Andrew Turner had a great post a few days ago asking the question “is Google Maps GIS?” Lots of insightful discussion ensued with questions around what is the definition of GIS and has the term itself outlived its usefulness.
In response to Andrew’s post, many folks argued that GoogleMaps/Earth is a GIS. Folks on the GIS side feel strongly it is not. Mike Hickey the President of MapInfo stated , “”the explosion of Neogeography is driving awareness [and] collaborative data consolidation [but it] isn’t GIS.”
The truth is likely somewhere between the two, but I think the more important point is that the gap between the two is shrinking at an incredibly rapid pace. I’d predict in the next few years there will be little that differentiates the GeoWeb from GIS other than the names identified with their past like ESRI, Google, Microsoft, MapInfo etc.
In many ways the landscape for GIS today is not much different than it was for statistics several years back. When I learned statistics we had to crank through command line programs like Stata, R and SAS. Today you can do the majority of the basic statistic functions in Excel or other spreadsheet applications. If you want to do hardcore stats you can still go back to the professional packages, but for the vast majority of people it is overkill and scares away users unnecessarily.
We are seeing much the same progression with GIS and the GeoWeb. More and more of the functionality that was traditionally associated with GIS will be ported over the GeoWeb in an easier to use framework that leverages the power of an interconnected Web. That is where the statistics analogy breaks down – it was based on an easy to use desktop app versus a hard to use desktop app. In the GIS/GeoWeb landscape there is the additional variable of being connected to the Web through the Internet.
This, I think, is where the GeoWeb will have its greatest advantage. It is built from the ground up to leverage the power of the Web. Versus GIS which is unfortunately saddled with trying to make the Web work their legacy desktop applications and client server systems. Web efficiencies I believe will push GIS into “the cloud” (as much as we make fun of the term – “puffy little Internet clouds”). The question is who is going to make it happen?
1) start ups like WeoGeo, CloudMade, Mapufacture or
3) Microsoft or
While I think the start ups will drive innovation I think at the end of the day it will be Google who makes it happen.
Why would Google want to do such a thing? It is an advertising company after all. Their mission is to organize the worlds information. Quoting Mike Jones from a talk in India, “most geospatial data today is locked away in workstations managed by proprietary software.” Jones’ vision is to have “all” geospatial information available to the world and indexed in a way that it can be accessed by those who need it (hence the Google geoindex – not well received by GIS users).” If the things standing between you and the data is “proprietary software” why not offer the software in the cloud and the data will reside there as well. That would seem the shortest path making the public data in that equation accessible.
In conclusion I believe this means we are in for a lot more convergence and there will be no debate in regards to the question “is Google Maps GIS?”
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