16 January, 2015
Thanks to invitations from UNIGIS and Edinburgh Earth Observatory / AGI Scotland, I had an opportunity to reflect on how Geographic Information Science (GIScience) can contribute to citizen science, and what citizen science can contribute to GIScience.
Despite the fact that it’s 8 years since the term Volunteers Geographic Information (VGI) was coined, I didn’t assume that all the audience is aware of how it came about or the range of sources of VGI. I also didn’t assume knowledge of citizen science, which is far less familiar term for a GIScience audience. Therefore, before going into a discussion about the relationship between the two areas, I opened with a short introduction to both, starting with VGI, and then moving to citizen science. After introduction to the two areas, I’m suggesting the relationships between them – there are types of citizen science that are overlapping VGI – biological recording and environmental observations, as well as community (or civic) science, while other types, such as volunteer thinking includes many projects that are non-geographical (think EyeWire or Galaxy Zoo).
However, I don’t just list a catalogue of VGI and citizen science activities. Personally, I found trends a useful way to make sense of what happen. I’ve learned that from the writing of Thomas Friedman, who used it in several of his books to help the reader understand where the changes that he covers came from. Trends are, of course, speculative, as it is very difficult to demonstrate causality or to be certain about the contribution of each trends to the end result. With these caveats in mind, there are several technological and societal trends that I used in the talk to explain how VGI (and the VGI element of citizen science) came from.
Of all these trends, I keep coming back to one technical and one societal that I see as critical. The removal of selective availability of GPS in May 2000 is my top technical change, as the cascading effect from it led to the deluge of good enough location data which is behind VGI and citizen science. On the societal side, it is the Flynn effect as a signifier of the educational shift in the past 50 years that explains how the ability to participate in scientific projects have increased.
In terms of the reciprocal contributions between the fields, I suggest the following:
GIScience can support citizen science by considering data quality assurance methods that are emerging in VGI, there are also plenty of Spatial Analysis methods that take into account heterogeneity and therefore useful for citizen science data. The areas of geovisualisation and human-computer interaction studies in GIS can assist in developing more effective and useful applications for citizen scientists and people who use their data. There is also plenty to do in considering semantics, ontologies, interoperability and standards. Finally, since critical GIScientists have been looking for a long time into the societal aspects of geographical technologies such as privacy, trust, inclusiveness, and empowerment, they have plenty to contribute to citizen science activities in how to do them in more participatory ways.
On the other hand, citizen science can contribute to GIScience, and especially VGI research, in several ways. First, citizen science can demonstrate longevity of VGI data sources with some projects going back hundreds of years. It provides challenging datasets in terms of their complexity, ontology, heterogeneity and size. It can bring questions about Scale and how to deal with large, medium and local activities, while merging them to a coherent dataset. It also provide opportunities for GIScientists to contribute to critical societal issues such as climate change adaptation or biodiversity loss. It provides some of the most interesting usability challenges such as tools for non-literate users, and finally, plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.
The slides from the talk are available below.
14 August, 2014
As far as I can tell, Nelson et al. (2006) ‘Towards development of a high quality public domain global roads database‘ and Taylor & Caquard (2006) Cybercartography: Maps and Mapping in the Information Era are the first peer-reviewed papers that mention OpenStreetMap. Since then, OpenStreetMap has received plenty of academic attention. More ‘conservative’ search engines such as ScienceDirect or Scopus find 286 and 236 peer reviewed papers (respectively) that mention the project. The ACM digital library finds 461 papers in the areas that are relevant to computing and electronics, while Microsoft Academic Research finds only 112. Google Scholar lists over 9000 (!). Even with the most conservative version from Microsoft, we can see an impact on fields ranging from social science to engineering and physics. So lots to be proud of as a major contribution to knowledge beyond producing maps.
Michael Goodchild, in his 2007 paper that started the research into Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), mentioned OpenStreetMap (OSM), and since then there is a lot of conflation of OSM and VGI. In some recent papers you can find statements such as ‘OpenstreetMap is considered as one of the most successful and popular VGI projects‘ or ‘the most prominent VGI project OpenStreetMap‘ so, at some level, the boundary between the two is being blurred. I’m part of the problem – for example, with the title of my 2010 paper ‘How good is volunteered geographical information? A comparative study of OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey datasets‘. However, the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable I am with this equivalence. I feel that the recent line from Neis & Zielstra (2014) is more accurate: ‘One of the most utilized, analyzed and cited VGI-platforms, with an increasing popularity over the past few years, is OpenStreetMap (OSM)‘. I’ll explain why.
