Earlier this week, Jeremy Morley from the Centre for Geospatial Research at the University of Nottingham and Muki Haklay at University College London got in touch with me. The GIS Research UK Conference was in full swing, and OpenStreetMap founder Steve Coast had had to drop out of the conference due to ill health; would I think about stepping in for the closing keynote of the conference?
Hedging my bets and guessing that few, if any, of the audience had been in San Jose at Where 2.0 a couple of weeks back, I gladly accepted and reshuffled, added to and polished my Where 2.0 deck to yield Hyperlocal Deities, Pachyderms, the Letter W, the Number 3 (and some Geo).
The majority of the deck should be relatively self explanatory but I think it’s worth calling out what I’ve labelled the three W’s of geo … where, when and what.
The where is what we’ve been doing for centuries; mapping the globe. Whilst it’s a sweeping generalisation, we’ve pretty much done this, albeit to a varying degree of accuracy, coverage and granularity. We’ve mapped the globe, now it’s time to do something with all of this data.
The when is the gnarly problem of temporality, which just won’t go away. This shows up in two ways. Firstly there’s the fact that places and geography change over time; how we map a place today doesn’t show how the place was 100 years ago and neither can we expect the geography of a place to be static 100 years hence. Secondly there’s the problem of places which only exist at certain times of the year. Take Burning Man and Glastonbury; for most of the year these places are a salt flat in a desert and a farmer’s field but at a certain time they become places in their own right.
Then finally there’s the what and again, this manifests in two ways. Firstly we need to recognise that places aren’t only spelt differently but they’re said differently and “New Orleans” and “Noorlans” are one and the same place. Secondly a reference to a place in intrinsically bound to it’s granularity. References to London from outside of the United Kingdom are frequently aimed at the non specific London bounded by the M25 orbital motorway. Zoom in and London becomes Greater London, and then the London Boroughs.
We’re so close to completing the where of geo, we’ve only just touched on the when and the what remains uncharted territory. And that last pun was fully intentional.