The staff at Franklin County’s Department of Natural Resources want to create a digital map of soil erosion potential to help them advise on land development activities in sensitive areas. Because the watersheds that affect erosion extend well beyond the county boundary, Ed Johnson goes to an online portal to find and download the data he needs. These data include up-to-date, detailed aerial imagery of the watersheds from a commercial database; soil type data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; vegetation coverage from the state department of natural resources, and the locations and sizes of culverts, bridges, channels, and other storm-water facilities from Franklin County and neighboring counties.
Mr. Johnson is able to acquire most of this information without negotiating use terms or paying substantial fees. Many local, state, and federal agencies, as well as a number of private parties, have placed some of their data into an online commons by using licenses that minimally constrain the downstream uses of the data. Additionally, the portal offers convenient “one-stop shopping” for many suppliers’ data and reduces the cost of searching for data. Finally, standard online license forms reduce the complexity of licensing and the need for separate negotiations between Mr. Johnson and different data suppliers. This streamlining has brought down transaction costs.
Although several commercial aerial imagery offerings meet Mr. Johnson’s technical requirements, he quickly selects and purchases the one set of commercial imagery offering the best combination of quality, price, and use rights for his needs.
In the end, the dream comes down to this: Can a Web portal based on standardized licensing be developed that efficiently supports an active information commons and a thriving marketplace in geographic data and services?