Happy GISDay

A week ago (on Thursday) someone tweeted “happy postgisday”, and yes, it was the day after GISDay. This yearly event is, as is stated on the GISDay website: “The annual salute to geospatial technology and its power to transform and better our lives”. Looking at the event map as published on the website I was amazed by two things, firstly the wide spread of events all over the globe, secondly that there was no event planned in The Netherlands, although there exists a good and well organized GIS community. And I did not organize any event either.

My thought was: What could I have organized to bring GIS to a wider audience? The following themes come to my mind:

The application of GIS in area’s where you do not expect it.

Not so long ago, about a decade or so, GIS mainly took place in the drawing room. Networks were not any longer designed and maintained on the large drawing boards with pen and paper. In the GIS era these drawing boards were replaced by digitizer boards and large monitors, and the blueprints were replaced by bits and bytes. With all this development answering questions on the assets became easier. Examples of questions you can answer in this context are: What is the current state of our network, what type of asset had the biggest interference sensitivity over the last period, what customers should be informed about the upcoming repair work?

As said in an earlier blog post on this subject the main shift appeared when navigation systems became more and more a commodity. Nowadays  GIS is not any longer limited only to the drawing room. We see GIS in many different contexts, and different industries, on places where you would not expect it. To tell this story may be my first presentation.

Your safety monitored with GIS

The second story is about Geo-data and boundaries. In European context Inspire is becoming more and more grown up. Inspire is the initiative that should create an infrastructure to make geo information and spatial data better accessible. When you cross a border (and in this case I am not even talking about the country borders), it may well be that the data that you find on the other side of the border is not directly usable. This can cause problems, for example when a river gets polluted, and we want to take steps to prevent the pollution to get into the drinking water supply chain. Best is to have data that can be easily exchanged between different organizations.

Different local governments store their data in different ways, this is due to for example the GIS software they use. The main result of this is that if we want to get a full overview of data available we should first create a common language. But not only we should store the spatial data in a common way, it must also be found across the different borders. So labels to the data and the datasets, the metadata, must be generalized too. In the last years we have seen a fast growth of the so called geo-portals, in the future these will be the entrance to the European data. They are a wonderful way to tell a larger audience how spatial data, and the systems storing and analyzing this data work together on monitoring safety.

The past analyzed with GIS

A growing theme in historical studies is the application of GIS to study spatio-temporal processes. Mapping differences between two or more different time periods, and showing where changes appeared. In the last decades I have published a number of these studies. For example on detecting changes in the urban landscape (how a city developed). But there is so much more that can be done on this subject. In the book “Past Time, Past Place” Anne Knowles collected a number of very good examples on how GIS can be applied in history. This book was published in 2002 and since then there has been a lot of new development. For example GIS has become better accessible and more a commodity in the historical sciences.

If we apply GIS to history we also come to the subject of story telling. With the historical datasets that we have available we can tell a story that may have been hidden before. This story can make the past more interactive, how odd this may sound. We can show the development of a town, starting from a little village on a sand ridge, and how, based on the written deeds we find in the archives, we see that over time the village grew. For example we can show the map, and how more and more streets and houses appear. In addition to this map we can add the deeds on which we base our findings to the different plots.

Next year… GISDay

Next year on GISDay (Wednesday, November 20, 2013) I would like to show small projects on these three examples, mainly to introduce GIS to a wider audience. In the mean time I will post examples here.

Location everywhere

Already for some time I have wanted to write about indoor positioning. Since Indoor positioning is going to be a future direction for a number of fields, including GIS. I had collected articles and did my research. And then yesterday by following another post (on big data, food, and visualization) I end up at a (Dutch) post from Numrush: “Indoor navigation system Wifarer announces first customer” [My translations, EK]. Author Johan Voets states in his post exactly what I wanted to tell you in my blog: “Indoor navigation. It sounds a bit unnatural, but it is definitely a fast growing market.”

In my earlier blogs on the fast developing GIS market I already indicated that mobile devices, such as smart phones, offer great possibilities. On a post from envisioningtech the location awareness is mentioned in the context of new sensors. The article uses the term “planned spontaneity”, as where – based on earlier experiences – your system takes decisions, based on a certain context. And yes this context does include location too.

The four elements

In another recent study Latitude mentions the 4 I’s: “four elements—the ‘4 I’s’—that will continue to play a significant role in our experiences with narrative-based media”. Immersion, interactivity, integration, and impact. To cite their report even further: “Immersion and interactivity primarily help an audience to go deeper into a story, while integration and impact are about bringing a story of out of the screen, into our actual lives.”

Location based services can play a major role in experiencing the 4 I’s. What if we can offer extra experience based on the current location? From my background as an art historian and travel guide I think I can say something about this story telling effect here too. People want to go around through a town or a museum and as a guide you need to be pointing out the particularities of a certain object or view. Applications that do so already exist in “open air” situations. And also many musea offer you the possibilities for an online guided tour. I have seen over the last years many of these wonderful initiatives.

But in musea we still see people typing in coded numbers on devices in order to receive the stories and the context. The Indoor Geo Database will include many Points Of Interest. And our smart algorithm will select the right combination of these POI for the current context. Many stories to tell, and based on your interest I can show you the same museum in a number of different ways.

“will people even indoors use the smartphone to navigate?”

Voets ends his post with “The question is: will people even indoors use the smart phone to navigate?”. My answer is clear, Yes they will. And Indoor Positioning is not only to be used in a museum or cultural context. What if I could go through a department store where my smart phone shows me the latest gadgets and offers, based on my recent online searches? Or maybe the system could combine earlier experiences and show me something real life that I was looking for a month ago.

Does this sound scary, or do you see the new possibilities? Like I said before I see new, and serious applications of this technology, in many different fields.

Thoughts on Mobile Geo Apps

Everyone following the tech-news in the last week must have stumbled over the new Apple Mapping application in iOS6. In about a week time we have seen an increase in the social media on the hash-tags “map” and “geo” in combination with “mobile”. This is a reason for me to write something about this subject.

It looks like many people are just finding out now that mapping is work for professionals and should not be taken too lightly. Making navigation software and the maps that come with it has many pitfalls. The one-way street that causes the long detour, the cycle or bus lane (complete with a small barrier) as connection between 2 street parts that cannot be crossed by car, the viaduct or tunnel that is invisible. Many volunteers that have worked (for more than 8 years already) on OpenStreetMap know how much work it is.

But not just navigation systems are using your geo-location. And not all geo apps will show you a map or a current location. There are more and more apps that use your location for numerous reasons.

Users and Geolocation

In May 2012 a number of media reported that “74 percent of US smartphone owners use the device to get real-time location-based information”. This was based on the outcomes of Pew Internet Research, and only figures for the US were given. These outcomes, and the increase since it was measured the year before, show the growing interest in location based information. Naturally we should not forget the number of people that do not know how to switch the feature off… At the same time we also see the growing awareness of people that have privacy concerns, as a study from ISACA that was published around the same time shows.

Increase in Mobile Applications using Geo

In relation to the studies mentioned above we have seen an increase in mobile mapping applications on smartphones over the last years. Many of these apps are caused by the rapid growth of mobile devices of course. But it is also the attractiveness of the maps and how images can be used to enhance other content, that drives developers to work on apps that use images. I believe this direction is good. And in short time the professional applications can benefit from the lessons learned by the app developers.

Not only in the field of the navigation and the social media we can expect new developments if it comes to location based services. There are many more fields where we can apply location. Like in the field of GIS where we see a fast growing number of users from different fields, we will see that many new apps will find out that knowing the location opens new opportunities.

But that is something for my next post…