One of the most useful tools I’ve found for my recent geographic projects has been the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) from the US Geological Survey. Users can search on both foreign and domestic names and receive a list of potential hits based on that name, with a description of the geographic feature (stream, town, mountain, cemetery, etc) and the lat/lon coordinates.
Now GNIS has a rival. The GeoNames project provides similar data with a simple, one-box input search function. Geonames also makes its data available for download, or for use with other geocoding applications. For example, there are links to applications which will parse text in an RSS feed, match any place names it finds against the GeoNames database, then display those locations on a map. There are a couple of these RSS-to-GeoRSS converters, and an RSS-to-KML converter to display the data in Google Earth.
As cool as this sounds, the implementation isn’t perfect. If there are multiple references for a place name, the one with the highest frequency of hits will be the coordinate set that gets assigned to that particular RSS item. For example, take a look at the output from the RandomConnections RSS as converted by Acme.com. Instead of marking my recent trip to the SCETV studios in Columbia, there is a placemark located right in the middle of Colombia, South America. I’m not sure why that happened, given that they are even spelled differently. Also, in a recent post I talked about the Glen Miller song "Pennsylvania 6-500." Sure enough, on the Acme map there is a marker in the middle of the state of Pennsylvania. The RSS-to-KML converter from GeoNames shows exactly the same thing, so this is a glitch in the GeoNames database, rather than in the Acme implementation.
To make GeoNames work more efficiently with these converters, I think you would need to include more specific geographic information in your posts. I’ve done that with some of my posts via the "It Happened Here" links and other direct links to maps. However, these don’t show up as recent items in my RSS feed. I may have to post something with coordinates to test this theory. Until then, Geonames remains an excellent data collection and a great way to manually look up information based on place names.
[tags]geocoding, GeoRSS, GeoNames, GNIS[/tags]