Is GoogleMaps GIS?

In my previous post about building a KML of the California green building directory I made a very off-hand comment about how a GoogleMap does not mean GIS. Andres has challenged my comment and provoked a very thoughtful discussion.

My original comment was merely based on the original article of the Green Building site that seemed to imply that GoogleMaps alone meant a GIS. My feelings are that mapping tools have become ubiquitous and easy to use - not requiring advanced expertise to utilize for visualizing geospatial information.

This 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 of technologies or is it the techniques, and application of those techniques?

GoogleMaps GIS.png

From my perspective, the claim that a web map is GIS is similar to saying that a light switch is Electrical Engineering. Engineering was used in the design and development of the house electrical system and grid. But in the end, the light switch has become a commodity. It's a device anyone can grab off of a local hardware store shelf and install in their house.

The digital incarnation of geospatial tools has quickly changed the landscape of GIS and geo-applications. GoogleMaps and associated slippy maps, geocoders, and visualization tools are an impressive integration of techniques and technologies, but it has also become a commodity that any developer can quickly implement into a site. This does not detract from their usefulness, but merely is a comment on the reduced knowledge and expertise an implementer or user requires to make preliminary use of such a system.

What does this mean for GIS? FantomPlanet pointed out the same thought. GIS has the capability to lead the way in developing more advanced tools. GoogleMaps has made the idea of web mapping vernacular, and that means there is a strong desire for better tools to reach into more places. More advanced techniques and understanding will push these new tools to provide analysis and understanding of complex processes.

Thanks for challenging me Andres! Join the discussion.

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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.