Home > Public Domain Data > Is Everyone a Geographer? Data users as data producers.

Is Everyone a Geographer? Data users as data producers.

Yesterday I wrote an essay entitled “Is Everyone a Geographer?”


I pose the question to the readers of this Spatial Reserves blog because it has direct ties to our book “The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.”     In the book, we discuss the implications that crowdsourcing has had on the availability, formats, timeliness, and quality of spatial data, and the fundamental shifts it has caused in organizations and for individual GIS data users.  Nowadays, everyone is a potential spatial data user, which is quite different from the world of even a few years ago.  But even more of a radical shift is that nowadays, everyone is a potential data producer, as well.  Whereas in the not too distant past, international and national agencies such as the USGS, UNEP, Ordnance Survey, local governments and authorities, universities, and non-government organizations were the only data producers, now, anyone with a smartphone can contribute data to the GIS cloud and share it so that others can use it.  We are only just beginning to grapple with the effects this has had and will increasingly have on the world of GIS.  


We look forward to hearing your thoughts about this subject.

Categories: Public Domain Data
  1. Stephen Matthews
    June 18, 2012 at 2:48 am

    I have obviously not read your essay, but I do have some thoughts on this question. I should declare from the outset that I am biased: I am a Geographer (teacher, author, curriculum developer). What I am about to say might be contentious, but is a statement of my personal, genuinely held belief on the basis of my experience over the last thirty years.

    In my mind, I would answer ‘yes’ to the question, but I think most people are ‘unwitting geographers’. I say that because although people are dealing with – and indeed creating – spatial data all the time, they are not aware of it, and are often making poor choices in terms of how to deal with or use that data on all levels when the need arises. In the same way that most professional geographers don’t call themselves geographers (they would rather be geomorphologists, or GIS managers or demographers, or, or, or…), most people using spatial data don’t acknowledge or are wholly unaware of the fact that they are indeed practising geography when they are mapping or analysing spatial data. The former case is largely due to the degree of academic specialisation in geography and related fields added to the universally ineffective job – though NOT through lack of effort – that is being done to raise the status of the discipline in the eyes of the general public, policy makers and education systems. The latter could be seen as a result, in large measure, of the situation of the former.

    The sad fact is, most of these unwitting geographers, I believe, have an undeveloped conceptual grasp of the necessary ideas that would help them understand spatial data in a meaningful way, not to mention a lack of the requisite skills to approach the task. Indeed, most probably have an entirely deficient view of what modern geography is all about. This is not their fault though, when clearly, geography needs to be better, and more universally taught through peoples’ formative years of education. Geography, to many, is still about ‘capes and bays’; highest mountains, longest rivers, countries and capitals.

    Dealing with issues relating to the explosion in spatial data is critical, but is in its infancy; the effects and implications are almost unfathomable. But one thing is for sure; unless people are being properly educated in geography’s concepts, skills and perspectives, the power of all that data will, at best, remain untapped, and at worst, will be grossly misused and misinterpreted. The internet is littered with poorly conceived and executed maps, infographics and data visualisations created from spatial data, and consequently, misinterpretation, for this reason. Knowing how to browse for places of interest on Google Earth or use a car/phone SatNav system does not make one spatially literate. I have heard newer estimates that “over 95% of all data has a spatial element”, but unless people know what they are doing, the potential benefits are lost.

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