Home Articles NEOGEOGRAPHY: Goodbye to GIS?


Dr. Satyaprakash
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Pitney Bowes Software president, Mike Hickey statement that "the explosion of Neogeography is driving awareness [and] collaborative data consolidation [but it] isn't GIS", at Korem's Geodifussion conference and Joe Francica's post "Neogeaography is not GIS; not LI" which generated lot of discussion, instigated me also to have a look at the term "Neogeography".

Googling the term referred to almost 194,000 pages!, a significant number considering the fact that term was coined only few years ago by Di-Ann Eisnor, co-founder of Platial.com. Before getting into the definition of the term and discussions going around on several bogs, let's have a look at its origin. Di-Ann Eisnor says she and fellow creator Jason Wilson got the idea to create a site for sharing their information on the map through web, after returning from an extended stay in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. They wanted to share their created hard copy maps detailing local sight-seeing points (pinned for a way to keep them in a more permanent fashion), which were otherwise useless when they returned to USA. At that point they hoped that the site will grow into something with millions of interest plotted by thousands of users around the world, and they did not realise that this would lead them to some new terms like "mashups", "pushpins" etc. However, they termed it as "Neogeography" and this remained more in oblivion and other terms catched-up fast on the internet. So, is "Neogeography" is the merging of user data and experiences with online mapping technologies (https://www.mcwetboy.net/maproom/2006/04/neogeography.php), another term for "mashups"?

Let's look at differnet definitions being floated around in the geoblogsphere. According to Wikipedia Neogeography means "new geography" and consists of a set of techniques and tools that fall outside the realm of traditional GIS, the Geographic Information Systems. Where historically a professional cartographer might use GIS software like ArcGIS, MapInfo, etc., talk of Mercator vs Mollweide vs Lambert Conformal Conic projections, and resolve land area disputes or prepare disaster management plan or analyses the store sales data, a neogeographer uses a mapping API like Google Maps, talks about GPX versus KML, and geotags his photos to make a map of his summer vacation. Essentially, Neogeography is about people using and creating their own maps, on their own terms and by combining elements of an existing toolset.

Andrew Turner defines ), geographical techniques and tools used for personal activities or for utilization by a non-expert group of users; not formal or analytical.

[Greek, from neos, new. and Latin ge?graphia, from Greek ge?graphi?] neogeographer ne'o·ge·og'ra·pher n. Andrew Turner in his book "Introduction to Neogeography" (published by O'Reilly Media), says Neogeography combines the complex technique of cartography and GIS and places them within reach of users and developers. Bret Taylor, product manager for Google says, "We provide the map, and the other people put in the pushpins". This trend has been dubbed as Neogeography, and some enthusiasts predict, it could spur a revolution in "electronic cartography". (https://news.nationalgeographic.com) To my understanding (I am no GIS guru, like people commenting on this topic on the blogsphere), Neogeography is born when the GIS has matured. Before explaining this, let's have a look at "Nolan's Growth Model" (first published by Davis and Ohlsen for the IT industry in 1987) and later modified by Hans Bestebreurtje in 1997 for his MSc UNIGIS thesis on GIS Project Management (https://www.unigis.nl). The model (shown in Fig-1) has four stages of growth.

These four stages of the growth apply to every technology. When the technology reaches to the saturation level, it moves into the background, becomes acceptable to the masses and proliferates to the lowest user level. It is then when new solutions start being built. GIS also has reached to its saturation level (not in all regions of the world, although) and derivatives of this technology has started coming in. The term "Neogeography" is one such derivative of GIS. Similar thoughts, albeit in a different manner, is shared by Paul Bisset (https://blogs.weogeo.com), who suggests that this field – geography, mapping, whatever you want to call it – may be approaching a point of supersaturation. Software developers, hobbyists and others (may or may not have the understanding of the intricacies of GIS) have started developing tools and applications built around the available data and maps. This phenomenon is being termed as "Neogeography".

Dave Smith (https://surveying-mapping-gis.blogspot.com/) defines Neogeography as, "geographical techniques and tools used for personal activities or for utilization by a non-expert group of users; not formal or analytical". He even goes on to the extent of saying "Is there somewhere that "neoGeo" as empowerment of the non-geographers, noncoders and folks who don't have access to "real" GIS ala ArcGIS, et cetera ends". Does neogeography scare the traditional geospatial community? The GIS World magazine (www. geoplace. com), for their annual "Industry Outlook" article for the Dec 07 issue asked their industry advisory board members "Does neogeography help or hurt the geospatial industry?" Responses were generally positive, except from David Maguire (ESRI) and Carl Reed (OGC)!

So, GIS and neogeography, both are here to stay as geography has survived alongwith GIS and other sciences. Yes, neogeography has helped the GIS and mapping professionals being recognised by the masses (largely thanks to Google and their API) and new tools and application being developed which can be used by all and sundry and is not restricted to a closed and specialised group. This will further help in maturing the GIS technology.

Lastly, I would like to share a Visio diagram (Fig-2, https://surveying-mapping-gis.blogspot.com), which summarises the comparison between traditional geospatial and Neogeography.

It is for you to decide, whether this signals an end to the GIS or towards more mature GIS?