Disaster Prediction, Social Networking Boosted by Geo-Data Feeds

Joab Jackson
for National Geographic News
October 19, 2006

Part of the Digital Places Special News Series
More Digital Places Stories>>

As any geologist knows, figuring out when a tsunami might strike means monitoring major earthquake activity around the globe (related news: "Tsunamis: Facts About Killer Waves" [January 14, 2005]).

So when the European Commission created a new software program to predict tsunamis, the agency established a link to a frequently updated earthquake report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS feed of quake data uses an emerging technique known as GeoRSS—a computer standard that attaches geographic coordinates to photos, text, and other digital information.

GeoRSS allows the tsunami program to automatically ingest new data—including the exact location of a given quake's epicenter—without human intervention, according to Mikel Maron, a computer programmer who participated in developing the project.

Although still very new, GeoRSS has the potential to become the "quickest way to tag some information with geography," predicted Raj Singh, one the developers of GeoRSS.

Singh, a staff member at the nonprofit Open Geospatial Consortium, says that the GeoRSS service will extend the capability to create such location-based tags—a concept known as georeferencing—to anyone with an Internet connection.

"For GeoRSS, we came to it more from the point of view that everybody's got information that works well for them, and [they] just might have a small need to add a little geography to it," Singh said.

Geographic Layers

The GeoRSS volunteer development team, described by Singh as "a loose federation of people who met at conferences from the industry," posted the first version of the format last month after about a year's worth of work.

GeoRSS harnesses a popular application called Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, that delivers Internet news feeds to personal computers.

Many online news sites have buttons marked "RSS" that tap into their feeds, which are simply lists of headlines linked to news stories or other documents.

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