't post data the government considers sensitive.

The FortiusOne data repository could be an odd hodgepodge to start: U.S. census data and earthquake, landslide, and volcanic activity records, alongside the locations of bars and the addresses of spammers (based on work Gorman did for Spamhaus.org). Most of the data is available elsewhere, but having it aggregated and supported by a social network of data-sharing aficionados should make it much more useful, valuable, and perhaps controversial. Gorman says his company is cleaning up the data sets and annotating them in a community wiki.

As for Gorman's dissertation, it survived the flames. It resides safely in the university library.

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