Last week I found out about a pretty cool new global Landcover dataset. The makers of it are very talented and brought a host of compute resources (>1 million core hours of Azure!) and methods (CNNs!) together to make it. Interestingly, the dataset is described as “open source” — which it decidedly isn’t: there is no code shared and without open and modifiable code you just have a free dataset. 🤦♀️ But even putting that aside, something wasn’t sitting right with me. Even if anyone can download the dataset — using it is quite another matter. And what good is a dataset if it’s not usable?
Can you imagine if the monthly jobs report came in a format that was inaccessible to anyone but labor economists? That’s the situation right now with so much of the data about the world around us.
The Landcover dataset, alongside most of the “open” (er, free) geospatial datasets available on the internet, are hosted by ESRI — a private company founded in 1969 with over 4000 employees, and yearly revenue of over $1 billion from a product that runs on Windows Desktop machines only! If you’d like to use the Landcover dataset, the default path is ESRI’s. There is a formidable open source alternative, Q, and R and Python packages also exist to support geospatial data. Each of these tools though has very steep learning curve. If you wanted to use them to get the Landcover data into an app, model, map, or pipeline you’d need at least a crash course in geography and a whole lot of software expertise. (Even opening and viewing a .tif can be a challenge — Macs don’t even have a default application to do so!)
This may sound a little bonkers. And I completely agree — it is totally wild that the best software solutions that exist right now for working with geospatial data require so much work and expertise. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Developers deserve better.
My version of better is founded on usability as a first principle. This means building a company from the ground up that is devoted to making geospatial data actually usable to the folks who are building the products and experiences that are shaping our lives: developers.
At Iggy, we’ve built a developer-first, ergonomic API on top of a super distinctive database backed by really smart abstractions. We’re developer-first, full stop. Our database is one of the most interesting that you’ll ever encounter. We curate, normalize, update and maintain data as varied as daily wildfire risk, road networks, socio-demographic, environmental hazards, severe weather… the list goes on and on. The abstractions part is important because it is the very thing that makes our product so usable and sets us apart. What does it look like to get the abstractions right? Well, first off, you don’t need to know anything about geography to access our data. You don’t need to “speak geospatial”. You don’t need to download a massive file. You don’t need to set up a Postgres database with a PostGIS extension. You don’t need to learn about spatial indexing. You also don’t need any special software. You just need to make a simple API call in your language of choice. If we can get those abstractions right, developers can do what they do best: build new products, businesses, and futures.
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