All tied up: Geo, GI, and where we are coming from

outline of the continents made of threadIn today’s world of spatial driven technologies we talk from a lot of directions and about a range of technologies. Over the next couple of months I am going to try to break out some of the concepts that have become interwoven over the years through the mixing of technologies, the increase of computing capabilities, and marketing hype. I am not going to try to do a history of the industry by any means, but I will often dig back into that history to figure out where today’s notions of concepts merged or separated.

The goal will be, by September or October, to be able to wrap things up with a lucid (as much as I generally get in a post) take on the aspects of the industry that are the drivers. Yeah, you probably know what I will talk about when we get there, but as they say, ‘it isn’t the destination, but the journey’. On that…let’s start the journey.

We have names piled on names today to keep track of, such as Geographic Information Systems, GIScience, geospatial technologies, Remote Sensing, GIST (GIS & Technology), neogeography (it still pops up), Critical GIS, web mapping, CAD, cloud/internet GIS, participatory GIS, etc… In data we talk about geographic information, authoritative, SDI, user generated, crowd sourced, government, VGI, etc… Technologies are linked using APIs, desktops, IDEs, the web, SDKs, servers, etc… The terms alone keep us bound up in an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” style discussion that can keep us from the key of these technologies, data, and concepts..they allow us to DO.

In the last 5 or 6 years we have pushed in different directions. One of those is ‘DO now’ which has pushed us forward as a community and broadened that community. This direction is built, literally, by those people willing to spend their weekends to get that last line of code written, or toting their GPS along a trail, or digitizing the areas impacted by the most recent natural disaster. Another of the directions is the ‘plan and DO’ which has been driven from the traditional industry sector. These are the folks who have provided commercial software and data solutions that are driven by long term trends and solutions. In the last few years you have had a lot of the ‘DO now’ practitioners find a business model in what they were doing that have helped to blur the lines, just as you have had traditional companies providing free-to-use tools and/or data in response to societal needs. It has been a complete peanut butter/chocolate time that has brought us all forward, but left a lot of these terms (the ones up there ^) floating around that have created occasional confusion and even discontent within and between spatial technology users.

So…that is where we begin. We have a mass of terms that, like our microphone cables when we do conference interviews, have been knotted up through use. We have an industry that is moving in multiple directions which each pull the terms out of the bag occasionally and sometimes use them in varying ways that may twist them a bit. Next up, I will pick one of the terms and kick off by giving my take on it.


Written by

Jesse is Instructor in Geography and a PhD candidate in Geography focusing on the integration of phenomenology and geospatial technologies to study prehistoric cultural landscape. He is a GIS Professional and Registered Professional Archaeologist and holds an MA in Geography and a BS in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.