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Neogeography – towards a definition

Published in Neogeography  |  13 Comments

Over the past day there has been a large discussion about “what is neogeography” in the geoblogosphere. (more posts). It’s apparent that, given the quick and large-scale response to the original impetus, that this question has been brewing in the minds of many geo-types.

There are many analogies to draw here – and typical to the geoworld they see their situation as newly evolved, yet the same thing has happened in other, less specialist realms for much longer. Look at journalism vs. blogging, movies vs. television, or any number of other field that has had its identity questioned. My feelings are that GIS and Neogeography are in fact different things – but that doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive.

They have different goals and purposes. Their tools may often overlap, or even be the same in many cases, but probably with much different use cases. As technology advances in a field, and becomes more wide spread, easy to use, and powerful, then tools show up in the general market that enable a broader range of users that don’t have the same experience and values as the original audience. This happened when supercomputers came to your pocket so you could figure out the right tip at dinner or check sports scores. I doubt that’s what Turing had in mind, but that doesn’t make the purpose less important.

An Analogy Extended

A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation at the University of Kansas on just this topic (slides). One parallel I drew was the concept of potentially emerging field of “Neoeconomics”. You’re an average consumer, planning your family budget. You probably don’t buy GEMODEL 3.2 to figure out how much you can spend on travel. Instead, you pull up a spreadsheet program like Excel and pound away entering numbers. You use the right tool for your job.

However, extend that a little further, what if economists could in fact aggregate everyone’s private budget together and use this information to forecast purchasing trends, GDP and inflation? They would know expected money flow from the general populace. And now, what if, Economists could syndicate that information back down to everyone to utilized in correcting their budgets based on real expectations. There would be a better estimate of your salary, raise, cost of goods, and general economy. Things you care about for you and your family.

This is what is happening in the geospatial community right now. Neogeographers are creating tools and data for their use and goals, and mashing them up and doing all sorts of new (and not so new) activites with these powerful tools. GIS experts are then utilizing these data and tools for analysis, coordination, and decision support. See the power of a mixture of tools like Google MyMaps, Twitter, Flickr, and MODIS satellite data (one of these things isn’t like the others) when put together by a GIS expert for disaster response in the San Diego Fires. Neogeographers, public, and GIS experts working together smoothly. It almost makes me giddy.

So it’s not REST, or GoogleEarth, or any data format, single tool, company, or title that makes something GIS or Neogeography. But that gets back to the question, “What is Neogeography”?

The Definition

In doing research for the GISDay 2007 presentation, I looked at the etymology of other terms with neo- prefix and similar terms like colloquial. Also, in my experience writing the book, giving talks, writing geo-tools, consulting, advising, assisting, chatting, and mapping – and most importantly as part of a complete career shift for me from my previous work, I spent a lot of time pondering the concept of Neogeography.

Based on my above thoughts, it has a kinship with the concept of “GIS” but also has different purposes and goals. So it is necessary to demarcate itself from GIS. To this end, I propose a definition.

neogeography |nē’ō-jē-ŏg’rə-fē|

geographical techniques and tools used for personal activities or for utilization by a non-expert group of users; not formal or analytical.

[Greek, from neos, new. and Latin geōgraphia, from Greek geōgraphiā]

neogeographer ne’o·ge·og’ra·pher n.

At least it’s a succint phrasing of a concept that we can all collectively discuss. And finally, for just a small illustration: If you’re using Tagzania to measure biodiversity of the cuddle-fish, you’re doing GIS – if you’re using ArcGIS to make a map of your summer vacation, you’re doing neogeography.

PS. lazyweb, make me a ‘You might be a neogeographer if…’ like game for this

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  1. Edward Vielmetti says:

    December 6th, 2007 at 6:50 pm (#)

    you might be a neogeographer if you asked @ajturner a question about how to do something and he said “hm, that’s an interesting question”.

    you might be a neogeographer if you took “map library” and “library 2.0” and smashed them together and got something interesting.

    you might be a neogeographer if you have some way of visualizing “like flickr, but for maps!” or “like twitter, but for maps!” or “like linkedin, but with maps!” (that last one I could really use).

  2. Dave Smith says:

    December 6th, 2007 at 7:46 pm (#)

    One might point out that some of what is going on under the umbrella of “neogeography” – particularly as per your definition of

    “geographical techniques and tools used for personal activities or for utilization by a non-expert group of users; not formal or analytical”

    is in fact being done by folks who spend their days and nights coding and cracking technical issues, as opposed to the complete neophyte – the Joe Public who’s touched nary a shapefile nor a line of code before in his life.

