These are the slides from the presentation that I gave to the BCS Geospatial SG.
The talk abstract is:
Here is a useful party trivia: as a form of human communication, maps pre-date text by thousands of years – some early spatial depictions are 25,000 years old, whereas writing emerged only 4000 years ago. When it comes to computing, the reverse is true: the first wide use of computing is from the early 1950s, whereas the first effort to create a GIS only started in 1966. There are good reasons for this, chief among them is the complexity of handling geographical information in digital computers. An adverse impact of this challenge is that for many years geospatial technologies developers focused on functionality and not on the interaction with end-users. The result of this focus is that while word processors and spreadsheets became popular in the early 1980s, only with the emergence of ‘Web Mapping 2.0’ in 2005, GIS and geospatial technologies became more popular, albeit far from universally usable.
The talk covered interaction and user aspects of geospatial technologies, pointing to issues that permeate the usability and usefulness of geographical information itself (e.g. why ESRI shapefile is a popular format despite its drawbacks?), the programming of geospatial technology (e.g. why OGC WMS did not spark the mashup revolution, while Google Maps API did?) and the interaction of end users with desktop and web-based GIS.
And the talk happened at the same day in which the excellent Third Workshop on the Usability of Geographic Information was running at the Ordnance Survey.
3 thoughts on “Maps are wonderful, but GIS are hard to use. What can we do about it?”
Muki: ” some early spatial depictions are 25,000 years old, whereas writing emerged only 4000 years ago.”
While I see the point of this comparison I would actually argue that maps rose to prominence much more recently with the modern state, so 16th/17th/18th century. As Denis Wood has argued, the historical record before that is sketchy (certainly 25,000BP is doubtful). In other words as tools of governance, maps are way younger than writing and certainly language.
I am aware about the arguments about the issue of maps and the points that you mentioned – but the discussion is about the use of spatial representations for everyday use, and not as tools of governance. In other words, from the point of view of usability, there should be a way to make spatial representations accessible to everyone. Where the history of modern maps is relevant is that the current crop of popular representations are direct decedents from these 16th C maps…
“but the discussion is about the use of spatial representations for everyday use, and not as tools of governance.”
This raises the question of whether there is a difference. I might be willing to state that the primary (or at least essential) purpose of maps (even everyday maps) is in fact as governance. I use the term in the sense of Foucault, that is, as technologies of governmentality. Here I’m drawing not just from Wood’s classic reading of the North Carolina road map, but the governmentality/biopolitics literature.