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img_BrodersenSome manufacturers tell us that format does not matter as much as symbology in relation to create efficient systems based on geoinformation. If it is so, is digital data symbology then any different from non-digital symbology? Other manufacturers tell us that it is the other way round, that format matters more than symbology. Whatever, does this question actually make sense at all? Is the question rather something like: How can non-print media be used to communicate as compared to print media (ie. maps in hardcopy)?

I think the question must be raised from quite another point of departure in order to find out what the problem actually is and therefore what is actually asked. I always get nervous when statements (like above) or questions aim at a division into either-or, black-and-white, yes-or-no, good-or-bad. Comparing ‘format’ (ie. digital media versus analogue media) with ‘symbology’ is like comparing the Eifel Tower and a thunderclap to find out which is bigger. If it should make sense to compare ‘format’ and ‘symbology’ it would imply that they were more or less independent, ie. changes in ‘symbology’ would work without affecting the ‘format’. Things do not work in that way. Changes in symbology can not be made without influencing the format – and vice versa.

Design of geoinformation can be depicted by this model, saying that five elements constitute information design. It all begins with the values (why {sidebar id=103} start this project, rather than not doing it?) and ends with the expressed information ready for use. Between the point of departure (the values) and the expressed information there are three elements: ‘apparatus’, ‘contents’ and ‘interaction’. The idea behind the model is that the five elements are linked very tight together. None of them can be left out. If one of the elements is missing everything falls apart. And if one of the elements is changed all of them will change. It is like in an airplane; change the elevator and the speed will automatically change, which then will ask for adjustment of all controls etc. It is basically not possible to adjust one element (one control) and hope that the rest will remain where they are. They will not!

If the model and the idea behind it are accepted, then the introductory statement (question) is false. It is not possible to ask the question and the statement does not make sense. Adjusting one of the elements, e.g. ‘apparatus’ will affect all other four elements. Therefore it makes more sense to ask or to state that the group of all five elements can be adjusted, ie. the entire information design can be adjusted or changed and that this integrated adjustment has an influence on the efficiency.

If the general question is how digital technology can affect communication of geoinformation, then, in principle, the question must involve all aspects of geoinformation. It is like flying an airplane. If the pilot only turns one button, then the whole aircraft reacts one way. Therefore, the pilot must fly by viewing all buttons and flight controls to guide the aircraft.  All must all be tuned because they are linked. Thus, in answering the question “how does digital technology affect communication of geoinformation?” The easy answer will therefore be that digital technology affects values, contents, interaction and the expressed information – as well as the other bits and pieces of the apparatus.

{sidebar id=104} Technology affecting values means that things like purpose, target group, aim will change. It will change what it is possible to gain from the project. It will change what tasks the target group can solve with the help of the resulting expressed information. Technology affecting contents means that it is something else which constitutes what is brought through to the user. There will be some types of questions that simply cannot be asked any longer when technology changes, and there will be other types of question that will be possible to ask (and find an answer to). Example: Some types of questions are linked to geoinformation on mobile devices and do simply not make sense when asked to a paper map or even a stationary pc in the office). Interaction is affected by technology in the manner that different technologies allow the user different types of course of action.

Example: Four weeks hiking in remote areas of Greenland calls for a technology independent from electrical power supply. Another example: Mobile technology allows the user to gain values from LBS e.g. when carrying out the tourist-job (where am I, where is my car, where is my wife and what building is that?). Technology also affects the way information is expressed. The good old example is that the resolution of off-set printing on paper is around 7000 dpi, whereas a computer screen has a resolution of poor 96 dpi. Colours are defined quite differently on different media, etc.

{sidebar id=105 align=left} All together it means that the process of expressing information most certainly must be carried out with deep respect of the respective technology’s attributes. I don’t think that anybody will disagree with me in neither my viewpoint nor the examples. So what is new? Well, my point with this discussion is that I think that it must be accepted, when carrying out projects on ‘design of geoinformation’, that the above model’s five elements are linked very tight together.

Further, that all of these five elements are highly specialized types of activities. Sometimes, when modern geoinformation projects are started and managed, it seems that datalogy-specialists, software-experts and statistics-masters are those who are put in control of any geoinformation project’s entire entity. I plead that value-specialists, interaction-specialists, contents-specialists, apparatus-specialists and expression-specialist work side-by-side and hand-in-hand with equal rights and responsibilities when designing geoinformation (for the purpose of communicating the geoinformation).

All the involved processes require highly specialised knowledge and skills. Don’t put all responsibility on a single domain’s shoulders.

Lars Brodersen is Assistant Professor in the Department of  Development and Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is an expert in the field of Geo-communication for Geo-information.



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