Thursday, December 23, 2010

Three Ages of Geographic Information Users:

Substantial changes are occuring how GIS are used. Roughly three ages can be differentiated:
past: public administration,
current: commercial, and
future: personal.

Past: In the 1970s, Geographic Information Systems were proposed to use the then new electronic data processing machines to reduce the duplication of collection and maintenance cost of spatial information in the public administration. Multi-purpose cadastres were designed to integrate available data based on location to improve urban planing, maintenance of urban infrastructure and avoid accidents. The Harvard Graphics Lab at that time included researchers like Jack Dangermond and Nick Chrisman to name but two who are still influencing GIS today.

Present: 1990 the U.S. Bureau of the Census put street centerlines on-line and topography became available from USGS. These datasets allowed commercial users to geo-code their client data with street addresses and to use spatial analysis tools. GPS receivers and mobile communication devices helped logistic business to manage their fleets and improve dispatch of vehicles. Mapquest, Google, and car navigation system hold now improved street network and traffic data to sell navigation guidance information in different forms, often paid indirectly by advertisement. An increasing number of ordinary people use today location related information on a day-to-day base.

Future: People manage their personal information increasingly in electronic form on multiple devices: calenders in the Internet “cloud”, address list and phone books on PC or mobile phones. Personal collections of digital photographs grow quickly. My new digital camera includes a GPS receiver and all photographs are geo-coded, but I cannot ask “How did this place look when I last visited?” My smart-phone allows me to trade with GPS my movements during the day. The different tools producing and managing my personal data are mostly location blind and non-cooperative. Location could in the future serve as an organizing principle. I expect the next generation of personal information management system (PIM) to be spatially aware PIMs (sPIM), which amounts to a GIS for personal use (pGIS).

Two concluding observations:

- The market for systems for public administrations is mostly saturated and the commercial market, much larger, is still growing. Imagine the market for pGIS - virtually everybody is a potential user!

- The time it takes from research to widespread application is much longer than expected: it took 10 to 20 years for GIS in public administration and commercial use. The research required to make pGIS a reality done today will be the foundation of the killer application in the 2020s!

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