For my first post here, I have decided to jump right into the concept of gazetteers. You can expect to see more posts on gazetteers in the near future as I plan to build one.
What is a gazetteer? According to wordnet it's "a geographical dictionary".
Wikipedia calls it a "geographical directory" and has lots more to say about the history and the publicly available gazetteers.
If you are interesting in obtaining access to a gazetteer, a number of online gazetteer services are available that provide semi-restful APIs and most provide the ability to download the entire database.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names was established to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government.
On their site you will find links to download several different gazetteers, including:
GeoNames is popular online gazetteer that also provides downloads and web services.
Most web sites which provide a place name lookup have implemented their own gazetteer using either a relational database or some indexing engine.
Standards for gazetteer services and open source implementations do exist.
In a future post I will discuss both the abstract model defined by ISO and the gazetteer profile of WFS defined by the Open Geospatial Consortium.