Geographers, planners, technology vendors, and people from many other backgrounds met in Las Vegas during the Association of American Geographers’ conference on March 22-27, 2009. This is one of the major conferences for those who are interested about the properties of the Earth—below, on, or above the surface—and its relation with humans and other living beings.
There were hundreds of sessions in the conference. I attended almost all sessions on ‘volunteered geographic information (VGI)’ and many sessions related to community mapping. It looked to me that the mapping services from major Internet companies have sensitized the academic geospatial community. People—most of whom without any formal degree in geography or related disciplines—are using handheld devices such as GPS, cell phone, PDA to capture and share geospatial information on the web. Those who are taking part in these geospatial activities are already in the order of millions. Strikingly, many academicians and GISers have been clueless of this movement.
VGI sessions were very useful both to know non-experts’ mapping activities as well as academic preparations to respond to these activities. It was good to know that a consortium of three universities are bringing a VGI research program: University of California, Santa Barbara (content and quality), University of Washington, Seattle (social production), and University of Texas A&M (applications). Prof. Michael Goodchild’s (the man who coined the term’ VGI’) plenary lecture on VGI was an informative event. The VGI sessions remind us of time in early 90’s when GIS was entering from desktop into the Internet GIS. I see that GIS is now entering into yet another phase: from expert-driven, supply-oriented GIS to user-driven, use-oriented GIS, albeit there are several issues we need to resolve first. This transition, however, has a potential to bring deeper social implications than the previous transitions.
There were several sessions on community mapping. Many of the presentations in these sessions were focused more on mapping per se from the geospatial perspective. After listening these talks, I realized that we could have reported our activities in Youth Community Informatics (YCI) project. In YCI, we do not focus on mapping per se; rather we try to ensure that there is an explicit connection between mapping, lives of the people, and their communities. Further, we consider maps and mapping only a slice of the cube; we equally emphasize on audio, video, picture, and narrative as other slices. Most importantly, we encapsulate these within a broader learning framework of inquiry cycle as shown in the below diagram. Geometric primitives of points, lines, and polygons provide us frameworks to understand the world affairs. In YCI, we are beginning to experience that these geometric frameworks become more useful when they are filled with information about history, culture, and many other forms of human activities. Similarly, the value of audio, video, picture, narrative, and other sources of information multiplies as soon as they are referenced to location. In YCI, we have a clear emphasis on this supplementary relationship between geospatial and non-geospatial information. We believe that integration of these diverse sources and forms of information provides us a more holistic knowledge necessary to understand and respond to geospatial situations, which are often complex in nature.