Spatial signatures for geographic feature types: examining gazetteer ontologies using spatial statistics

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Transactions in GIS, Volume 20, Issue 3, p.333–355 (2016)



Gazetteer, Geo-Ontologies, Linked Data, Spatial Signatures, Spatial Statistics


Digital gazetteers play a key role in modern information systems and infrastructures. They facilitate (spatial) search, deliver contextual information to recommended systems, enrich textual information with geographical references, and provide stable identifiers to interlink actors, events, and objects by the places they interact with. Hence, it is unsurprising that gazetteers, such as GeoNames, are among the most densely interlinked hubs on the Web of Linked Data. A wide variety of digital gazetteers have been developed over the years to serve different communities and needs. These gazetteers differ in their overall coverage, underlying data sources, provided functionality, and geographic feature type ontologies. Consequently, place types that share a common name may differ substantially between gazetteers, whereas types labeled differently may, in fact, specify the same or similar places. This makes data integration and federated queries challenging, if not impossible. To further complicate the situation, most popular and widely adopted geo-ontologies are lightweight and thus under-specific to a degree where their alignment and matching become nothing more than educated guesses. The most promising approach to addressing this problem, and thereby enabling the meaningful integration of gazetteer data across feature types, seems to be a combination of top-down knowledge representation with bottom-up data-driven techniques such as feature engineering and machine learning. In this work, we propose to derive indicative spatial signatures for geographic feature types by using spatial statistics. We discuss how to create such signatures by feature engineering and demonstrate how the signatures can be applied to better understand the differences and commonalities of three major gazetteers, namely DBpedia Places, GeoNames, and TGN.