GISDay 2007 at University of Kansas - Neogeography and GIS

I spent much of Geography Week and GISDay at the University of Kansas as an invited speaker on 'Neogeography'. I was lucky enough to meet the coordinator, Josh Campbell, at FOSS4G, and invited to join the illustrious group of speakers, including Geoff Zeiss of Autodesk and Brian Timoney of The Timoney Group. GISDay has often been very technical, or rah-rah ESRI products. Josh had a goal this year to introduce innovations in geospatial technology through use of open-source software and open-standards. Although I will point out that Jeremy Bartley, a member ESRI's ArcGIS Server development team had an impressive demonstration of their new ArcGIS 9.3 and the ability to integrate with web mapping platforms and open-standards.

Aimee Stewart gave a really intriguing presentation on LifeMapper, employing OGC interfaces and distributed computing for biodiversity modeling. I'm hoping she'll submit a topic to Where2.0 2008. Jude Kastens' talk on flood mapping was very pertinent considering recent disasters and very threatening dams in Mosul and Three-Gorges.

My presentation slides are available here. They are slightly condensed, as they re-used some of my GeoStack slides from Where2.0, so left them out of this export. My goal was to address the increasing discussion, and questions around "What is Neogeography, and how does it fit with traditional GIS and cartography?".

To this end, and inspired by my visit to the historic maps showcased at the Festival of Maps, I gave a brief history of cartography (as I understand it) and how Neogeography can be viewed as a resurgence in 'colloquial cartography'. I will write more on this later, but I was struck by many similarities between previous mapping efforts of ancient and medieval peoples and neogeography of today. Storytelling, ephemeral location markers, and emergence of new wayfinding schemes have repeated themselves with various rounds of technology and culture.

Based on this contextualing of Neogeography, I then offered a proposed, first draft, definition and illustrated various means by which Neogeography has led the way in providing an understandable, user-centric interface to powerful geospatial technology. This has been most recently, and very powerfully, demonstrated with Christopher Schmidt's San Diego Fire map that employed MODIS satellite imagery, LandSat basemap, Flickr images, Google MyMaps documentation from citizens and news agencies, OpenStreetMap roads, and PictEarth Aerial images, to provide a usable, up-to-date, accurate, information on the occuring disaster.

An Evaluation


I was definitely concerned, going into the day, how my message would be received. I wasn't sure of the audience, but assumed it would consist primarily of Geography Students and Professors, both of whom are typically ensconced in proprietary, 'old-school' solutions. Both because those are the tools they know and have data formatted for, and because they typically don't have to pay for the potentially expensive licenses. And like typical academics, they rarely have to be concerned with general public-facing usage of their software or results.

The presentation went "well", in a I didn't fall over success, but I felt there was some broad understanding but not necessarily a deep connection with what I was saying and trying to convey. I did get follow up from the non-geographers in the room that they found my presentation really enlightening and gave them inspiration and material to start investigating adding geo* to their particular application. This is exactly the kind of person that needs to connect with Geographers and GIS experts. I guess the medium will be 'slippy maps' and 'spinny globes' and more importantly, common open-data standards such as GeoRSS and KML.

On Thursday I gave a 2-hour workshop/tutorial on Neogeography. This was another strange presentation to prepare for. I had to remove a lot of basic material from my slide deck. I could safely assume a Ph.D. Geography student knew what "latitude and longitude" meant, and how projections worked. However, they probably (and in reality didn't) have much experience creating webpages, FTP, or Javascript. My personal goal was for the attendees to walk away knowing how to take the KML files they created from Brian Timoney's tutorial and be able to display them online via Mapstraction or OpenLayers. We had success.

Two-way street


I really did enjoy the entire trip, simply because I enjoy talking with people and sharing ideas, but also because the exposure to a large group of GIS users was such an enlightening experience. Typically in my previous meetings and conferences I'm either surrounded by other Neogeographer-types or even non-geospatial people. I still think there is a long-way to go to convince GIS users where and how they fit into the new tools, and how Neogeographers have a lot to learn on how to properly, and powerfully, engage geospatial technology.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.