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Archive for September 2nd, 2015

When will GIS disappear?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Geographic Information Systems (or one of the other subtle variants of the acronym) will never disappear completely, but they should be more invisible than they are. It’s remarkable how long the apparent (and mostly false) dichotomy between that’s what’s spatial and that’s what not spatial has persisted. Having spent a good part of my career letting people integrate place into their workflows and systems, however, I can understand why it’s there, however. There are thousands of different coordinate systems with their different purposes, etc., and one person’s place exactly where they think it should be is not where another might expect it to be. Further complicating things are units like rods and chains and feet (really, feet are still used, in some places. And there is more than one foot to choose from!). A grad for good measure (pi/200 of a radian, in case you were wondering). Making that all go away for people for whom that’s a raft of irrelevant implementation details is actually pretty hard work, and I have the source code to prove it.

The reason that it’s important to hide as much of this kind of stuff when it’s not relevant is that the complexity of normal GIS workflows, worldview, and thinking prevent the adoption of location based capabilities in workflows in non-GIS contexts, which actually makes it harder for GIS and its champions to deliver value in proportion to the investments made in them or to their potential. In fact, I’d go farther to assert that it throws up barriers to adoption even in GIS contexts, because I see it all the time. It’s just a little too much of a pain to do this, that, or the other, so I’ll just jot it down on this paper form here…

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