A few weeks ago, the St. Louis Geospatial Developer meetup, GeoSTL, held a virtual roundtable around open source geospatial tooling. This post recaps the main takeaways from that discussion.
If you’re not familiar with GeoSTL, which is sponsored by 1904labs, its goal is to further specialized geospatial skills among software and data engineers. St. Louis is growing as a major geospatial hub, and new developments like NGA will require a lot more talent in the region. GeoSTL hosts sessions every other month to promote and learn open source geospatial technologies – and get more people engaged in the community.
What do we mean by open source geospatial software?
Before we can get into the real takeaways of the discussion, it’s important that we ensure all have an understanding of what constitutes “open source geospatial software.” To put it simply, we’re talking about any software package or library that aids in geospatial data storage, discoverability, analysis, or display and which is completely free and open to be leveraged by the community without associated fees or costly licensing.
Basically, any software that can be used for geospatial operations where you have access to the source code and can use it for free.
Why leverage open source geospatial software solutions?
Open source geospatial software has a number of advantages over proprietary options. Here are the primary points that were raised in our discussion:
With open source software, and not just those used for geospatial work, there are no dreaded “black boxes.” Nothing sneaky behind the scenes that you don’t have access to. No vendor to parley with in an attempt to get a new feature, a code fix, or an infrastructure change. It’s all out in the open.
Time is money, and that’s not just an old, overused saying. Hand-in-hand with the faster development that can be realized by access to source code, you can save a ton of time, and in doing so, save a ton of money. Additional cost savings can be realized since you are also in complete control of all the deployed cloud resources that run the software. If you don’t need a constantly running monster of a server, you are perfectly free (software requirements dependent) to scale down to something more affordable. Or if a solution doesn’t seem to fit your needs well enough, try another! The open source geospatial software ecosystem is constantly expanding. Since you aren’t locked into a proprietary solution, you can swap out bits and pieces as you see fit!
What this all boils down to ultimately is freedom. Freedom to control your own geospatial technology ecosystem in every aspect, and also the freedom (and incentive) to innovate! Find a new and exciting way to implement or extend the functionality of existing software, then contribute it back to the original library or publish it as a new resource for the geospatial community!
What are some of the more popular solutions out there?
During the roundtable we discussed (or at least mentioned) a whole bunch of different software packages and libraries. Here’s a rundown with links to additional info (in no particular order):
- Kepler GL
- Moving Pandas
- PG Tile Serve
- PG Feature Serve
Where do we go from here?
If you want to watch the GeoSTL Open Source Geospatial Virtual Roundtable for yourself, the recording of the session can be found here: YouTube: GeoSTL: Open Source Geospatial Virtual Roundtable