Last night I saw a tweet from Mike Migurski at Stamen about a San Francisco meetup called NoGIS. Totally intriguing, so I followed the link, and they had the following quick desciption posted up:
“What does mapping technology look like when it’s created distinctly for the web? What was once exclusively the realm of traditional geographers is now accessible by almost any web developer thanks to tools like openlayers, polymaps, mapnik, and tilestache. Conversely, concepts that would be foreign in offline mapping (like map tiles) are the centerpoint of how people think about maps on the web. The nature of the problem has changed and technology is rushing to solve it. We’ve gathered some presenters to show us interesting things happening in our field.”
So, if you are wondering why this is called NoGIS? It is an homage to NoSQL. Which begs the question what is NoSQL? At a high level NoSQL is a movement in database management approaches that ditched the classic relational database approach for new innovations that strived to create distributed datastores (minus ACID). This included techniques like key-value stores, document databases, and graph databases. In short – for a lot of emerging data streams, which that are often high volume, dynamic, and persistent – the traditional SQL paradigm did not work.
My interpretation of Mike’s post – we are at a similar cross roads in mapping technology. Arguably we’ve collectively been there for several years, but I think we are at a point where the broader market is catching up. For decades, location and geography have been their own special niche, served by GIS technology from a fairly small number of vendors. As many have pointed out “spatial is no longer special” and as a result location is quickly becoming a feature of many technologies. As location base apps become ubiquitous the characteristics of geographic data are changing as well. The data of this new paradigm does not look like the static parcel data, which is stereotypical of much traditional GIS work. As we saw in the NoSQL characteristics data is now high volume, dynamic and users/developers want to see/query it in real time. This is something traditional GIS was not built to do, and on multiple levels Mike and company’s analogy to NoSQL is quite apropos. The list of talks for the meet up reinforces and illuminates the thought:
Michal Migurski from Stamen Design is giving a talk titled “Fast, Cheap, or Dumb: Pick Three,” about the design and publishing of geographic visualizations and interfaces with a bias towards simplicity and reach.
Mike Malone from SimpleGeo is exploring the real world technical challenges faced at SimpleGeo while building a web-scale spatial database on top of Apache Cassandra, as well as some new developments & lessons learned.
Sha Hwang & Zain Memon from Trulia will probably just wing it.
Looks to be just the first meet-up, but it poses an interesting question as to what innovations does a reinvention of geographic information call for. Visualization and data management are two obvious ones. What else? Traditionally GIS analysis is static. If we are streaming data in real time shouldn’t our analyses also update in real time. What are the repercussions of dynamically changing analyses. Does this go beyond developers, or are we just creating a new ivory tower? With all the new data management horsepower what do massive sample sizes mean to spatial statistics. How do we look at verification and validation in age of crowdsourcing? How do you deal with error bounds when data is constantly changing? Is it all a relic? There have probably been few other times it has been more interesting to be a geo-nerd.
Following the Twitter thread on NoGIS I was reminded of our own internal decision to move away from SQL for GeoCommons. We did a presentation on it for Where 2.0 in 2008 and it was interesting to look at where and why we diverged from the traditional path back then.
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