Mapstack, launched this week, aims to become a central catalogue for open data, a place where you discover and access datasets to fulfil your geo-data needs:
mapstack will do for open map data what GitHub did for open source, by bringing all of the world’s open maps together in one place and making them easy to discover, easy to access and easy to use.
Most of Mapstack’s functionality is currently centred around creating datasets and providing appropriate descriptions for the data. Setting up a new map involves several steps, including creating a new workspace or team, adding members, and providing a description.
Then you proceed to create the actual dataset. Upload your data, currently limited to GeoJSON and files smaller than 50MB. Then select the fields to keep and provide human-readable names. A downside is that you can’t skip this step. You have to go through each chosen field and individually confirm the label. To finalise, provide more information about the nature of the data, its geographic area, and the feature type, which creates an editable name for your new dataset.
That’s a lot of steps before you can view your dataset for the first time. Much of the information can be done after the project is set up. With the goal of discoverability in mind, however, and considering how badly many datasets are missing meta-data, you could say it’s smart design to force users to provide context.
Once the map is created, the features are limited: You can browse the data, view the attribute of features, and apply filters. There’s an attribute table, which is only available for filtered results, but not for the unfiltered data. Mapstack focuses on hosting data and making the data discoverable rather than on interacting, editing or visualising data.
As such, Mapstack is not a competitor of Felt or Placemark, two products released last year that aim to modernise how we do GIS on the Web. Mapstack complements both, and GIS tooling in general, by providing the data for the tools.
Will it take off? I’m not sure. The marketing copy draws comparisons to GitHub, but there are differences. GitHub became successful because it built on a protocol that developers already used and provided a product for collaboration around the protocol. GitHub added value to the developer’s daily work, so a lot of code ended up on the platform.
Mapstack doesn’t tie in with existing tools. Currently, there is no tooling to create or manage data, collaborate or visualise the data. It’s a place where the result of data processing might be hosted. Open data providers have invested in the infrastructure to host data—it’ll be hard to convince them to migrate to Mapstack instead.