Friday, November 4, 2011

Why doesn’t Esri support metadata publishing through ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online?


Part of my task at San Mateo County GIS (Apr-Oct 2011) was to set up a process for publishing geospatial metadata along with the County’s map services.  We looked at Esri’s free Geoportal Server.  But we decided that was overkill for the County’s data sets.  And we were also having trouble with metadata authoring and publishing with ArcGIS v10.  We needed to publish metadata through ArcGIS Server and the REST API, or through ArcGIS Online where the public would access our map services.  But we couldn’t do either one.

Why doesn’t Esri support metadata publishing through ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online?

This is what I've concluded from my conversations with several Esri customer reps and product managers, including  Sud Menon:

Back in the late 90s the federal government wanted to save money by sharing data so it didn’t have to pay to collect the same data twice.  The Federal Geographic  Data Committee (FGDC) thought it was a good idea to develop a metadata standard and taxonomy to enable fast searching on tags, keywords, and technical data descriptions.   FGDC figured that vendors like Esri should support this with geosptial metadata creators and search capability.  Esri agreed, probably because the USG is their biggest customer. 
   
So Esri built the first geoportal that provided the search and share capability for Dept of Interior’s geodata.gov site, based on FGDC standard metadata.  Esri (and everyone else in big government) thought that government organizations could mandate that their GIS units would make the effort to document all their geodata in the FGDC metadata standard.   But it didn’t happen, because it's too big an investment for most organizations.

When Esri developed ArcGIS Online, they opted not to support full FGDC metadata either.  And when they developed ArcGIS Server v9 and v10, they again gave it little attention.  Esri focused instead on simple key words and minimal tag information -- less metadata for more audience – to keep the hurdle low for sharing geodata. 

Esri says that ArcGIS Server will support metadata publishing through the geodatabase in the future.   In Q&ADiscussion before the 2011 UC, Esri announced:

“ArcGIS Server 10.1 will automatically capture and store basic metadata about the GIS services you create and allow you to enhance metadata documentation with descriptions, summaries, tags and other information. Any client accessing these services as well as anyone using ArcGIS.com and the Portal for ArcGIS will be able to leverage this information....  you can create and update your GIS service metadata using the tools that are built-in to ArcGIS. This metadata will be available via a simple URL.”

Lots of organizations went to the trouble of creating structured metadata.  But San Mateo County has only a loosely-structured html-based metadata catalog.  The best approach for the County now seems to be a blend of FGDC-like metadata documentation for geodata that is complex, that must be accurate and precise, and/or is a component of a geodata model that is shared among GIS experts.  And to author and publish a more compact set of simpler (but still standardized) tags and keywords for most geodata shared with partners and the public.

Standard tags is what we used for “metadata lite” with the San Mateo County Geodata Catalog.

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