Jack Dangermond on Realizing Spatial Intelligence on the GeoWeb

At the Where 2.0 Conference last month in San Jose, California, ESRI president Jack Dangermond gave a presentation titled “Realizing Spatial Intelligence on the GeoWeb”.  The main idea behind Dangermond’s talk was that geographic knowledge created in GIS environments is increasingly being made available to Web 2.0 users.


ESRI is primarily focused on GIS technology and GIScience, and support its user community.  Users of ESRI and other GIS technology have made an enormous contribution of knowledge to the GeoWeb in terms of base maps, thematic data sets, and other geographic information.  “What drives GIS users is integration of geographic knowledge into human action,” said Dangermond.  “Using (geographic knowledge) can make a huge difference; it impacts business and government, but also helps create a more sustainable world.”

What Is ‘Geographic Knowledge’?

Dangermond says that “geographic knowledge” is much more than just data, and defines it in terms of six components:

1)      Data models that structure the data;

2)      The data itself;

3)      Models and analytic environments that show predictions, or suitability; where different layers of information are combined and interpreted;

4)      Encapsulation of cartographic expression—what he called “that thing that cartographers do, like color ramps, symbology sets”;

5)      Geospatial workflows; and

6)      Metadata, which describes the first five components and is key to sharing, discovery, and access.

Geographic knowledge is changing how we abstract our world.  It is also changing how we reason, both in the professional world and in broader society, by introducing spatially-integrated thinking.  “People are beginning to think about relationships between this and that,” said Dangermond, “relationships between disease and environmental situations that may support it.  Or people are asking the question, ‘If I locate this here, will it support it?’  The good work of Google and others in getting people spatially aware has consequences beyond simply looking at maps.  It’s causing them to do more spatially integrated thinking, and we’re right in the midst of that today.”

Shared geographic databases in concert with the Web 2.0 environment are also changing how we organize and communicate between different agencies and organizations.  “I would assert that this is actually introducing a new approach for problem solving and thinking,” stated Dangermond.  “And I would say it’s just the beginning.  It’s going to go way beyond simple visualization and mapping; it’s going to embrace all types of knowledge and ultimately become kind of a societal infrastructure for human behavior and human action.”

Sharing Geographic Knowledge on the GeoWeb

At the heart of this evolving infrastructure is Web 2.0 GIS servers or “geoservers” that make geographic knowledge directly available for mashing up and integration.  “People author the knowledge, they drag and drop it onto a server, and then it’s accessible on other desktops or in browsers or on cell phones or virtually anything,” said Dangermond.

“The fundamental difference between this (Web 2.0) world and the worlds I’ve experienced in GIS before is that the web is the platform, and it’s transforming access to this knowledge base, making it orders and orders of magnitude more available and usable and collaborative,” said Dangermond.  “So the GIS user community is basically supporting this notion of transforming their data sets into services and those published services can be mashed up with other web services in all sorts of forms and made available for new communities to leverage.”

Jack and his ESRI colleague Jeremy Bartley stepped through several examples of sharing geographic knowledge on the GeoWeb, ending with the State of Maryland’s “StateStat” web application.  “This is a very powerful idea about having government open up not just their GIS data, but their data, using web mapping as a framework to make government more transparent and more accessible, and a new chapter of democracy opening up,” said Dangermond.  He told the Where 2.0 audience that this was an opportunity for them to get engaged in building these kinds of web sites to help open up government, to look at “the financial dimension of where we’re making investments, and where we need to make investments.  When I show this to political people, well, they get nervous—but they also get very excited…because suddenly they can look at government transparency and accountability.”

GIS servers are integrating geographic knowledge—data models, data, models, cartography, workflows, and metadata—with the GeoWeb.  They are easy to use, standards-based, collaborative, and will leverage the billions of dollars already invested by the GIS community in developing base maps, thematic data sets, and other geographic information.  Web GIS also promises to extend the vision of e-government.  “Sometimes I like to call it g-government,” said Dangermond, “because it’s all about a geographic or map framework for making more transparent government policies.  And this is a good and healthy thing.”