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Monday, April 20, 2015

LiDAR Format Wars Creep into the Media

I've been in the GIS news business since GIS Monitor launched in 2000. My job for most of the last 15 years at several different publications, involved identifying and writing about what my colleagues and I considered important stories. For the last few months I've not done that sort of work. Instead, I've watched as others covered the industry news via tweets, press releases, blog posts, online articles and print content.
Image by √úleslaadija: Marek9134
CC BY-SA 3.0

LiDAR Format Wars

Depending on your GIS news reading habits, you may or may not know that there's been a "concern" about LiDAR exchange formats brewing. I first heard of it more than a year ago when Esri announced its optimized LiDAR format. I began following Martin Isenburg of rapidlasso, who's been very vocal about maintaining an open format and open access to it.

Last week several individuals concerned about open LiDAR exchange penned an open letter. The letter details the evolution of the open LAS format and how there's work to be sure it's not overshadowed by something less open. The letter includes specific requests to the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Esri, users and sponsors of LiDAR data, and the ASPRS LAS working group. Just today rapidlasso announced new software to "free" LiDAR data
held in a closed format.

Covering the LiDAR Format Wars

It's been interesting to watch how the story spreads. There have been regular tweets and retweets in recent months; many reference this rapidlasso post from 2013another from 2014 and a recent one from February of this year. Paul Ramsey and James Fee have blogged on the matter. But, so far as I can tell, the story has not made much headway in the broader GIS or remote sensing communities. LiDAR News editor Gene Roe confirmed over the weekend he is currently working on the story.

The open letter is aimed at spreading the word and getting support for a long term open format and solution. It's worth noting a pair of letters prompted a change of plans related to a proposed OGC REST Services standard in 2013. I covered it in All Points Blog. A parallel effort is afoot!

Last week's letter has prompted some action. The initial list of a few signatories has grown to 79 as this post goes to press, but the story has yet to make the rounds. The discussions on the one OSGeo list I follow, the ICA-OSGeo Labs one, support my statement.
Should this [letter] also be broadcast in the geospatial newsletters? Like MundoGeo, Sensors and Systems, etc.
I don't know how to get these online publications to run the story, but we should give them the opportunity. (link)
And if media is 'deathly' quiet, we should be guided in how to write 'letters to the editor' for each publication, and all of us act on that, so their allegiance and lack of integrity with their community will become a matter of record. (link)
There were also suggestions that (1) the letter authors wait until the OSGeo board endorses the letter before going the press, (2) publications may not cover the news due to concerns about advertising revenues, and (3) the truth will win out.

Getting the Story to Media

Here are my unsolicited suggestions to anyone looking to approach the media to get this news out:
  1. Identify and reach out to the publications of interest. Start creating relationships with editors and authors. Learn the process for submitting press releases and articles.
  2. Write a press release. Nearly all GIS publications can and will post press releases the day they are submitted. (A version of the rapidlasso's LASliberator press release is already on one website!)
  3. Write an opinion piece with a call to action for readers. You might ask that they sign the letter or contact one or more of the organizations and ask them to move forward on the request(s). Publish the piece on supporters' blogs or submit it as a guest editorial to technology and news sites. 
  4. Ask publications that write editorials to consider writing one on the topic.
  5. Once content is created and published, use social media to point individuals to it.