Sensors and Systems
Breaking News
NASA Smallsats Can Aid Hurricane Forecasts with GPS
Rating12345Eight briefcase-size satellites flying in a row may be...
CareConnect Selects Woolpert to Integrate, Manage Google Maps Platform Enterprise Account
Rating12345The expanding software solution provider will leverage the platform...
Blue Marble seeks presenters for its online geo-conference
Rating12345Hallowell, Maine  – Blue Marble Geographics ( bluemarblegeo.com) is...
  • Rating12345

Perspectives Header

Various names have cropped up to encompass different distinctions about geospatial data created by and shared for free with the broader community. A video interview from this week’s InterGeo event with Jack Dangermond about OpenStreetMap and the Esri Community Maps Program sparked some dialogue on Twitter. After wading into the fray, it seemed appropriate to pull the different ideas and comments together in a post to frame some differences.

Various names have cropped up to encompass different distinctions about geospatial data created by and shared for free with the broader community. A video interview from this week’s InterGeo event with Jack Dangermond about OpenStreetMap and the Esri Community Maps Program sparked some dialogue on Twitter. After wading into the fray, it seemed appropriate to pull the different ideas and comments together in a post to frame some differences.

The terms crowdsourcing and volunteered geographic information (VGI) have been batted back and forth in the geospatial community for a few years. While initially they seemed synonymous, distinctions are developing between them. The use of ‘authoritative’ data to refer to the data from professionals and organizations with a geospatial mission has been around for some time too, but there is growing ire about the implication of greater quality.

Motivated By the Greater Good

Crowdsourcing is the act of sharing a job or function that was once the domain of a specific agent with distributed masses through an open call. The OpenStreetMap project is a crowdsourced geospatial data repository, with a global cast of volunteers. Its mission as a free editable map has drawn a mass of contributors from around the world who are volunteering their time and efforts to collaboratively create a detailed base map. The growing coverage, and high-quality content, has branched past the interest of these volunteer groups to gain the enthusiastic endorsement from the likes of Esri, MapQuest and Microsoft.

The effort to create a detailed base map for free opens up whole new uses for this base map data, and new business models that don’t have to contend with the sometimes onerous data licensing fees. The only stipulation through the Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike license is that if you alter or build upon the data, you need to share those alterations back to the community.

A growing sentiment of the crowdsource community, at least within this mapping sect, is that this group is out to create value for the common good. They are willing to share their hours of hard work for a mission that vests them in a creation that they can be proud of. An offshoot of this branch of geospatial data gathering is citizen science, where scientific observation, monitoring, measurement and data gathering efforts look to harness the crowd to gain insight into natural resource management issues. These two efforts seem nicely intertwined in terms of their method and intent, and both groups are making use of highly available consumer devices to collect increasingly precise location information.

Volunteered, But Controlled

The idea of volunteered geographic information (VGI) as defined by Michael Goodchild in 2007, centers on humans as sensors that voluntarily create, assemble and disseminate geographic data. This definition is directly inline with crowdsourcing, but it seems to have taken a bit of a turn for some.

While the sharing element remains intact, the alignment with Esri’s Community Maps Program relates the concept more toward professional geospatial content providers rather than the groups creating crowdsourced maps. The Community Maps Program aims to harness the volunteered geographic information into one common base map that can be used by anyone. The fusion of data sources via the Esri-hosted service provides a means for data creators to share their information while still retaining their intellectual property, and some control on how the content is used. Municipalities, states and other entities have opened up their data in this fashion, given the measures for control.

If this distinction of VGI as shared but controlled holds true, then it can also be applied to the new Ordnance Survey (OS) open licensing plan that was announced last week. The OS has long held their data close, charging high fees, and restricting how the data might be repurposed. There has been a sea change at this mapping organization with a push for more open government, and now the data can be used much more freely with the new licensing.

Authoritative?

Calling one form of open data ‘authoritative’ versus another might make sense in the professional geospatial ranks where years of training, tightened process, and high-end tools are deployed. However, there are a few studies that seem to point to equal or better quality  of crowdsourced data versus commerial data, and those data provided by national mapping agencies (see the VGI-Net, and a study comparing OS to OSM data quality).

The implications or distinction of ‘authority’ has long rankled some, and increasingly it seems that another term should be used. As we move toward more open data, and more real-time data, the provenance of data is becoming harder and harder to ascertain, and metadata collection efforts are increasingly ignored. There are grades of data, but in some instances the crowdsourced data is richer in detail and equal in accuracy to that of sources deemed authoritative. Could we just call it all open data and leave it at that?

TWITTER DIALOGUE

@tpstigers – I really wish they’d stop drawing a line between ‘crowdsourced’ and ‘authoritative’. It’s misleading. Authoritative makes everything else sound sub-standard.

@cageyjames — Authoritative is a word people use when they are scared for their future.

@storm72 – I’m not a fan of ‘authoritative’ either. Maybe ‘official’ would be better.

@spatialsustain – How about ‘professional’ to denote the training, quality assurance and ownership of the process?

@tpstigers – How about ‘Paid for by tax dollars’? It would be more indicative of the quality you can expect.

– I know quite a few ‘professionals’ that Crowdsource. I like @tpstigers – VGI = paid for, Crowdsource = done for free

@LearonDalby – Semantics- vgi is a made up word that means integrating gov data. Crowd sourcing is a fully open effort.

@briantimoney – ESRI Community Base Map=Aunt Polly’s fence, and Jack is Tom Sawyer.

@ajturner -”Crowd” implies community. “Volunteer” implies disparate individuals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *