FortiusOne Releases Open Source Geocoder. Is Geocoding Becoming a Commodity?

Developers working with geo mashups should take note: geospatial startup FortiusOne has said that "geocoding should be a commodity" and has announced that it has released a new open source geocoder. If you're not familiar with geocoding, it is the process of assigning geographic coordinates to a location (typically an address or place name).

Andrew Turner, FortiusOne's CTO and co-founder of Mapufacture (which was acquired by FortiusOne), announced the release of the new geocoder at the State of the Map Conference in Amsterdam. According to Andrew:

The geocoder was built as part of our FGDC CAP Grant to help GeoEnable Government Tabular Data and utilizes the free and open TIGER/Line street data as well as various address parsing and metaphone components for US level address parsing. Also, not everyone can call to a web-service, abide by the terms of service, or be limited by the speed and amount of geocoding queries.

The geocoder was developed in close collaboration with Schuyler Erle, one of the developers that worked on (our API Profile), another open source geocoder (the FortiusOne geocoder is partly based on

FortiusOne Geocoder

Although FortiusOne has taken the initiative for the geocoder, the hope is that the developer community will contribute to improve and enhance the project. As Andrew indicates on his blog:

We’re also hoping to engage the community in building out the Geocoder. Right now it has components for the United States – but we hope that others will add components for their countries. OpenStreetMap is coming along very well with adding both ranged, and even parcel level, address data. So a good first task would be to build out an OpenStreetMap data importer.

This is a nice addition to the set of geocoding projects and geocoding services that are currently available. As most developers that have worked with some of the popular mapping APIs know, there are currently several geocoding services available, including the Google Maps API Geocoder and the Bing Maps Geocoder. Sean Gorman, FortiusOne's CEO, provides some additional insight into why the open source geocoder was developed:

The major providers all put restrictions around geocoding making it especially difficult to do batch geocoding operations to get large chunks of data geo-enabled. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s geocoders are all geared to single address look ups, and not for mass data geo-enablement. There are services like that get around some of the limitations but are still restricted by provider’s TOS.

The second big issue with current geocoding is further upstream. All the geocoding API’s are dependent on NAVTEQ, TeleAtlas’s and a few other providers data to geocode against. So, if the street data companies don’t think a country has a big enough market you can’t geocode in these areas. This especailly limits the ability to geocode data in developing countries.

FortiusOne has made the source code available on GitHub, and it plans to eventually expose the geocoder as a Web Service. Be sure to check out Andrew Turner's presentation from State of the Map as well, available below:

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: MapQuest Opens Its Directions Data