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Working on Spatial Data quality and pragmatic enterprise solutions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Paradigm Shifts of Neo-Geography

Attending the world-wide Surveying and Spatial Information Conference FIG2010 this week in Sydney, I can't help but notice a growing divide between the traditional GIS and Surveying community and the rapidly evolving world of 'neo-geography', represented at the Where 2.0 conference just before Easter.

What sets these two apart, other than the average age of the delegates (about 60 and 30 respectively), is the way they approach the paradigm of computerised mapping.

The traditional paradigm is one of emulating the pre-computerised science and practices in an automated environment. In other words: creating an interactive equivalent of the paper map, preferably with overlayed 'acetate layers'.

The neo-geography world is characterised by two key paradigm shifts. The first is the concept of the map as (literally) a 'place-holder'. The map forms the spatial canvas for collecting, searching, exploring, integrating, and sharing information. For example, this paradigm is demonstrated by two Where 2.0 talks: Jack Dangermond's ArcGIS.com launch and Google's Michael Jones' "the new meaning of mapping".

Though I consider it a major shift, this paradigm still shares with paper maps and 'traditional GIS' the concept of using the map to convey information about places that are typically away from my current location. And it is still very much 'map-centric'.

The second paradigm shift was very well presented by Google Australia's Raul Vera's keynote at FOSS4G Sydney last year. It is the shift away from the map-centric viewpoint. Ubiquitous, location aware mobile devices are in our pockets today. That means firstly that all of a sudden we typically want information about where we are now, not about somewhere else: the special offers at the nearest coffeeshop, the names of the stars we see at night or when the next bus arrives. What's more, most of the time this information is best communicated by text, voice or images: there is no map in sight. In this paradigm location is 'just' an attribute, a bit of metadata, or an input parameter. And by making the location attribute, along with base data services, freely available through APIs, we can leave to the developer community at large to develop the next 'killer app'.


  1. Great articulation, Maurits, of paradigm shifts. The importance of these is huge and it's really helpful to read things like this as part of an effort to wrap one's head around it all.

  2. Thanks Marshall. Another interesting read on the difference between interactive maps vs. the map as an 'information tool' is here: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/04/06/maps-in-modern-web-design/