Over the last year, my colleague Jim Baumann and I have had numerous early morning hallway conversations about the utility of volunteered geographic information. Jim recently interviewed Prof. Michael Goodchild about volunteered geographic information, and the interview is definitely worth reading.
So what exactly is volunteered geographic information? Goodchild gives a good example in the interview: “Names that are not officially recognized, such as ‘downtown Santa Barbara,’ and names that are meaningful to local communities, such as ‘the Riviera’ [the hilly area of Santa Barbara north of downtown], do not appear in any gazetteer. …[P]lace-names are one of the most successful forms of volunteered geographic information, and people are clearly willing to spend time providing them to Web sites. Volunteered gazetteers can provide much richer descriptive information than before; allow features to have multiple names; and include names for the smallest, least significant features.”
Goodchild points out that accuracy of volunteered geographic information, as with all types of user-generated content, is an issue. But he is more concerned about the challenges of preservation. “National mapping agencies can devote significant resources to preserving place-names, ensuring that future generations have access to today’s data, but no such mechanisms exist for volunteered geographic information.”
Those interesting in finding out how they might participate by volunteering some geographic information should check out the resources on the PPgis.net web site.