Based on @martin's answer, I would like to get some additional feedback on this question in the general case -- should we now direct questions about obtaining geospatial data to the new Open Data Stack Exchange site?

This question appears at first glance to only ask for a list of universities and colleges in the US, but in the question body it becomes evident that they are actually looking for spatial data:

All I need is the name, address, and lat long of all universities and colleges in North America. (emphasis mine)

While it's not a well-written question, with little indication of research effort, I am not sure that the close reason of "off topic" is accurate. After all there are many other similar questions that have not been closed, including many in the tag, such as:



6 Answers 6


I would strongly reject any suggestion that request for data in general (as per blah238's updated question) or even free (as in beer) data or Open data specifically (as per martinf's answer) are now off-topic, just because there is a Stack exchange Site for Open data.

My reasons are as follows:

  • Even though OS.SE has been in beta for 11 months, it's not clear what it is all about. Their help says:

Open Data Stack Exchange is for developers and researchers interested in open data.

I'm not sure what that exactly means. What is on-topic for them and off-topic? It's rather vague.

  • The second major objection is that there is no universal definition of 'open'. I'm wouldn't be surprised if open and public domain have a specific meaning in US copyright law, and most of the users of OD.SE site will apply those definitions. However in many countries, including mine (India), there is no specific meaning of public domain or open under the Copyright law.

  • While posting a question I'm quite concerned about the kind of answers and the speed at which I would get them. OS.SE has been in beta for over 10 months, and has a question rate of only 1.6. This low user activity indicates to me that I might not get good answers quickly. I'm also more confident of the community here in it's ability to know geospatial data, and to provide good data sources.

  • Very often, I'm not interested in the 'open-ness' of the data. I just want some data, and depending on the license, I don't mind if it is closed or not shareable, as long as I follow the License.

  • I'm involved in the biggest Open Data community in my city, and my experience with these groups is that, due to our different focus and different training, we look for different things in data. We tend to be more interested in the quality of data, its usability, its correctness from a spatial perspective, while the Open Data enthusiast are more interested in the openness of the data. (Please note that I do not mean to offend anybody. I'm not making a value judgment. Both Points of views are equally important, and required). For example, I'll be quite happy if I get a shapefile, while my friends who are open data enthusiasts would insist on an open format like CSV, and reject shapefiles because they are not aware that shapefiles have an open specification.

  • Our scope currently reads:

    The Geographic Information Systems Stack Exchange is for questions concerning geographic information systems and science. We welcome cartographers, database administrators, geographers, programmers, and anyone interested in or using GIS.

    As practitioners of GIS we know that in any GIS project the majority of time & effort goes in collecting and processing data. How can we suddenly decide that a majority of the work that we do is now off-topic?

There are many stackexchange sites which overlap with us, like:

  • Cross Validated has to do with Statistics, which GIS analysts use more and more these dates for analysis.
  • User Experience, which is important for WebGIS developers like me.
  • Database Administrators, which is important for all the GIS Database Administrators
  • Signal Processing is a site about Image processing, which is what done in Remote Sensing and Image processing.
  • Stackoverflow is about programming issues, which is a common headache for GIS developers
  • And now Open Data, which we are discussing.

Whenever any questions have been raised in the meta about questions belonging here, or on these sites, the consensus has been clear.

Whenever a question has a GIS or geospatial component, it belongs here. You can't expect the members of these other sites to have a spatial insight, and those questions will not get good answers on those sites. If on the other hand, the core issue in the question does not have to do with GIS, then it belongs on these other sites.

I do not see how the matter is different in this case.


I think we should discourage "Where do I find spatial data on ...?" questions. Otherwise I worry that we will see LOTS of them.

I think that when we see such questions, especially if there is no indication of where the asker has tried looking prior to asking the question, then we should consider downvoting, preferably with a comment like:

  • "Where have you looked before asking here?"; or
  • if it is about open data, then "I think place to ask about open data is the Open Data Stack Exchange".

So that leaves us with whether to try and migrate questions about open data to Open Data SE. My preference would be clearer if that site were out of Beta and fully part of the fold. In that case, rather than migration which is rarely used nowadays, I would propose closure of any question that appeared to have its focus on where to find Open Geospatial Data here, and recommend they ask on Open Data SE instead.

For now I note:

  • Open Data SE has not yet graduated from Beta - at the moment its Area 51 Stats suggest that more questions and visits would help that happen; and
  • the Open Data SE community has embraced answering open geospatial data questions which it tags as geospatial.

As an interim part of the solution to this question I encourage people to vote for an answer to Community Promotion Ads — 2019.


I missed the lat lon in the question and saw it as just a request of a list of universities when I closed it.

In general I'd prefer to discourage all where can I find a list of ...? questions. Since the next step is that any list with a postcode (zip code) can be considered spatial and becomes fair game to ask.


I am the person who asked the question. I am sorry for not being more descriptive or for showing the research I have done so far, I have been limited on time recently. I am building a software that draws in lots of data sets and this was one of them that I was having a hard time finding; I figured that this site would be a good place ask for this type of data considering how focused on GIS it is.

If there is a better site for finding spatial data, then please I would love to be pointed in that direction, but this seems to me like an excellent place for it.

I'm new to the community so the only real input I can provide is the why behind my post.


Stack Exchange is growing rapidly, new Stack Exchange sites are emerging on a regular basis, and naturally there is more overlapping between sites on certain topics.

However, the build-in systems of closing reasons, marking duplicates, question migration, announcement of related questions seem to be more and more rigid with respect to this. Unless these systems are not re-scaled to improve the connectivity between SO sites, the community should be very cautious about off-topic closures.

To be more detailed about these problems and possible solutions:

  • When flagging a post as off-topic, I have the choice to suggest Stack Overflow and Super User. Only. Of course the "other reason" input field can be used to suggest something different, but why don't make it simpler? You probably know the variety of Stack Exchange sites - Please, let me choose from at least some more Stack Exchange sites, there are so many great ones out there: All sites from Stack Exchange
    For example, I have been involved in a question which dealt about data downloading. It is now closed and suggests Super User - but it could point to Open Data instead, which may be more related.

  • "Linked questions" and "related questions" should include related questions from other Stack Exchange Network sites. (This little column to the right.)
    For example, there is a question about spatially normalizing crime data here at GIS.SE, and a very related question at Open Data. I posted the link to the other question as a comment - but it is not showing up in the "linked question" list. This is odd.

  • This is probably a bit more provocative: There could be special sister site tags (or an enhancement of certain, selected existing tags), which automatically link a question to an additional site of the Stack Exchange network. Have a look at Open Data again, lots of questions have tags like "geospatial", "GIS", "geocoding", "maps". We have the "data" tag in return. Similar scenarios can be probably found for other topics. (e.g. Stack Overflow has a variety of widely used GIS-tags as well.) Why not have a button like "overlapping from other sites" on our front page, which links to a queue with all those GIS-touched questions from other sites of the SE Network?
    I claim this was more useful than the "badges" short-cut right beneath the headline, for example:
    SE.GIS title bar screenshot

Stack Exchange has very powerful features (probably I am not aware of several features myself as I am quite new here) but they are not intuitive to find, especially combinations of them, which may multiply to amazing features. This increases the gap between power users and new or occasional users - who are likely to miss helpful features. Some of the ideas mentioned above can be accomplished manually by a versed user. The usage of favorite tags, for example, along with the possibility to filter questions of the complete SE network by tags basically results in a very custom front page. There are some extremely powerful search methods. Just to name a few things. I am missing an overview page that introduces all this great advanced functionality, which helps you to focus on the topics you are actually interested in, thus ultimately guiding you to the variety of SE sites and helping you to find the right SE site before you ask. (The SE 2-minute tours have a quite appealing design. Why not have additional, longer tours that explain more advanced stuff?)

I think the lack of these things is one of the main reasons why lots of off-topic-questions are actually being asked.

  • New users should be guided through their first questions in a better way. The "ask new question" page could help the questioner in a step-by-step way, instead of just having this "How to ask" box to its right. (Maybe limit this to the first 3-5 questions of a user)
    This ranges from choosing a good title, what information to include in the question body ("How to frame a good question?" is a true classic), an interactive way to pick appropriate tags, but also encouraging the gardening of the question during later views, i.e. encourage to edit / accept / vote for the answers.
    To focus on the specific question about on-topic vs. off-topic geospatial data again, the "Ask new question" page could present a list of the most relevant other Stack Exchange sites. Maybe this can be combined with the clarification of some on-topic / off-topic rules. (Information like this can be visualized creatively in a tag-cloud style to make it more appealing, less harsh and less text.)

  • With more and more Stack Exchange sites in the Network, the border between on-topic and off-topic subjects is quite unclear for a variety of questions. This is a discussion about geospatial data, but we could also discuss other topics here, which probably can be well answered by the GIS.SE community, but the question itself is not a pure GIS exercise. (e.g. certain software issues, like GIS software setup problems are posted on a regular basis here; also Python programming topics, questions about statistics - some questions would probably even be on-topic on multiple SE sites.) The off-topic criteria have to be realized in a consistent way throughout the site - if off-topic-ness is handled loosely on certain subjects and briskly on others, it is probably confusing to a [new] user.

  • "off-topic" is not equal to "go away" (Neither should this be interpreted by the questioner, nor implied by other users.) Migrating seems to happen quite rarely. Why? With the growing SE network, I would expect more and community-driven migration in order to "move oysters closer to the pearls".

  • Bearing in mind the wide variety of SE sites to pick for asking a (overlapping) question, the whole SE community could be more aware of interesting tags on other sites. (I will certainly visit Open Data regularly from now). The site design could encourage that. Even if topics of different SE sites are clearly bordered, the site communities should not encapsulate themselves.

With all these lengthy list in mind: I fear that GIS.SE will become more negative if the above issues are not addressed but off-topic rules are applied strictly. There is a recent stellar & famous recent at Meta.SO: Why is Stack Overflow so negative of late? - Both the community and the SE developers should try to prevent this.


No, if they're about open geo-data, they're now off topic

Since there is now a Q&A site specifically for developers and researchers interested in open data, OpenData.SE, we should move any requests for sources of geo-data to over there.

I think the topics geo-data sources and other-data sources are closer together than are the topics geo-data sources and geo-processing techniques.

OpenData.SE already has several questions on geo-data. For example:

And since the site is in beta stage, perhaps we could even help it by moving (some of) our existing such questions over there?


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