Tuesday, 27 August 2013

GI and Everyday Life

With #Maptember approaching I thought it would be nice to take a break from the nitty gritty of the AGI and take a top down look at Geographic Information and what it means to those who aren't hardened geo geeks (sorry geo professionals). This has been partly inspired by a friend interrogating me about my new job, they got the marketing bit easily enough but combining ‘geographic’ and ‘information’ seemed to be quite a considerable mental leap.

Digital Mapping
By far and away the most obvious impact GI has had on our everyday lives has been the massive expansion in easily accessible digital mapping. This is also the easiest one to explain to your bemused friend, "like Google maps, oh wait you've got an iPhone" followed by a cheap crack about how you are amazed they didn't end up in Basingstoke instead of Brixton.

Interestingly the consumer outrage about the (quite amusing) teething problems suffered by Apple’s map application serves to illustrate how quick and easy access to accurate cartographical information has become the expected norm. The accuracy problems suffered my Apple maps and the much publicised disappearance of the Isle of Jura from Google maps (http://bbc.in/1dLBXMa) has also highlighted the complexity of producing and curating the vast datasets behind these applications.

The limitations of these free web and mobile based mapping applications are clear to many even beyond the GI community. (I ditch Google maps for my trusty OS paper version as soon as I step onto a footpath) However they have brought GI and mapping into the public domain and highlighted what to me at least seems a preference for accessibility (and absence of cost) over functionality and completeness.

But it’s so much more...
With the rise of smart phones and other GPS enabled devices we are all now generating a vast amount of geographic information. In fact a large chunk of activity on social media is now tagged with geographic information. We ‘check in’ to locations on facebook, map our runs and cycle rides and tag our photos with geolocation data. All this is generating demographic data (among others) overlaid onto spatial information. Already this information is used by marketers to target us with adverts (annoying) and location based deals (I got a free beer through this the other day so I’ll let it slide) and Google are incorporating location tagged photos into their maps to provide extra information. I'm sure in the future increasingly interesting things will be done with this wealth of crowd sourced GI data; it is a considerable resource to tap into.

Behind the scenes
Of course everything I've talked about so far is just scratching the surface, the ‘front end’ ways in which we consume and create GI. The reality is that ‘space’ is hugely important to our society, impacting on everything from how much your house is worth to your car insurance premiums and which hospital you go to. Behind the scenes GI is increasingly a factor in every aspect of life from the obvious such as mapping flood risk or crime statistics to those less obvious to the public like the auditing and management of infrastructure assets such as the National Grid. At a really fundamental level GI is heavily utilised in the management of natural resources such as forests and oil and gas. It is interesting to note that GI has become so integrated into how our society runs that people don’t  realise how prevalent or crucial it is.

As always I would be interested to hear from our members (and other GI professionals) about how the data and products they work with impact wider society.

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