I don't always post about some of the things that we are working on, and perhaps I should do so more often.
I had some mixed feelings about recently seeing the Google Maps mashup that TerraIMS recently put up, showing EPA Superfund sites in proximity to a given address.
EPA has, for many years (in some instances, dating back to 1999), already had a number of community-oriented web mapping applications which deliver a great deal of information on EPA regulated sites, EPA cleanup activities, and so on - For example, one flagship of USEPA Office of Environmental Information is the venerable Window to My Environment - which, among other things, provides a great deal of information on EPA regulated facilities, watersheds, local and state resources, and the like at a community level. Window to My Environment currently gets well in excess of 50,000 hits per day.
Another excellent application which provides a lot of detailed information on environmental cleanup activity at a local level is the USEPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) Cleanups In My Community application.
These are just some of the web mapping projects that I have been involved in lately - there are actually several more EPA EnviroMapper applications available at the EnviroMapper StoreFront - and we are currently in the process of overhauling the core infrastructure of these, to migrate from legacy ASP/VBScript platforms to reusable component-based design, web services, and the ability to host some of these applications in an Oracle Portal environment, and integrating MetaCarta searches, among other things. We also have been doing some preliminary explorations in making EPA data available as KML for Google Earth, presenting some of our own Google Maps mashups (similar to TerraIMS), all of which are working wonderfully thus far. Unfortunately some of these enhancements are still in prototype, and others are only available on the EPA intranet.
So what of TerraIMS? Great work they did - but my concern isn't constrained, nor in any way specific to this particular mashup. The concern I have is with the description of the effort:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released its National Priority list of Superfund Sites in XML format. We converted the XML data and integrated it with a database and then mashed things up a bit. Users enter an address and it is geocoded on the fly, enabling a distance query to be processed against the EPA data in the database. This mashup allows anyone to quickly and easily find the nearest Superfund Sites to their home address or a location of interest.
From this description, it sounds like they essentially have performed an extract of the EPA data, have massaged and processed it, and then do their mashup. The business case isn't tremendously compelling, as these maps and data are already long available, so it appears to be a mashup just for the sake of doing a mashup.
Fortunately Superfund data isn't tremendously volatile, however it nonetheless raises the question of other potential applications, of currency, completeness and accuracy of data utilized in mashups. Herein lies potential liability. If one uses a third-party mashup as a decision support tool, they would need to know to track back to the original source to ensure that the data they are viewing in the mashup is current, complete, and accurate...