Search engines go spatial

Search engines go spatial

Text search engines are fast and plentiful, but nontext information is harder to find online, sometimes impossible. Two search vendors have set out to change that for maps. The ultimate result: geospatial Web services.

MetaCarta Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., built its Geographic Text Search platform with funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm. Arizona's Criminal Investigations Division is piloting GTS for use by first responders and border patrol agents along the boundary with Mexico, company officials said this week.

GTS automatically combines geographic, keyword and time data about buildings, streets, cities, regions or larger entities. If a user registers for a demonstration at and enters the name of a building on a certain street, for example, a map appears at the top of the search page along with the building's longitude and latitude and a list of time-stamped data sources relevant to the building.

The GTS platform uses natural-language processing to understand implied as well as explicit geographic references. It requires a dedicated server and can function as an intranet portal. The platform starts at $14,388 on General Services Administration schedule.

Google Inc. also is geo-enabling its search engine with the recent acquisition of mapping vendor Keyhole Corp. of Mountain View, Calif. Keyhole's technology lets a user enter an address, 'fly' over a 3-D image of it, zoom and tilt, measure distances and find things around it.

The Google engine will be part of the second-generation Geospatial One-Stop e-government site, said John Calkins, a technical consultant with contractor ESRI of Redlands, Calif. Calkins said the Google spatial engine will handle 'up to 8 billion records' of metadata. The spatial version of the Google Search Appliance is not yet commercially available.

Geospatial One-Stop's current version searches for limited categories of data from a place name or through a Map Viewer.

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