August 25, 2008
GeoWeb 2008 Conference Report
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor


by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

GeoWeb 2008 Conference Report

By Susan Smith


The GeoWeb 2008 Conference held July 21-25th in Vancouver, British Columbia, hosted by Galdos Systems, focused this year on the theme, “Infrastructure: local to global” which emphasized CAD/BIM/GIS integration and building towards “GeoWeb 2009 Cityscapes.”


Ron Lake, CEO and chairman, Galdos Systems

Ron Lake, CEO and chairman, Galdos Systems
Chairman and CEO of Galdos Systems Ron Lake opened the conference. This conference really hones in on the convergence of GIS and the Internet and “the economic potential associated with the convergence of XML, web services and GIS.”


The Meeting of Web and Geo


Keynotes presented by several industry luminaries offered various perspectives on this theme. Based on those keynotes and remarks of attendees (available as
YouTube videos and podcasts), I have summarized the conference.


Alex Miller, president of ESRI Canada

Alex Miller, president of ESRI Canada
Keynoter Alex Miller, president of ESRI Canada, suggested GeoWeb was “the synergistic meeting of web and geo.”


“The web is really a new medium, it is the biggest change since the printing press in our society,” Miller said. “We look back at the millennia at the events that have changed our society, the internet will be up there because it’s had such a huge impact in such a short period of time.”


Geography, on the other hand, is a centuries, even millennia old science that to some extent plateaued before computers came along, Miller noted, but it has been dramatically revived thanks to GIS. He talked about the impact of geography on how we behave as people, pointing to Jared Diamond’s theory outlined his book, Guns, Germs and Steel which makes a strong case for geography being a key factor in how societies emerge. Diamond’s latest book, Collapse, deals with how societies choose to succeed or fail, and how when they exploit the geography of a civilization too much it results in the collapse of that civilization.


Miller cited the current political situation, climate, financial, soaring energy and food prices, and how we use GIS to address all of these issues. Planning, one of the earliest uses for GIS, is still a big user of GIS, although cities have become so large they’re “not designable.”


“As we move forward with geography and the web together, the accessibility of information needed to make decisions will make decisions happened much faster,” said Miller.


An example given was of how the Orton Foundation in Vermont, fighting the development of a Walmart in a small town where their headquarters was located, developed CommunityViz, a community planning visualization software using GIS, to look at a more holistic way of how a community works. With CommunityViz, they could actually model the impact of the development on water, sewer, roads. “One of biggest challenges to doing this is data accessibility,” said Miller. “The data is not all in the right format to support CommunityViz but it is a look into the future into what the GeoWeb will bring us.”


Data Acquisition and Management


Michael Goodchild, PhD, professor of Geography at University of California , Santa Barbara

Michael Goodchild, PhD, professor of Geography at University of California , Santa Barbara
Michael Goodchild, PhD, professor of Geography at University of California, Santa Barbara since 1998, is renowned in the field of GIS, the author of 12 books and approximately 350 scientific papers, and Chair of the Executive Committee, National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA); among other achievements.


One of the big questions raised in this venue was how geographic data acquisition should take place to help us build the GeoWeb, whether to build it from space or from the ground up, Goodchild said.


He warned the audience that he was going to be talking about a “very controversial issue,” that will remain that way for a long period of time, and that he would present a U.S. perspective.


Geographic information has traditionally been created by authorities and their experts; “Whether we’re talking about Canada and national mapping agencies that produce the bulk of data, or in the U.S., USGS or National Geospatial Intelligence Agency or in the UK, Ordnance Survey or other countries where mapping is primarily a military function and access by civilian sector is severely restricted.” Today geospatial production is increasing by local entities and states, and in Canada by provinces. “It is then disseminated to a vast collection of users, many of whom are not expert. Here’s a distinction between non-expert user and expert producer. Much of this
dissemination occurs with various kinds of restrictions so countries and governments will vary as to whether the distribution is at the cost of reproduction or try to recover some of the cost of production.”


Goodchild pointed out that since 9/11 in the U.S. there has been a shift, not only in access to data, but also a shift from the USGS, the civilian mapping agency, to the NGA, the Department of Defense mapping agency. After 9/11, many datasets were removed from public success and much of our data has moved behind that national security curtain.


One particular kind of geospatial data, Goodchild mentioned, the National Information Exchange Model (NIEMs) layer, is clearly one of the types of geographic data that’s not going to be derived from space. “Until people put barcodes on the top of buildings you’re not going to get placenames from space, “Goodchild remarked. “Where do placenames come from? They come from through a formal process that is reflected through a hierarchy of boards and committees.” Since 1890 in the U.S., the Board of Geographic Names, which sits on top of a hierarchy all the way down to state and local level, all run by experts, has been responsible for placenames. It is no
role for amateurs, or for the general public. “This is how names get officially recognized. And the term ‘gazetteer’ in fact, reflects that official recognition. When something is ‘gazetteered’ it is published officially, and the name for the index of placenames reflects that. All this was driven by the need to standardize. In the 19th century a lot of energy was expended on postal delivery, and on avoiding putting names on the landscape which were politically incorrect.


Perhaps what characterizes today’s approach to standardization is the lack of standardization. Goodchild said we are entering an age of “post standardization” where IT makes it possible for places to have alternative names, which allows us to collect a vast amount of information beyond simple names, what he calls “the world of Web 2.0 and the world of bottom up geographic data production.”


The current movement is reminiscent of the 16th century when Martin Waldseemueller named America after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, put it on a map and distributed the map across Europe. “Waldseemueller had no authority to do this, no training as a cartographer, he just stuck a name on a map.”


Later he regretted naming the continent America and replaced it with the name Terra Incognito. We know which name stuck, but what’s important about this story is that today’s post standardization climate opens up the world of “volunteer geographic information,” volunteered by citizens, user generated content in the specific context of geographic information. Other names for this are collective intelligence and crowd sourcing. What is significant about this content is that it does not come from an authoritative source, but from millions of private citizens who have the capacity to be empowered, who get no obvious
reward and are virtually untrained in geographic information.


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