Volunteered Geographic Information

I'm bummed that I'll be missing the Workshop on Volunteered Geographic Information this December in Santa Barbara. VGI is at the core of the Pleiades vision.

Mike Goodchild has recently posted a paper on the workshop site entitled "Citizens as Sensors: The World of Volunteered Geography" [pdf; 1.1MB]. In the 15-page treatment, G. provides background and context; overviews a number of recent trends, key services and sites and glosses various enabling technologies.

He also introduces or glosses several underlying issues and concepts, no doubt in part laying out tracks and themes for the workshop:

  • Spatial data infrastructure patchworks (rather than comprehensive mapping strategies)
  • Humans as sensors
  • Citizen science
  • Participant populations (the who-may-volunteer vs. quality axis)
  • Early warning (e.g., of the magnitude of natural disasters)
  • Motivating factors for participants
  • Authority and assertion
  • The digital divide
G. concludes with the following reflection:

VGI has the potential to be a significant source of geographers’ understanding of the surface of the Earth. It can be timely ... it is far cheaper than any alternative, and its products are almost invariably available to all ...

It is already clear in many fields that such informal sources as blogs and VGI can act as very useful sources of military and commercial intelligence. The tools already exist to scan Web text searching for references to geographic places, and to geocode the results. Thus the most important value of VGI may lie in what it can tell about local activities in various geographic locations that go unnoticed by the world’s media, and about life at a local level. It is in that area that VGI may offer the most interesting, lasting, and compelling value to geographers.