Infochimps launched a set of big new features this morning: a common geodata schema that aggregates information about places from multiple sources and offers it up in one API, an automated method of visualizing crowded geodata sets on a map called The Summarizer and a new method of allowing location data to be requested without knowing the latitude and longitude of a place.Data marketplace and platform
If you look around where you find yourself in the world, physically, and are aware that there's really more to life than the naked human eye can see - the new Infochimps GeoAPI could be an important tool in shedding light on the quantifiable parts of reality previously hidden in a disconnected cloud of data.
Infochimps says the data it offers includes place data from Geonames, the National Climatic Data Center, the American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau and licensed sources like Locationary and Foursquare. While other startups appear determined to create a canonical geodata set, the Infochimps Simple Schema seeks to put all sources of data it can get its hands on into a common format so it's easy to use.
"This is a big push for us, some big break-throughs we've been pushing for for a long time," says InfoChimps founder Philip Flip Kromer.
"You have all these data sets in knowledge domains that have been previously isolated - to be able to connect them without fine scale surgery, to just progmatically tie together disparate data sets, is something there's a lot of customer demand for. If you can just build generic data consumption tools then you don't have to be a Geo API developer, you can be any kind of developer and consume any of this data generically."
Liam Dayan, Founder & CEO of the development firm createCORE, offers an illuminating quote in the Infochimps announcement: "[Infochimps] is making it possible to put some backburner projects back on the near-term roadmap because of how much less work they'll be."
Adam DuVander goes into more detail about the specific offerings and pricing over at ProgrammableWeb.
Why This Matters
This is interesting news because it could substantially lower the barrier to entry for developers seeking to build mobile and other apps that are rich with data about places in the offline world.
Kromer says that data from competitors like Factual, SimpleGeo and Fwix could all well be served up through the Chimps' API, all at once and along with data from other sources.
Here's the big-picture metaphor for geo-data, as far as I see it: There is a fast-growing world of loose, disparate data about people and places all over the world. That data is interesting when you pick up one bundle of it at a time, but it could become far more powerful if it was gathered together: from individual shards of glass (census, commercial, historical data), into a fused-together kaleidoscope (perhaps the Infochimps geo API) and finally to an integrated lens that enables new levels of clarity on our view of the world around us, in the form of multi-source geodata-informed apps.
These are early days, but the future looks bright for tools that help build tools that help us better understand the places that we find ourselves.