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Effect of Neo-Geography on Professional GIS

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Will Neo-geography cause the end of professional GIS

Almost everything that happens, happens somewhere (Longley et al. 2005) meaning that everything happens in geographic space. It can be of critical importance to know not only what happened and when but where something happened as well.

A GIS is a computer-based system that provides for the storage and representation of geographic data. GIS data are most commonly stored in a relational database format, from which they can be analysed, combined and displayed as maps or in other data formats.

In recent years there has been a large increase in the use of neo-geography, that is the use of applications such as Google Earth, Google Maps, Bing Maps etc. to create maps. These maps usually use a base map from one of the above applications with spatial data collected and displayed over it.

The large increase in people using neo-geography has led to discussions as to whether neo-geography will cause the end of professional GIS.


GIS is a tool that allows users to visualise data (generally on a map) in order to see patterns and relationships in a given area or subject. (Kemp (ed.) 2008) defines GIS as “fundamentally concerned with building shared understandings of the world in ways that are robust, transparent and, above all, usable in a range of real world settings.” According to ESRI a GIS “lets us visualise, question, analyse, interpret, and understand data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.” (GIS DEMYSTIFIED) however claims that this is too general a definition for such a complex and wide ranging set of tools and says that:

“GIS is, in essence, a central repository of and analytical tool for geographic data collected from various sources. The developer can overlay the information from these various sources by means of themes and layers, perform comprehensive analysis of the data, and portray it graphically for the user.”

It is a computer application designed to perform a wide range of operations on geographic information. Geographic information is defined as information about locations on or near the surface of the Earth, and may be organized in a variety of ways (Goodchild 2009). A GIS includes functions to input, store, visualise, export, and analyse geographic information.

With GIStechnology, people can compare the locations of different things in order to discover how they relate to each other. For example, using GIS, the same map could include sites that producepollution, such as gas stations, and sites that are sensitive to pollution, such aswetlands. Such a map would help people determine which wetlands are most at risk. GIS can use any information that includeslocation. The location can be expressed in many different ways, such aslatitudeandlongitude, address, orZIP code. Many different types of information can be compared and contrasted using GIS. The system can include data about people, such as population,income, or education level. It can include information about the land, such as the location of streams, different kinds ofvegetation, and different kinds ofsoil. It can include information about the sites of factories, farms, and schools, orstorm drains, roads, and electricpower lines.


Neo-geography is a term that refers to techniques, tools and practices of geography that have been traditionally beyond the scope of professional geographers and geographic information systems (GIS) practitioners (Turner 2006). (Castree, Kitchin & Rogers 2013) describe neo-geography as follows:

“The new forms of geographical knowledge enabled by Web 2.0 technologies where in geographical data are sourced through the collective actions of many individuals, and processed and displayed through online resources. Neo-geography produces geographical outputs that have not been produced by professionals, but rather through crowd‐sourcing. These data range from place tags on virtual globes, to uploaded GPS traces of locations, to georeferenced communication that can be mapped and combined with other data to create large, dynamic, open data sets.”

Szott (2006) describes neo-geography as “a diverse set of practices that operate outside, or alongside, or in the manner of, the practices of professional geographers.” He goes on to explain that rather than being scientifically based, methods used in neo-geography tend to be based on more personal and artistic tendencies that are “idiosyncratic applications of ‘real’ geographic techniques” which can be of value to the cartographic and geographic sciences but don’t conform to professional practice.

As mentioned in the above quote from Castree et al. (2013) neo-geography has been enabled by Web 2.0 technologies. Web 2.0 is a term that was introduced in 2004 and refers to the second generation of theWorld Wide Web (TechTerms 2008). While it suggests new version of the World Wide Web the term actually refers to technological improvements in software and changes in how software developers and end users use the web (Fu & Sun 2011). These improvements and changes lead to the introduction of services such as Google Maps, Google Earth, Bing Maps and MapQuest among others. These services are referred to as WebGIS. WebGIS is any GIS that uses Web technologies (Fu & Sun 2011). As these services became more popular developers such as Google started to release an application programming interface (API) for their programs. An application programming interface is a set of programming instructions and standards for accessing a Web-based software application orWeb tool (Roos 2007). Releasing API’s to the public allowed software developers to design products powered by WebGIS.

The term ‘neo-geography’ was coined by one of the founders of, Di-Ann Eisner (Maguire 2007). She used neo-geography to describe the ‘new’ geography of overlaying or ‘mashing up’ two or more sources of geographic information. The release of API’s allowed developers and users to quickly and easily show geographically based data on shareable maps creating what has become known as a ‘mashup’ (Turner 2006). This could, for instance, be a Google Maps base layer overlaid with mobile phone coverage. Using the Google Maps API a software developer was able to take the original application (Google Maps) and overlay content (the mobile phone coverage over it) effectively ‘mashing’ the two together.

Web 2.0 has resulted in a rise in user-generated content (UGC) of which volunteered geographic content (VGI) is UGC of a geographic nature (WEBGIS pg250). VGI is digital spatial data that is created voluntarily by citizens rather than by formal data producers (webgis pg279 goodchild 2007a). “The availability of mapping APIs like Google’s has facilitated the concept of a ‘mashup’ as the ideal presentation vehicle for VGI by providing a geographical backdrop” (Learning From the Crowd: The Role of Volunteered Geographic Information in Realising a Spatially Enabled Society). VGI has become a hugely important channel through which geographic data is collected. The table below taken from WEBGIS (XXXX) shows the geographic information collected from popular websites.

Example websites and essential geospatial questions asked Use cases Geographic information contributed

What places do you know?

Users draw a rectangle and describe the place with a few sentences Constructing a comprehensive global gazetteer database
Picasa, Panoramio, and Flickr online albums (geotagging)

What photos can you share about places you have been?

Users upload geotagged photos or upload and geotag the photos by zooming to a location on a map Recording and reporting the past and present conditions of places or events with the use of photos

What GPS data do you have for the roads you bike, walk or drive?

Users upload the track logs of their personal GPS receivers Constructing street and highway data layers for many areas

Where and what problems do you see that need to be fixed?

Users report problems such as potholes and graffiti by drawing on and annotating maps Identifying problems for local authorities
Twitter (GeoTweeting)

Whats going on here?

Users report personal activities, other events, or incidents at their locations Monitoring and reporting activities


Neo-geography has caused a large shift in the way people view and use maps. The


  • Focus on data quality
  • Focus on analysis that gis’s can carry out, neogeo can’t really do this – only really displys at the mo – planning
  • Also focus on fact that most neogeo is built on a gis foundation.
  • These reasons neogeo will not end prof GIS

GIS has a huge amount of uses including:

  • Managing business activities
  • Planning
  • Emergency services
  • Land management
  • Transport
  • Utility operations

Benefits of GIS include:

  • Fundamentals of GIS (intro to GIS first few pages)
  • GIScience – the professional arm?


  • Geography (use demystified, use GIS: an introduction, use gis and science)( The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Business PDF)
  • They will explain gis from geography
  • How much gis used now in daily life, business etc (google gis in daily life)( CONCEPTS AND THEORIES OF GIS IN BUSINESS)( The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Business PDF)
  • Mention neogeo; use intro to neogeo try to rehash what it is in a few lines with examples

The hardware and software functions of a GIS are as follows:

  • Acquisition and verification
  • Compilation
  • Storage
  • Updating and changing
  • Management and exchange
  • Manipulation
  • Retrieval and presentation
  • Analysis and combination

These actions are applied to the data held in the GIS. All of this data is georeferenced i.e. linked to a location on the earth’s surface using a coordinate system. Information can be attached to locations

(Heywood, Cornelius & Carver 2011) tell us that in general, the definitions of GIS cover three main components:

  • It is a computer system comprising of both hardware and software,
  • It uses spatially referenced or geographical data and,
  • Carries out various management and analysis tasks.

Hardware is used to collect and input data. Analysis of the information can then be undertaken using the software. By providing spatial analysis of suitably coded data it is possible to provide striking, visual representations of data. These representations can often reveal patterns and trends that might otherwise have gone unnoticed without the use of GIS techniques.

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