the spatial search or analysis is conducted on a remote server.
Applications that once were performed by an application specialist on a desktop are
now pushed to a server and quickly and seamlessly accessed by a host of users on a wide
range of devices. This has enabled handheld devices to become powerful tools. Thou-
sands of GIS professionals employed by the Census Bureau and hundreds of other organi-
zations can go into the ﬁeld with an inexpensive handheld device to capture new attri-
butes or update existing ones and wirelessly transmit this data back to the ofﬁce. Similarly,
average citizens can now access Google earth on their iPhones to determine their current
location or to ﬁnd a good restaurant.
Some experts suggest that emphasis should shift toward the technical and institutional
infrastructure to support the distribution of geographic information throughout society.
These spatial data infrastructures (SDI) are frameworks that incorporate technologies,
policies, standards and human resources to store, process and distribute vast amounts
of data across many organizations and among governments. In the United States, the
development of SDIs began in 1994 when President Clinton issued an executive order to
create the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and form the Federal Geographic
Data Committee (FGDC). This mandate validated the essential role geographic infor-
mation plays in modern society. The order drove systems to be better coordinated and
less redundant. less emphasis was placed on products and more attention was given to
processes, knowledge infrastructure, capacity building, communication and coordination.
In an Internet-based world, value reaches beyond simply sharing data, and extends to
judging data quality and to determining data ﬁtness for consumption. With this, came the
necessity to document data in a manner similar to documenting a library’s book catalog.
Database quality and content took on a different meaning as public agencies published
their data via Web browser-based applications that allowed average citizens to query and
view detailed information about their property.
Much emphasis in the 21st century has been placed on providing accurate data to sup-
port decision-making. In the public and commercial arena, these decisions are diverse.
organizations want to know how to pursue an enemy on a battleﬁeld; what are the best
land use alternatives for combating global warming; where should police be assigned to
reduce crime; what areas are at risk for West Nile virus; what is the best site to build new
schools; or what are the route logistics for efﬁcient delivery truck ﬂeet management. At
a personal level, people want to know how to get to a party, where to vote, what neigh-
borhood is a good location to buy a house, where to ﬁnd their friends, and how will an
ambulance ﬁnd them when they call 911.
Today’s citizens, taxpayers, and homeowners have an entirely different set of geographic
information needs and expectations than people did thirty, twenty or even eight years
ago. They want to access geographic information from home through powerful, inexpen-
sive personal computers by means of broadband networks. People accustomed to social
Internet structures are as interested in publishing as they are in consuming information.
They will readily participate in Facebook’s “what are you doing now” dialog. Today’s
generation of Internet users are often armed with their personal navigation system, are
repeat consumers of Google earth data, and expect easy-to-use applications such as seeing
their homes and relational values. They ﬂock to sites such as Zillow.com and Cyberhomes.
com to view the value of their property and observe the trends in their neighborhoods.
This cyberspace generation has high expectations of geographic technologies. They expect
to link to their local assessor’s records. They expect detailed, recent aerial photography,
and, even better, with bird’s-eye views at four different oblique angles. In reaction to these
demands, local governments are incorporating GIS into their enterprise-wide IT environ-
ments. Waukesha, Wisconsin, for instance, reports that scores of business decisions relat-
ing to everything from e911 to school zoning are driven from a parcel-based GIS because
it is the expected norm.
Development approaches change dramatically when designing systems that meet the
needs of users who are homeowners and taxpayers. Governor o’Malley of Maryland
…I’d like you to consider the answer to this question – why is it that virtually any
display of GIS technology quickly inspires someone one to ask the timeless question,
“…Can you show me my house?…” Through the power of mapping, we were able to
create our city’s [Baltimore] ﬁrst-ever complete inventory of housing stock including
the ownership information that could be used and accessed by mangers of boarding
and cleaning crews, by those responsible for policing, those responsible for inspections,
those responsible for ﬁling the lien on the property after cleaning, those in the city’s
housing department responsible for clearing title, and taking title, and those respon-
sible for disposing of title so the property could be redeveloped and returned to the tax
To meet the expectations of these new users that include citizens, public employees, and
real estate-associated professionals, a uniﬁed approach is required. Property lines must be
accurately depicted, images must display ﬁne details (new additions and renovations), and
3D terrain models must model the ﬂow of water through a neighborhood. These needs
can only be met by investments in new data and geographic information tools that inte-
grate vast amounts of very high-resolution data that is often measured in terabytes.
