Something important happened a few weeks ago. On September 28, 2011, OpenGeo issued a blog post announcing the availability of indexed nearest neighbor search in PostGIS.
As intriguing as that technical fact is, that is not the part of the announcement upon which I want to focus. I’d like to draw your attention to this quote from the OpenGeo post:
In short, a commercial member of the PostGIS community identified a need and brought resources to the developers to get that need implemented in the project. This change will of course directly benefit Vizzuality’s commercial platform offering but, as indicated by the CartoDB blog, it has yet to be implemented by CartoDB. So the entire community gets the benefit of this new capability (through the source code for now) at the same time as the people who funded its development. This stands in stark contrast to the traditional consulting model where the funding entity would retain rights to the modifications and wall them off for some kind of perceived advantage.
A cynic could look at this and think "pay to play," but that would only be, indeed, cynical. I see it as an illustration of the flexibility of the open-source approach. In short, there are many different ways in which a community can help a project advance.
There is increasing interest in open-source technology as evidenced by the fact that the US Department of Defense, the largest Federal user of information technology, seems to be moving open-source to the front of its priority queue (link leads to a PDF). In my own experience, I have seen an uptick in interest in open-source geospatial technologies with a number of customers recently inquiring about them with me. I suspect this interest, which I detect anecdotally, is palpable enough to have prompted ESRI to articulate its position in a world increasingly populated with open-source alternatives. This interest is bolstered not only by events like the recent FOSS4G conference, but also by high-profile success stories such as the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Map, which was built on open-source geospatial technologies.
The example provided by OpenGeo and Vizzuality, while not unique in the world of open-source, should be comforting to organizations that are giving more consideration to open-source geospatial solutions. Such organizations may wonder if they can get the level of support they need in order to adopt open-source, community-supported tools. This example shows that the answer to that question is clearly "yes." It merely requires imagination and engagement.
Bill Dollins has been a Sr. Vice President and Partner at Zekiah Technologies in Maryland since 2001 and has been developing GIS applications since 1993. He is a programmer with diverse experience in geospatial information systems, relational databases, and application development. Follow Bill on Twitter @billdollins