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August 14th, 2007
Digital Earth to Cartography

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Milan Konecny is a cartographer and proud citizen of the Czech Republic. He is also a world traveller, having spent the last 4 years as President of the International Cartographic Association (ICA). Konecny has been involved in sharing the merits of cartography with children, participated in the Digital Earth Summit and continued to teach and research. I met him recently for this interview, and I had a number of current questions in mind. These ranged from cartography to infrastructure and Digital Earth to what cartographer’s contribute to the big picture.


V1 Magazine: You are just returning from Digital Earth, what does Digital Earth mean to you?

Konecny: Digital Earth for me represents an umbrella. It is an umbrella over-arching the internet and geospatial activities. Under it lies spatial data infrastructures (SDI), geoportals, Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) and so on. But it extends to include the United Nations, OECD, G8 and all of the worlds emergency organizations together. It is about sharing spatial information for living.


V1 Magazine: What does cartography bring to Digital Earth and the world in general?

Konecny: While not perfect, cartography brings a lot to the table. It helps to share information through the understanding of the processes involved. Cartography today is very much about becoming ubiquitous – anyone, anywhere, anytime. To achieve this, there are 3 elements:


  1. Mobility – the concept of transferring information to phones and mobile devices.

  2. Sensors – real-time data for crisis management; aircraft sensors and preparedness

  3. Adaptability – data with context, data with structure and a human aspect

{sidebar id=2} V1 Magazine: The first two are understandable, can you explain ‘adaptable’ further please?


Konecny: Adaptable Cartography is a new and growing area of study. It is about producing and delivering the right information to the right people for the right task. We are buried in information, but we often do not know how to use it. Adaptive Cartography is about the context of the information in such a way that the user can use it properly and effectively. For example, all of the data in a spatial database can be re-purposed for different people and their needs. We need to understand this better and develop products in a more multi-model way, a more multi-dimensional way.


V1 Magazine: What types of products are you talking about? How do they look?


Konecny: The products are more localized for the user, pertianing to their culture, language and context of living. Content is about knowledge skills of the people involved. This would mean, as an example, maps for emergency and relief people – specific to their task. What kinds of products are needed for people to understand situations when they are panicking? Under what environmental stressors do certain products perform better than others?


V1 Magazine: What is the difference between GIS and cartography

Konecny: GIS is about elaborating upon the spatial model of the data. Cartography is about the user interaction with the spatial information – how to show it to people. Companies that are developing GIS software are interested in geographic methods and cartographic methods, usually. Consequently, GIS is an engine for cartography and tool for cartographer’s to use to model and simulate the interactions of spatial information with people.


V1 Magazine: We were talking about User Profiles earlier. Can you explain that a bit further?

Konecny: When we refer to User Profiles, we’re not talking in a privacy invasion sense. Instead, we are talking about the concept of Adaptable Cartography once again. A User Profile is one way of understanding each individual and developing the products and delivery that are most suitable for them. How I learn and use cartographic products may be different than how you do, for example. It really goes back to the context of the user. Often we find that people will have cartographic products in hand for different circumstances, but they do not understand them because no one has helped them to understand how they relate to the location or situation they are in. This is most unfortunate because people can die or be caught in adverse conditions due to this lack of knowledge and understanding. We need to design better maps that are more effectively used.



V1 Magazine: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are taking the mapping world by storm with millions of new users suddenly using maps and becoming involved in cartographic production. How is that impacting cartography?


Konecny: Well…about 80% of these new users are making maps incorrectly. But we smile, because ultimately people are becoming excited about cartography. We must remember that many of applications are not in the map making business per se, that is, they see themselves as producing information from other supplier’s – having less accountability. Thousands of companies may be supplying the information that becomes part of a map mashup. The real question then becomes, how do we educate the supplier’s to supply useful data and information? We must be patient and help people to learn. I can see a time, soon, when we will be able to obtain cadastre information online using this technology.


V1 Magazine: What are your thoughts on ‘no cost’ data?

Konecny: My experience and observation is that high quality data and information will continue to be charged for. It is simply very expensive for most people to collect. I do recognize that some data, particularly at coarse scale may be free or given away though. A bigger issue may be the copyright of data and information though.