Let’s look at the whole area of OpenStreetMap studies. Over the past decade, several types of research paper have emerged.
First, there is a whole set of research projects that use OSM data because it’s easy to use and free to access (in computer vision or even string theory). These studies are not part of ‘OSM studies’ or VGI, as, for them, this is just data to be used.
Third, there are studies that also look at the interactions between the contribution and the data – for example, in trying to infer trustworthiness.
[Unfortunately, due to academic practices and publication outlets, many of these papers are locked behind paywalls, but thatis another issue… ]
In short, there is a significant body of knowledge regarding the nature of the project, the implications of what it produces, and ways to understand the information that emerges from it. Clearly, we now know that OSM produces good data and are ware of the patterns of contribution. What is also clear is that many of these patterns are specific to OSM. Because of the importance of OSM to so many application areas (including illustrative maps in string theory!) these insights are very important. Some of these insights are expected to also be present in other VGI projects (hence my suggestions for assertions about VGI) but this needs to be done carefully, only when there is evidence from other projects that this is the case. In short, we should avoid conflating VGI and OSM.
Completeness in volunteered geographical information – the evolution of OpenStreetMap coverage (2008-2009)
13 August, 2010
The Journal of Spatial Information Science (JOSIS) is a new open access journal in GIScience, edited by Matt Duckham, Jörg-Rüdiger Sack, and Michael Worboys. In addition, the journal adopted an open peer review process, so readers are invited to comment on a paper while it goes through the formal peer review process. So this seem to be the most natural outlet for a new paper that analyses the completeness of OpenStreetMap over 18 months – March 2008 to October 2009. The paper was written in collaboration with Claire Ellul. The abstract of the paper provided below, and you are very welcome to comment on the paper on JOSIS forum that is dedicated to it, where you can also download it.
Abstract: The ability of lay people to collect and share geographical information has increased markedly over the past 5 years as results of the maturation of web and location technologies. This ability has led to a rapid growth in Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI) applications. One of the leading examples of this phenomenon is the OpenStreetMap project, which started in the summer of 2004 in London, England. This paper reports on the development of the project over the period March 2008 to October 2009 by focusing on the completeness of coverage in England. The methodology that is used to evaluate the completeness is comparison of the OpenStreetMap dataset to the Ordnance Survey dataset Meridian 2. The analysis evaluates the coverage in terms of physical coverage (how much area is covered), followed by estimation of the percentage of England population which is covered by completed OpenStreetMap data and finally by using the Index of Deprivation 2007 to gauge socio-economic aspects of OpenStreetMap activity. The analysis shows that within 5 years of project initiation, OpenStreetMap already covers 65% of the area of England, although when details such as street names are taken into consideration, the coverage is closer to 25%. Significantly, this 25% of England’s area covers 45% of its population. There is also a clear bias in data collection practices – more affluent areas and urban locations are better covered than deprived or rural locations. The implications of these outcomes to studies of volunteered geographical information are discussed towards the end of the paper.
This is call for papers for a workshop on methods and research techniques that are suitable for geospatial technologies. The workshop is planned for the day before GISRUK 2010, and we are aware of the clashes with the AAG 2010 annual meeting, CHI 2010 and the Ergonomics Society Annual Conference. However, if you would like to contribute to the book that the commission is developing but can’t attend the workshop, please send an abstract and inform us that you can’t attend.
In the near future I’ll publish information about another workshop in March 2010 about the usability and Human-Computer Interaction aspects of geographical information itself – see the report from the Ordnance Survey workshop earlier in 2009.
So here is the full call:
Workshop on Methods and Techniques of Use, User and Usability Research in Geo-information Processing and Dissemination
Tuesday 13 April 2010 at University College London
The Commission on Use and User Issues of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) is currently working on a new handbook specifically addressing the application of user research methods and techniques in the geodomain.
In order to share experiences and interesting case studies a workshop is organized by the Commission, in collaboration with UCL, on the day preceding GISRUK 2010.
