National mapping agencies: Between a rock and a hard location

National mapping agencies: Between a rock and a hard location


Robin McLaren
Director, Know Edge Ltd
[email protected]

Pressurised to remain viable in delivering authoritative geospatial data in challenging economic times, many national mapping and cadastral agencies are developing strategies to incorporate crowdsourced data into their production processes

We are much more location aware now than we were a few years ago and location-based services (LBS) are reshaping how we plan trips, meet friends and find good local restaurants (Steudler et al, 2012). Web 2.0 social media has turned location-based and has moved social media from cyberspace to real place (Sui and Goodchild, 2011). Most location-based social media allow users to know and see on a map where their friends are physically located at a particular time, primarily based on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS)-enabled mobile phones.

The location revolution
The global market for LBS is projected to reach over USD 21 billion in annual revenue by 2015, registering around 1.24 billion subscribers (PRWeb, 2012). The market is being driven by the proliferation of GNSSenabled smart phones, growing popularity of mobile commerce and increasing usage of location based social network services, location-based shopping applications, location- enabled search and location-based mobile advertising. Additionally, increasing demand for personal navigation and LBS that provide users with points of interest (POI) information augurs well for the future of this market and the associated geospatial data market.

This location revolution in our personal lives is being mirrored in our professional lives. Geospatial information is increasingly being used to ensure that emergency services arrive at incidents in time, to support the formulation of policies to mitigate the impact of climate change, to ensure that services are better targeted to citizens’ needs and to empower citizens and communities to manage their localities more effectively. A recent McKinsey report (McKinsey, 2011) estimates that in 2020, the worldwide personal geospatial data market will generate over USD 100 billion in revenues for the service providers and generate USD 700 billion of value to end users by 2020; data is the new currency.

Citizen involvement in location revolution
Traditionally, governments have had their own formal channels for collecting public sector geospatial information, normally through national mapping and cadastral agencies (NMCA). Originally, internal resources were used, but over the past 30 years, the private sector has increasingly been involved in the collection and maintenance of data through outsourcing and partnership agreements. However, a dramatic shift in how geospatial data is sourced is unfolding through the direct involvement of citizens in crowdsourcing. Its roots lie in the increasing convergence of three phenomena: the widespread use of GNSS and image-based mapping technologies by professionals and expert amateurs; the emerging role of Web 2.0, which allows more user involvement and interaction and the growth of social networking tools, practices and culture. This crowdsourcing approach is also known as "citizen cyberscience", "volunteered geographic information" and "neogeography" (McLaren, 2011).

The highest profile mappingbased crowdsourcing initiative is OpenStreetMap which in 2004 spearheaded the democratisation of mapping. It is perfectly adequate for many applications and is completely free to reuse under the Open Database Licence (ODbL) and has certainly influenced both public and private sector data suppliers.

State governments in Victoria, Australia and North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany use a 'private' crowd and employ volunteers to input to their mapping programmes (Coleman et al., 2010). In the commercial domain, firms such as NAVTEQ and TomTom use Webbased customer input to locate and qualify mapping errors and/or feature updates required in their road network databases.

Not all capture of crowdsourced information is active. They are increasingly carrying devices that can sense and can be sensed. Ubiquitous sensing has entered the back pocket and handbag. In the case of mobile phones, a significant amount of information is captured passively (usually with the authority of the user). The phenomenal growth of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter and the more recent development of location-based social networking have raised awareness of location issues across society – for example the Foursquare ( social checkin site. These citizen sensors in social media are providing new sources of real-time and dynamic geospatial information that can be used in time-critical or real-time monitoring and decision making.

As well as geospatial information supporting outdoor navigation, the integration of inertial measurement units (IMUs) into future generations of mobile phones will provide geospatial data on the layout of buildings through passive crowdsourcing to provide more effective support of indoor navigation.

Crowdsourced data is people centric and have strengths in local knowledge, higher currency, wider range of geospatial data, greater attribution and good vernacular. However, crowdsourced data is not normally managed in a systematic manner with moderation and therefore tends to have inconsistent coverage with variable and unknown quality and authenticity. Despite these drawbacks, crowdsourced geospatial data is being used in an increasing number of professional and social applications where accurate, authoritative and assured (AAA) geospatial data is not required. It is delivering significant benefits to developing countries where up-to-date mapping is sparse.

The impact of crowdsourced geospatial data on NMCAs
The increasing availability of free to reuse geospatial data from crowdsourcing, the powerful private technology companies and public sector open data initiatives are putting pressure on NMCAs to remain viable in delivering their authoritative geospatial data in challenging economic times. Many NMCAs are developing strategies to incorporate crowdsourced data into their production processes. These proposed strategies range from using open crowdsourced data to just derive change intelligence; through using crowdsourced data from more trusted targeted sources, e.g. professional map users such as mountain guides; to the NMCA acting as a moderator of semi-structured crowdsourced inputs similar to the Wikipedia approach. Most NMCAs are cautious about this change as combining crowdsourced data with authoritative data is perceived to devalue the NMCA authoritative products and potentially increase their exposure to litigation.

The global technology companies have understood the power of location and just how effective the use of geospatial data is in generating significant revenues through location based-shopping applications, location- enabled search and location-based mobile advertising. Where these companies cannot source existing geospatial data, they create their own sources with increasing levels of detail and quality. These data will be augmented by crowdsourcing, increasingly sourced through location-based social media and passive crowdsourcing. This will place further pressure on the survival of NMCAs who will retreat to the diminishing market for authoritative geospatial data.

Geospatial data used to be definitive and expensive and there were no alternatives. The fusion of sources of geospatial information from the public sector, commercial companies, the citizen as a 'prosumer' and the expanding sensors in the 'Internet of Things' is transforming the geospatial information landscape. Society now has access to an ever increasing rich set of geospatial information and associated location-based information services that are embedded and pervasive in our professional and personal lifestyles.