Viewing versus Downloading

In the INSPIRE context the network service types are defined that aim at helping the user to find, view and download spatial data sets. The concept of finding is quite clear: a potential user gets to know about the existence of a spatial data set that covers the user’s area of interest, both thematically and spatially. The service provides relevant information of the data set to the user, so that he can decide whether it is worth of accessing, and can understand how to access it.

When coming to the next service categories in the process, View and Download, the designers of the service types made a clear distinction between visual inspection (View Service) and transferring content for local storage (Download Service). Furthermore, they attached in a straightforward manner a well-known ISO standard for viewing maps (Web Map Service, WMS) to the View Service and a data access standard (Web Feature Service, WFS) to the Download Service. Was that a right decision?

One could argue that the division between viewing and downloading is not so clear. When an informed user is given access to an INSPIRE View Service implementing a WMS interface, he would be able to easily access and store to his local database all the map layers available in the service. Is this viewing? What if a user is given an access to a client application that just allows him to inspect, in a visual and interactive manner, the content available in a Download Service? The application would not allow him to save anything to his local computer. Is this downloading?

A user might be interested in just viewing data. Or perhaps he wants to download and save map layers for further offline usage. These actions seem to become impossible, given the categorical one-to-one attachment of technical service interface specifications to the conceptual service types identified. One could be tempted to conclude that the distinction among viewing and downloading is not so much about the service interface used, but more about what the user is allowed to do with the content he is given access to. This in turn is determined by the license the user is entitled to.

Is there a need to provide a user with just viewing access to rich spatial data content? Is somebody somewhere possibly interested in downloading map tiles? Have these concepts to be rethought? Based on the ESDIN experience gained in the INSPIRE services development, the answer to all of these questions seems to be ‘yes’.

Close to 50 data sets have now been made accessible in INSPIRE-compliant form in the ESDIN Download Services. If you are interested in details, visit http://esdin.fgi.fi/wiki/