Faith in VGI: Easy Come, Easy Go

Coleman et al review developments and issues in the emerging realm of volunteered geographic information (VGI).  Focusing on VGI as a crowdsourcing exercise, the authors create a typology of users (they coin the term “produsers” to describe the ambivalent status of VGI participants) based on experience level and familiarity with the topic, ranging from the “neophyte” to the “expert authority”.  They then create another typology for contexts of VGI procurement: “Market-driven”, “Social Networks” and “Civic/Governmental”.

One of the produser roles that most interests me is the “Expert Amateur”, someone who is very knowledgable about a topic or locality but is not employed in the field.  I forget whether it was this class or 407 (or maybe I just need sleep), but I find the possibility of making spatial references out of unstructured urban planning discussions as per a Ryerson University case study a great application of VGI.  There are many webforums out there like SkyscraperPage that are overflowing with discussions and ideas about how to improve users’ hometowns, but no broad audience for these discussions.  A broader airing of these ideas could take place if they could be mapped, helping these expert amateurs to more effectively help the communities they care about.

An important and emerging issue in VGI that the authors do not appear to cover is the use of passive VGI, when geographic data about users and their content is collected (e.g. by phone companies or social media services) covertly.  Clearly, there are ethical and privacy issues associated with such practices. The potential for VGI to be a tool of engagement and empowerment will disappear as quickly as it has emerged if produsers’ faith is undermined by the sneakier and less transparent nature of passive VGI.

– FischbobGeo

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