Lessons Learned from Neogeography Applied to GIS

My presentation at the NCGIS 2009 conference was "Lessons Learned from Neogeography Applied to GIS". Obviously a very interesting topic, given the continual discussion around the term "neogeography" as well as standards, web tools, and open data. Sean and I spent a good bit of time exchanging viewpoints and ideas so that I could get a better idea of where GIS users are coming from and their common criticisms of the neogeography domain.

What we realized was that these criticisms are reflections that GIS itself is facing:

  • lack of metadata,
  • amateurs doing analysis, and
  • the loss of cartography


However because web maps are more public and involve feedback mechanism such as comments or blog posts, then they are much more visible and loudly critiqued.

Therefore, there is value in considering where this public discourse has more quickly evolved solutions and examples that GIS can incorporate. For example, standard user experience design around forms and input requests as well as feedback and user reward for supplying metadata. Sites like Yelp! make use of quite onerous metadata such as open hours, cuisine type, average cost - that the user is willingly supplying because it provides utility. They can then search, filter, and share this information.

Beyond the common criticisms, I identified three primary areas that neogeography is going beyond traditional GIS focus. Usability, Interoperability, and Participation are all aspects that GIS has struggled with, and in fact any inwardly focused domain has difficulty achieving. By incorporating innovative and external solutions that have emerged, GIS has the ability to take advantage and excel in applying these lessons to achieving their own needs.


I believe the presentation was well received, and definitely touched upon many points raised in other presentations both in recognizing the positive aspects of innovative GIS applications as well as common problems that are faced exposing complex data and capabilities to citizens. I'm definitely interested in any additional feedback or thoughts. I'll be speaking and discussing in several panels at the American Association of Geographers meeting in Las Vegas next month - a group with similar criticisms and potential points of collaboration.

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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.