Nowadays, geospatial information can be collected with unprecedented speed from multiple sources, including a large body of geosensing systems, historical records, online GIS databases, and so on. On the other hand, user requests for the geospatial information are rapidly growing and the requests always involve distributed heterogeneous data processing. By distributed we mean data are stored or available at different servers, and by heterogeneous we mean data are kept with different format, and both features present great challenges in GIS research. As Kuhn et al. mentioned in their paper in 2001, most traditional geospatial information systems have concentrated on map contents rather than the actual user requirement, which leaves a gap between geospatial cyberinfrastructure and user needs.
Ontology has been proposed to help geospatial information extraction and sharing from the mentioned sources by Kuhn in 2001. The author suggests developing user-oriented GIS instead of map based systems, and using the notion of affordance to establish a hierarchical model of human activities. And their theories have been implemented with the German traffic code project, which has proven the success of utilizing ontology to build the new generation of geospatial cyberinfrastructure.
In 2010, Sieber et al. have built another ontology based geospatial cyberinfrastructure, which incorporates the China Biographical database, the McGill-Harvard-Yenching Library Ming Qing Women’s writing database and China Historical Geographical Information System. This geospatial cyberinfrastructure uses ontology to provide synthesized information about Chinese Women writers in Ming and Qing dynasty, their kinship, publication, and social communities’ information. Utilizing ontology in the design of geospatial cyberinfrastructure, we can enjoy the improvement in spatial knowledge access, discovery and sharing.