Geographic Information Systems bring Moore's Law to maps, making them platforms for unprecedented progress in understanding the world in which we live. Open source software enables every software user to become a developer, making it a platform for unprecedented innovation and inclusion. The paradigms and best practices of these two communities are complementary and mutually beneficial, but superficial understandings (and misunderstandings) prevent worthy projects from becoming mainstream successes.
In an ideal world, if we want to explore a region we can easily get precursor data and information. Nothing obstructs flyover data gathering; we have open access to the areas we want to explore. It is easy to travel there, use instruments and take samples. This is true for many regions on Earth.
The initiative to create the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) was launched by President Clinton in 1994. The ambitious – and as yet partially unfulfilled goals – of the NSDI include creating a national network of distributed geospatial data that can be used to support a wide range of public and private sector applications. At the dawn of the Internet, creating such a network was an extremely lofty goal that stretched the capabilities of technology.