Using Open Source Software Components to Implement a Modular Web 2.0 Design for Map-Based Discussions

Using Open Source Software Components to Implement a Modular Web 2.0 Design for Map-Based Discussions

Michael G. Leahy (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) and G. Brent Hall (University of Otago, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/jossp.2010070102
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This paper discusses the research-based origins and modular architecture of an open source geospatial tool that facilitates synchronous individual and group discussions using the medium of a Web map service. The software draws on existing open source geospatial projects and associated libraries and techniques that have evolved as part of the new generation of Web applications. The purpose of the software is discussed, highlighting the fusion of existing open source projects to produce new tools. Two case studies are briefly discussed to illustrate the value an open source approach brings to communities who would remain otherwise outside the reach of proprietary software tools. The paper concludes with comments on the project’s future evolution as an open source participatory mapping platform.
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The research discussed in this paper describes several years of project work and software development within an academic environment (Hall & Leahy, 2006, 2008). The goal of the latter part of this process was to develop, using free and open source (FOSS) software components and significant additional custom coding, an Internet software tool that enables multiple dispersed (or co-located) users to integrate dynamically generated and geographically referenced spatial information via a Web map service. The software, which is released under the GNU Public License (GPL), focuses on user generated or ‘volunteered’ map content that is linked dynamically to collaborative real time discussions between participants who can include, in principle, anyone anywhere at anytime. The only requirements for participation are that participants have an Internet connection and that, in a moderated discussion, they satisfy the moderator of their legitimate interest in contributing to a discussion on a given issue. This paper places the project within the broader domain of Web 2.0 applications and describes the use of a modular FOSS component architecture fused with currently available open source tools developed within the geospatial domain (Ahearn et al., 2006; Ramsey, 2007; Steiniger & Bocher, 2009; Steiniger & Hay, 2009).

In contrast to proprietary geospatial software, which constitutes an annual multi-billion dollar global industry, the FOSS for geospatial (FOSS4G) community comprises globally dispersed and primarily volunteer members as well as a small number of privately owned companies that have built their business models around supplying software service functions, including customization and training (Christl, 2008, 2010). Despite a clear imbalance in weight of numbers and market penetration, the FOSS4G community is very active, and since its formalization in February 2006 as the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) ( with the completion of a second version that has satisfied the researchers’ initial project design and objectives (Hall et al., 2010). This code release potentially exposes the software and its code base to a wider developer community, and provides long-term potential for ongoing contributions to its development. However, despite the potential advantages offered by open collaboration, it is not necessarily straightforward to convert source code availability into broad-based development by a cohesive community of developers and users. This issue is discussed later in the paper.

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