CALL FOR PAPERS
While there is growing awareness within the research community on the need to develop usability engineering and use and user research methods that are suitable for geographical and spatial information and systems, to date there is a lack of organized and documented experience in this area.
We therefore invite researchers with recent experience with use, user and usability research in the broad geodomain (cartography, GIS, geovisualization, Location Based Services, geographical information, GeoWeb etc.) to present a paper specifically focusing on the research methods and techniques applied, with an aim to develop the body of knowledge for the domain.
To participate, please send an abstract of 1 page A4 at maximum containing:
- A description of the research method(s) and technique(s) applied
- A short description of the case in which they have been applied
- The overall research framework
- Contact details and affiliation of the author(s)
We are also encouraging PhD researchers to submit paper proposals and share experiences from their research. At the workshop there will be ample time for discussing the application of user research methods and techniques. Good papers may be the basis for contributions to the handbook that is planned for publication in 2011.
Abstracts should be submitted on or before 1 December 2009 to the Chairman of the Commission Corné van Elzakker ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
the website of the ICA Commission on Use and User Issues and the GISRUK2010 website
21 January, 2009
Trying to track down the source of a term is one of the more interesting academic tasks. For example, finding out when people started researching Human-Computer Interaction and GIS is a bit like following the thread. First of all, the term Human-Computer Interaction is sometimes presented as Computer-Human Interaction, especially in the early 1980s, when it emerged – the ACM Special Interest Group still uses CHI and not HCI. Before that, the common term used was Man-Machine Interaction which was actually a term that came out of studies in the 1940s. The way to uncover this terminology chain is to find papers that mention both terms and follow it through. Quite quickly you develop an understanding of the chain…
Then there is the issue of GIS – after all, the term was invented only around the mid 1960s: surely many people outside the small circle of researchers that became familiar with the term used other terminology. So you need to look for other terms, such as geographic information (as well as geographical information), maps, etc.
Following this approach, I have found a paper from 1963 by Malcolm Pivar, Ed Fredkin and Henry Stommel about ‘Computer-Compiled Oceanographic Atlas: an Experiment in Man-Machine Interaction’. The paper is as interesting as its writers – with Pivar and Fredkin among the Artificial Intelligence group at MIT, and Stommel a leading oceanographer. The data came from surveys that were part of the International Geophysical Year (1957/8 ) – and the paper shows that information overload is nothing new.
For me, the most interesting passage in the paper is:
‘[I]n preparing a printed atlas certain irrevocable choices of scale, of map projections, of contour interval, and of type of map (shall we plot temperature at standard depths, or on density surfaces, etc.?) must be made from the vast infinitude of all possible mappings. An atlas-like representation, generated by digital computer and displayed upon a cathode-ray screen, enables the oceanographer to modify these choices at will. Only a high-speed computer has the capacity and speed to follow the quickly shifting demands and questions of a human mind exploring a large field of numbers. The ideal computer-compiled oceanographic atlas will be immediately responsive to any demand of the user, and will provide the precise detailed information requested without any extraneous information. The user will be able to interrogate the display to evoke further information; it will help him track down errors and will offer alternative forms of presentation. Thus, the display on the screen is not a static one; instead, it embodies animation as varying presentations are scanned. In a very real sense, the user “converses” with the machine about the stored data.’ (Pivar et al., 1963, p. 396)
What an amazing vision in 1963 – it would take another 30 years and even more before what they are describing became a reality!
21 October, 2008
These are the slides from the Worldwide Universities Network Global GIS Academy Seminar from the 22nd October. The seminar’s title is ‘What’s So New in Neogeography?’ and it is aimed largely at an academic audience with background in GIScience.
The aim of the talk is to critically review Neogeography: explain its origins, discuss the positive lessons from it – mainly in improved usability of geographic technologies, as well as highlighting aspects that I see as problematic.
The presentation starts with some definitions and with the notice that mapping/location is central to Web 2.0, and thus we shouldn’t be surprised that we’ve noticed a step change in the use of GI over the past 3 years.
By understanding what changed around 2005, it is possible to explain the development of Neogeography. These changes are not just technical but also societal.
The core of the discussion is on the new issues that are important to Neogeography’d success, but also raising some theoretical and practical aspects that must be included in a comprehensive analysis of the changes and what they mean to Geography and geographers.
The presentation is available below from slideshare, and the (very rough and without proofing) notes are available here.