Fort Worth, Texas, wants to put as much information at the fingertips of its citizens as it can. The city government is committed to making tax-supported information as accessible as possible. Unfortunately, the need for public access rubs up against limited resources, making it hard to honor that pledge.

"We have a lot of individuals who come in and ask for a zoning map or other types of geographic information," commented Tex Norwood, the city's GIS coordinator. "While their needs are important, we have to stop what we're doing and see what they want." The result for Norwood and the city? Lost productivity.

That's why Norwood is excited about using the World Wide Web as a tool for allowing the public to access the city's geographically-based information. He envisions allowing customers to browse the city's database of maps and geographic information from computers in his office or from the user's home. "With the Web," said Norwood, "information sharing is just going to be a lot easier."

Like a hurricane in June, the World Wide Web has, in the past 12 to 18 months, come out of nowhere and blown apart the computing landscape in the United States. While the average citizen might not notice much difference, business, education and government workers have seen radical changes in how information can

be presented and shared. Suddenly, any computer, irrespective of its operating system or microchip, can access a wealth of information in the form of text, graphics and even video and audio.

Besides reading useful and not-so-useful information on the millions of pages that make up the Web, people can also surf for real estate, new cars, hotels and a slew of other products and services. For governments, the Web has opened up a new way to publish and distribute information to the masses.

Thanks to the Web, public access will never be quite the same. Not surprisingly, maps also have begun to appear on the Web. The first examples have been static. But now it's possible to link the HTML (hypertext markup language) format with map features, allowing users to run simple queries and making maps on the Web much more interactive.

IS IT GIS OR JUST A MAP?

Since the beginning of the year, a number of desktop mapping and GIS vendors have introduced a variety of products that allow people with Web browsers to view maps at various

levels of detail or conduct a certain amount of spatial analysis -- a core GIS function.

"Users can do almost anything they can do with standard GIS," said Chris Wemmers, senior product manager for Strategic Mapping Inc.(SMI), in describing the capabilities of his company's new software for the Web. SMI, producers of desktop mapping software and geographic information, has introduced Map/SDK, a Web-enabling toolkit for generating maps over the Web. According to Wemmers, Map/SDK can create Web pages that allow users to zoom in on sections of maps and to run queries, such as finding the location of stores, offices or facilities.

Similarly, Genasys II Inc. unveiled what it touts as the industry's first full-function GIS interface to the Web. The Spatial Web Broker provides a gateway to Genasys' GIS products so that people with Web browsers, such as Netscape's Navigator, can perform queries based on selections made from various menus.

For example, users can select the type of map layer they wish to see -- hydrography, railroads, roads, landmarks, physical terrain -- and choose the zoom factor they want, then submit a query and view the results. The software can create maps that provide detailed directions from one destination to the next, or highlight a location when an address is entered as a query.

Both the Spatial Web Broker and SMI's Map/SDK use a process