V1 Magazine: Recently the Directive for the Infrastructure for Spatial Data in Europe (INSPIRE) came into being. What are your thoughts on it?

Konceny: I was involved in the meetings of INSPIRE from the beginning. I’m happy it was approved, but it still needs some work. It is a start. I am disappointed that it started from the bottom-up approach, but finished as a top-down approach. Also, there is no inclusion of a definition for data quality or a mechanism to achieve it. However, the biggest advantage, in my view, is that it provides a force to all countries to work together, in a similar direction. As you know, within Europe it is sometimes hard to get everyone in the boat paddling in the same direction. INSPIRE provides outside pressure to work together. Secondly, it was unfortunate that INSPIRE began solely as an environmental legislation long ago. On the other hand, it is now more spatial IT oriented to other disciplines. We will see where it goes. At least we agreed that metadata will be free of cost.


V1 Magazine: Does INSPIRE relate to e-government in your mind?

Konecny: Yes it does. INSPIRE is provocated by the idea that people can use similar data anywhere, at any time. But it will take some more work to include cultural distinctions into the harmonisation process. I am hopeful it will bring people together.


V1 Magazine: What do you feel you have accomplished in your time as ICA President?

Konecny: I feel that I have contributed toward ICA and cartography in general, becoming more visible. When I began, there were many people who felt cartography was dying and going away. That is simply not the case, even less so today. Many of these same people felt that everything should be on the internet. However, I have spent a good deal of effort travelling to talk and meet people, and I think personal contact has helped a lot. Secondly, ICA today is involved in many international and national issues. ICA has been involved at the UN, OECD, FAO, INSPIRE and with the European Joint Research Commission. We are also involved, as I mentioned, with Digital Earth, where I am vice president in that initiative. I am happy to have helped to make children more visible in cartography. We published a book of children’s cartography at ESRI Press recently, and several corporations enjoyed it so much that they purchased use of the images, thereby supporting ICA initiatives further. Finally, ICA has become more deeply involved in humanitarian relief and emergency situations, providing people tools and knowledge to perform this type of work.


V1 Magazine: What things have bothered you most during your time as ICA president and where do you wish you might have achieved more?


Konecny: You always ask hard questions! In truth though, I must admit that I never knew how difficult fund raising could be. I’ve learned a lot about this, but it remains a challenge. I wish we could have achieved more in the way of education. It is like former US President Clinton says, “ we have the science but need to apply things in a practical way.” I feel we could be doing more to help people in a contextual sense. For example, the tsunami and the deaths that occurred. At the time, people were taking pictures of the water, never knowing the danger. How do we make products that help people to understand physical dangers in a context they learn?


V1 Magazine: Can you share your thoughts on 3D and explain where you see it heading?

Konecny: Cartography is rapidly developing in the 3D area. City models, building textures for visualization, objects and mapping products are all making use of 3D today. We still do not have true 3D symbology yet. We need a standardized set of these symbols. User friendliness of 3D technologies and products will be the key I believe. This is a growing field and many opportunities.


V1 Magazine: Why should someone make cartography their career?

Konecny: This is the field where all the neat stuff is happening right now. It has been recognized by the US Department of Labour that the geospatial field is a growing field comparable to nanotechnology. There are still some good Departments of Geography in Europe, though they have decreased elsewhere, so there are good places to study cartographic topics, particularly in Europe.


V1 Magazine: What do you mean when you talk about “Culture of Behaviour”?

Konecny: It goes back to explaining geography and cartography in a contextual and usable sense. If you go to Cuba, for example, you will see that people are taught about tsunami and what to do. But, if you come to Germany or the UK and see flooding events, people have no appreciation about how to behave or react. They lack preparedness, which in turn means they are susceptible. It is important to teach people about what they can expect.


V1 Magazine: Are hardcopy maps going away?

Konecny: Not likely. We often hear this from the GIS community, but maps are dependent upon the situation of the user. In many cases, the internet or electronic technology is simply not present. Maps are also an effective way to help decision-makers to make better decisions. They are tactile.


V1 Magazine: What are your thoughts about Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI)?

Konecny: I see SDI as being under the broader Digital Earth umbrella. “Where SDI ends, cartography begins.” I can’t imagine what a world without cartography would look like.

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