The Evolution of GIS: the new white board
The previous discussion suggests that the evolution of geographic information technol-
ogy into mainstream consumer applications had its origins in investments and innova-
tions made by the federal government. At the beginning of this transformation, a single
individual or sometimes a small group of scientists could post information into a single
computer and see limited results. But barriers still existed for that group to publish results
to a wider audience. Now, current IT infrastructure encompasses federated, Web-based,
and private-sector approaches. This changing landscape affects and is affected by the
federal government as well as multi-collaborative stakeholders. Signiﬁcant advances in
technology have changed the relative roles of different stakeholders as well as the markets’
environment. It is hard to ignore the importance of the recognition by Microsoft, Apple
and Google of the business case for location-based searches and applications in changing
a ﬁeld that was once dominated by the public sector GIS professionals. Now the result-
ing data and software generated by the dedicated GIS community can be leveraged by the
exploding group of casual GIS consumers.
The earth is a huge study area. It can be divided into pieces of various sizes and studied
at macro or micro scales. For some applications, such as tracking hurricanes, scientists can
rely on relatively coarse-grained information but need it updated in real time. Conversely,
a civil engineer may require centimeter-level precision when constructing a new bridge.
The history of geographic information applications has been one of making trade-offs. A
person could either study large areas at crude levels of detail or small areas in ﬁne detail.
As we approach the end of the ﬁrst decade of the 21st century, these trade-offs no longer
apply. Perhaps no application exempliﬁes the success of this better than Google earth.
When released in June 2005, Google earth represented a paradigm shift that shook many
of our established perceptions about geospatial data. It offered multi-scale, full earth vi-
sualization that was free, easy to use and provided a dynamic sense of travel. even though
several examples of large-scale, robust geospatial databases existed, none could match
Google earth’s ability to ﬂy virtually to any place on earth and visualize information at
ﬁne detail. Because it is free and easy to use, its success has skyrocketed over the past three
GIS application calculates solar
energy potential in Boston
years. Content from scores of sources (National Geographic, New york Times, youTube
etc.) has been geographically tagged.
A recent article, “Armchair Archaeology” in The economist, describes how Google
earth is changing the way archaeologists “make discoveries, develop theories and plan
expeditions.” The archeologist states, “Google earth gives you free access to imagery that
would otherwise cost a fortune and require specialist training to make use of.” A conser-
vative estimate of the number of Google earth users is more than 100 million. The net
result is that in just three decades, the number of geographic data users has grown from
tens of thousands, to a few hundred thousand and then almost instantaneously jumped
to hundreds of millions. Its impact has been widely documented in the popular press by
experts such as James Fallows of Atlantic Monthly who considers Google earth to be the
fourth major innovation in popular computing (along with text editing, the Internet,
and the Web). It is so mainstream that it has been the subject of New yorker cartoons
and Google earth for Dummies is now a popular reference. More importantly, Google
earth has actually become a common platform for hosting and sharing geographically
referenced content of all kinds. In many ways, the mapping service has emerged as the
new geographic whiteboard, with hundreds of millions of users posting, consuming and
comparing data collaboratively on a common earth study area. This simple-to-use visual-
ization tool is valuable complement to the professional GIS tools that continue to be used
to develop content, execute spatial analysis and perform modeling to support businesses
and governments across the country. The value of spatial data and visualization is being
realized simultaneously by casual users and professionals.
Considerations amidst the sea change
The demonstrated public appetite for spatial information will require a substantial, edu-
cated GIS workforce to meet the demand. The Geospatial Information and Technology
Association reported that the geospatial sector has steadily increased by 35% a year, with
the commercial side growing at an incredible rate of 100% annually. The US Department
of labor predicted that geospatial was one of the three technology areas that would create
the most jobs in the coming decade and importantly these are high tech and good paying
governmental and commercial relationships upside down. Most noteworthy has been the
dramatic shift of the federal government from being the primary provider of geographic
data to that of a major consumer. With a few exceptions for administrative regulations
such as the decennial census and ﬂood plain boundaries, local governments create their
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested