Have you ever wandered the globe with a web map and wondered what's really there? Here's something a little different. ThereAbout offers more than just street and aerial basemaps and you can pin multiple locations for comparative detail.
ThereAbout demonstrates the value of NOT putting spatial information on a map. How does that make sense? It makes a lot of sense when you need to deliver complex information about a specific place instead of showing all the places where a specific condition exists.
The difference is significant in several ways. Drawing spatial features on a computer screen has a major performance impact due to both the memory required and the constant recalculation of feature positions. That's why thematic maps are normally pre-rendered as image tiles that a browser only needs to assemble. Hardware improvements have made the use of vector graphics more common (drawing individual features on-the-fly), but the resource demand is still there.
Visual information also needs to be symbolized and too much can quickly become confusing. Labels, legends and the ability to toggle layers on and off certainly help, but these accommodations demand more user skill, data preparation and interface controls. More significantly, some information is simply difficult to visualize. Distance and area can be deceiving and precision is lost when values are lumped into classes or shown as color gradients.
The demonstration app is a conceptual framework with many potential adaptations. For example, some data elements include an attribution link ("?") which exposes the data source. Links to any online resource, local document or email contact would be just as easy. The map interface could include visual overlays or display specific features if desired. The interface could also be branded or served elsewhere and still reference a service provided by SpherAware.
The underlying service can be customized as well. Dynamic content can be generated from a proprietary data store upload capabilities could be added. User authorization can occur at either the service level or user interface, providing a very flexible data warehouse solution for small businesses.
ThereAbout also has potential in education. Any kind of geographic data can be retrieved or assembled to create an age-appropriate research tool or to meet specific course requirements. This concept could evolve into a geographic encyclopedia with separate services providing environmental, scientific, demographic, historical or political content.
ThereAbout simply uses the map as a data index. The demo effectively delivers a unique data response for ANY point on the surface of the Earth. In just a few seconds, it provides coordinates and elevation, the local time zone, the sovereign authority, land cover (if on land) or the distance and bearing to the nearest land (if at sea) and the distance and bearing to the nearest populated place and its position and population (if known). Also, just for fun, it calculates the maximum daylight available at the chosen location during the summer solstice.
ThereAbout is actually 2 distinct processes. One runs in your browser to show the background map, to collect your points of interest and to display the resulting data and another runs behind the scenes to process your request. This second player is a web service. The ThereAbout web service searches its own spatial database, makes supporting requests from other web services and performs an on-the-fly calculation (maximum daylight). This is how web services can dramatically empower geospatial applications.
To dig in a little deeper, the ThereAbout web service produces a result in JSON format. This is a standard way of expressing hierarchical information that is more compact than XML and easy for programs to consume. It is human-readable, too. ThereAbout also structures its JSON in a very flexible way, allowing attributes to be added or removed without disturbing the visible web application at all. As long as the data structure is valid, the display app will work as expected. This is a robust design than can be leveraged in full, or in part, for a wide variety of business needs.
You may also call the ThereAbout web service directly and use its output in any way you want. To see how that works, copy and paste the following URL into the address box of any web browser:
Simply replace the latitude and longitude parameters with any valid values (in decimal degrees).  The response will be returned as text and appear in the browser window. Copy all of that response and paste it into a JSON formatter like jsonviewer.stack.hu. It is much easier to see the data structure when the text elements are properly indented. Voila! Now you know all about JSON.
NOTE: If you want to call the service programmatically, please add &f=json to the end of the URL.
Climate change data is being added to the ThereAbout demo. We plan to provide the annual precipitation and maximum and minimum average temperatures for all land areas for the year 2000 and modeled values for twice the 2000 atmospheric CO2.
If you are interested in using ThereAbout or in developing a similar capability for your organization, we would love to help. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information now!