Share your GIS
George Demmy is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and one of the founding members of TerraGo Technologies. In the role of CTO, he has responsibilities for oversight of various product and technical initiatives at TerraGo. During his tenure at TerraGo, Demmy has held roles in product development, … More »
When will GIS disappear?
September 2nd, 2015 by George Demmy
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…
Rather than just bemoan the state of affairs, at TerraGo we’ve tried to broaden the reach of the GIS department by providing interfaces that are as free from GIS complexity as possible. Often, when people see what we do, they think we’re anti-GIS or something that replaces GIS, but nothing could be farther from the truth. If we’re doing our job right, we’re helping folks get their work and insights into the hands of more people than they might otherwise and let their audience communicate their work and insights back without wasted effort or undue cognitive burden. Alan Perlis in his Epigrams on Programming wrote:
Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.
We’re working hard to get to the right side of that quote. We may not be there, but we’re trying to remove as much as we can!
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