    Is there somewhere that “neoGeo” as empowerment of the non-geographers, non-coders and folks who don’t have access to “real” GIS ala ArcGIS, et cetera ends;

    …in turn blending into where “Geography 2.0” begins, forming the realm of OS, mixed-discipline professionals, coders and other similar efforts;

    …which in turn also ends and blends into “paleoGeo” of the tradition desktop ArcGIS and similar users?

    Doesn’t it all at some point become a continuous spectrum?

  3. Neogeography Use Cases, Pretending to be an Architect « The Memory Leak says:

    December 7th, 2007 at 2:30 pm (#)

    […] Use Cases, Pretending to be an Architect Posted December 7, 2007 More discussion over at High Earth Orbit on neogeography […]

  4. Tyler says:

    December 14th, 2007 at 2:18 pm (#)

    The GIS World magazine (Dec 07) has their annual “Industry Outlook” article where they ask their industry advisory board members what they forecast on a variety of topics. This year they posted the question: “Does neogeography help or hurt the geospatial industry?” Responses were generally positive, except from David Maguire (ESRI) and Carl Reed (OGC).

    So far it looks like it is available only in print, but they eventually post the articles on their website:

  5. RenaLId :: Questions sur la néogéographie… says:

    December 23rd, 2007 at 5:49 pm (#)

    […] […]

  6. Carl Reed says:

    February 29th, 2008 at 12:45 pm (#)

    Tyler –

    A bit of context regarding my Neogeography response. From a NeoGeo perspective, there is the potential for harm due to the fact that geo content and applications can be deployed and used with minimal consideration or knowledge of the underlying and fundamental principals of geodesy, cartography, and/or geography. When combined with the lack of statements concerning quality, accuracy, whether the data are fit for purpose and so forth there is the real potential for misuse of a neogeo applications. Sure, if one is deploying an application showing favorite bike routes there is really no issue. However, if such applicatons percolate into mission critical applications, such as emergency services, where there are real human (legal) consequences . . . This is the area of my concern. If NeoGeo applications are not properly positioned and used, such misuse could hurt the reputation of the geospatial industry. I am not opposed to NeoGeo. As a matter of fact, NeoGeo is providing a great service in engaging a much broader community of geo developers and users. But I also think we need to insure that such applications are properly positioned, advertized, and used.

  7. Is GoogleMaps GIS? :: High Earth Orbit says:

    June 12th, 2008 at 3:29 pm (#)

    […] thought more generally goes along with previous discussions about what is Neogeography, though more focused on the underlying technologies and even the question if GIS is primarily a set […]

  8. dshorter says:

    June 12th, 2008 at 7:06 pm (#)

    How about simply “Ameateur geography”?

  9. Andrew says:

    June 16th, 2008 at 11:25 pm (#)

    @dshorter – because it’s not “beginner geography”, it’s actually a different application space, methodology, and toolset.

    @Carl – this is a similar argument that Media and News are facing – bloggers, video bloggers, photographers given the same power as professionals. There are definitely potential pitfalls or negative consequences, but the benefits of tremendous. The responsibility lies with the tool developer and advocates to properly impart the wisdom necessary for the tools. However, this won’t guarantee proper usage – but relying on obscurity and difficulty to be barriers to use isn’t a satisfactory solution.


    July 8th, 2008 at 11:02 am (#)

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  11. joe cool says:

    November 19th, 2008 at 4:52 pm (#)

    Andrew Turner you are a genius, how do you come up with ths stuff. Albert Einstein could not even come close to your level of intelligence. I think you are wasting your talent writing blogs, you should be making maps for World Leaders.

  12. joe cool says:

    November 19th, 2008 at 5:04 pm (#)

    You are my new hero. It used to be George W. Bush, but now I have a new hero named Andrew Turner. I want to thank you for inspiring me, I know what I want to do the rest of my life now, GIS for life.

  13. L’ubiquità sarà sempre più sinonimo di realtà e allo stesso tempo di dinamicità grazie all’apporto delle tecnologie satellitari e dello sviluppo di architetture di comunicazione e sistemi di interazione sempre più flessibili - UXmagazine says:

    January 18th, 2010 at 9:23 am (#)

    […] degli strumenti in ambito geografico che ci permette di accedere ad un nuovo tipo di comunicazione (Turner). Non è una novità infatti che con la diffusione di sistemi di gestione dati sempre più potenti, […]