GeoWeb and the New World

Andrew and I attended a seminar entitled ‘GeoWeb and the New World’ last Friday. Renée Sieber (Associate Professor at McGill School of Environment & Department of Geography in Canada), was over for the CRCSI conference in Melbourne and had enough time to fly over to Perth to fascinate us on what the GeoWeb is. The seminar solidified a few trends that I had noticed and explained some of the reasons behind them.


Renée started by comparing the traditional view of a GIS, the top down view that is front loaded – the real world is abstracted into layers that are maintained in a desktop GIS. The GeoWeb as the name implies, is collaborative, there is the opportunity for many to create data, or recreate it (mash-ups etc.). GeoWeb data is likely to be stored on a server, and potentially platform independent. Renée explained that GIS v1.0 is about authoritative data, where the GeoWeb is more about non-authoritative producers of data. A more detailed definition of the GeoWeb is here.

An example of the GeoWeb is OpenStreetMap (OSM). Is this ‘non-authoritative’ data useful? Renée gave the example of the recent devastation faced by Haiti after the earthquake, they needed mapping data fast. QuickBird gave out satellite images to a group of volunteers that digitised the data into OSM that was then used in the field. Another example is the reason why OSM started in the UK in the first place. I’ll let you research the details, but essentially as Renée said, that “frustration leads to innovation”.

Perhaps frustration was a driver for some of the projects that Renée and her team have worked on. They have worked on numerous data visualisation projects around the world using Ferret, an OpenSource data visualisation software, in some (if not all projects). An example of how Ferret can be used for visualising climate change was shown, multiple Google Earth images on screen-simultaneously.

Back to the collaborative nature of the GeoWeb using Citizens as Sensors (Piers has blogged about this previously) and the common thought that the data that Citizens collect is not accurate. Michael Goodchild (the Father of GIS), says that non experts can give just as accurate data as experts. A challenge of Citizen Sensor data are the motives for involvement, for example is a web site for Climate Change deniers to record where weather recording stations are located in positions that may effect the accuracy of their recordings. Another challenge is positional accuracy, for example when Citizens locate a record on a web-map that is obscured with cloud. Renée’s group are working on algorithms to determine the accuracy of Citizen Sensor (or should I say Science) data. You can read more about their work here:

We only had a few days notice of this seminar, but there were 20 or so of us. I took the opportunity in question time to plug the ALA work.  I found the seminar very useful as it gave me a prediction of where the GIS industry is heading.

A final note that stuck in Andrew’s mind (he tweeted it too), “Data portals are dead, the goal is to bring data to the people not people to the data”.

Email me, or Andrew, watch for tweets from Gaia Resources. or leave a comment below.

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