ESRI UC Q & A: Is User-Generated Content (UGC) Valuable to GIS?

uc20091…from the 2009 ESRI UC Q & A

Yes. We believe there is value in being able to access user-generated content (UGC), sometimes called volunteered geographic information (VGI), with a GIS. However, the strengths and limitations of this data should be understood. In contrast to GIS-based data, which is organized with consistent data models and collected systematically, VGI data is mostly observational, qualitative, and very rarely collected systematically in a science-based framework. It typically does not have an organized foundation, nor is it associated with metadata, and there is no responsibility with respect to the organization or individual who reported it.

Nevertheless the observations do have value. There are many ways that GIS users can take advantage of the rapidly growing amount of VGI on the Web. They include:

  • Using the data to validate data analysis and compilation efforts
  • Using geotagged photos to enrich the multimedia dimension of a GIS
  • Associating the observational data to other layers for query and enrichment of the GIS
  • Integrating citizen/consumer comments with public policy systems
  • Finding suggestions and recommendations about particular places
  • Enhancing the systematic inventories of things like place names and other observational data

Beyond the data itself, we strongly believe that this method of collecting observational geographic data is very powerful, and have focused ArcGIS 9.3 and future releases on making it an integral part of the GIS system architecture.  We believe this has value for community involvement in collaboration and communicating about situational awareness. We will continue to develop enabling technology that helps integrate these concepts into ArcGIS.