Archive for November, 2014

Laughing But Serious…

Monday, November 17th, 2014

This article from Raper et al. (2007) identifies main research issues within the field of Location Based Services (LBS), which includes sciences and technologies involving LBS, matter concerning LBS users and also the aspect regarding legal, social and ethical issues with LBS. Majority of the article covers distinct domains of sciences and technologies research areas connected to LBS and it is well established how wide range of subjects are associated with LBS. It was very rich and informative on that matter, but one can recognize some aspects being reappeared frequently on distinct subjects, such as visualization, users, ubiquity, etc. Unfortunately, specific differences were not elaborated and therefore it sounds repetitive, and difficult to differentiate if one was reading about whether GIScience or Spatial cognition, since it could have been either, and therefore it became tedious at some point.


As for the paragraphs where user issues are being discussed, it seems like many subjects were not being mentioned, such as VGI, managing geospatial data after its immediate use, etc. However, that was mainly because this article was written in 2007, when the Smartphone with GPS receiver capabilities and wireless broadband internet features were yet to be distributed among population as present date. On the other hand, it seemed like Raper et al. believed that it is only natural and obvious for the LBS to replace the traditional paper map, which was a controversial subject in GEOG 506: “LBS have to ‘substitute’ existing analogue approaches, e.g. the use of cheap, durable and easy-to-use paper maps for the most part…”. However, even today, lot of people still use paper maps despite the fact that they carry a smartphone that has a perfectly fine GPS receiver function, including myself. On the other hand, it is slowly but surely being replaced by less-analogue technologies for the majority of population who can afford it.


In the legal, social and ethical dimensions section, the authors consider the potential for surveillance and the exercise of power over individual movement as a negative effect, whereas the potential to guide people and the new social possibilities regarding LBS is positive implication. However, as we have discussed in class, this is just a mere perception from a particular culture or perhaps it is somewhat an individualistic view, rather than a representative perspective of a culture as a whole.

What can be defined as positive and/or negative?  It is all relative….again….sigh


Location Based Services & Human Behaviour

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Raper et al. (2007) A critical evaluation of location based services and their potential

Raper et al. (2007) give an excellent overview of the technologies used by LBS. Most if not all of the sensor technologies underpinning the GIScience topics we have discussed in GEOG 506 were covered in this article. Raper et al. (2007) recognize that there are two domains in LBS: (1) user-related, and (2) technological – however, it is clear the latter is the major focus of LBS research.

Raper et al. (2007) list numerous examples of how users interact with LBS e.g user-friendliness, user-input, and user acceptance, however, the alteration of human behaviour seems to be major literature gap in the domain of LBS. This includes but can extend beyond the realm of legality and ethics. The effects of LBS on society may not be observable on an individual level, but I suspect there will be significant generational changes. Younger generations are expert micro-planners; we have become maximizers of our time. Instead of allotting say, 25 minutes to get to school, we can trim that down 17 minutes and 30 seconds (on average) taking into consideration daily weather, traffic conditions, different routes, and transportation schedules. In the future, this could be combined with unique user data to include average walking speed or stage of morning routine (based on regular weekday behaviours) in order to provide down-to-the-second departure time. Real-time LBS-equipped transportation will certainly have a massive impact on commuter behaviour in cities.

I hope the Journal of Location Based Services will become an accepted platform for these discussions too. It is crucial that the developers of LBS technologies are exposed to the ways their creations take on new function, meaning, and forms—both positive and negative— following their adoption by consumers.

It is my unfortunate duty to diagnose this article with acronymia – a scholarly disease that plagues esoteric fields such as GIScience and its numerous subfields. Prognosis includes: loss of readability, confusion, misunderstanding, and death. Acronymia is a disease with global distribution on the verge of becoming an epidemic. The primary vector of this disease is the journal article, although textbooks, tweets, and conference proceedings are known transmitters. There is no known cure for acronymia.



VGI vs PPGIS …. or just VGI

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

I have to say, I do agree with some aspects of this article, “Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games”, but in majority, I disagree with it. In my understanding, PPGIS is a way for the public to be engaged in decision making by allowing them to incorporate local knowledge, integration and contextualization of complex spatial information and therefore active interactions of participant as well as empowerment of involved individuals and communities is possible, from Professor Sieber’s article: “Public Participation Geographic Information Systems: A Literature Review and Framework”. As for the VGI, its definition is known as: “the widespread engagement of large numbers of private citizens, often with little in the way of formal qualifications, in the creation of geographic information…I term this volunteered geographic information (VGI), a special case of the more general Web phenomenon of user-generated content…” from Goodchild’s article “Citizens as Sensors: The World of Volunteered Geography”. We should pay more attention to the part “more general Web phenomenon of user-generated content”. Therefore, it seems like all the convergence displayed in Tulloch’s article is because VGI encompass PPGIS and that VGI has slightly larger area to cover than PPGIS.

In addition, as mentioned above, PPGIS has a specific purpose and goal and often involve rather specific local population than general public, whereas VGI is more extensive. Furthermore, Tulloch also mentioned that: “One of the fundamental distinctions may turn out to be that VGI is more about applications and information while PPGIS seems more concerned with process and outcomes”, and doesn’t process and outcomes generated through applications and based on information? Perhaps I am oversimplifying this, but then again, it seems quite obvious in my perspective.



Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

In “Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games” (2008), Tulloch attempts to unearth the relationship between Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and Public Participatory Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS). Although he finds that they share some overlap (twenty to eighty percent?), they contrast in that “VGI is more about applications and information while PPGIS seems more concerned with process and outcomes” (170).

An interesting idea that comes out of this article is that VGI should be considered in policy/decision making: “while VGI might often fail to provide officially certified data that can support legally defensible policy decisions, ignored VGI sources could easily undermine an otherwise well-planned project” (168). This reminds me of a story about tweets being used to guide news stories, but not supplying enough background proof to be an actual source. Will tweets and VGI one day become admissible evidence in courtrooms? How is technology affecting formal practices?

The article also raises the question of “who is participating?” and if they really represent the “public”. However, I would argue that those who participate in person are not necessarily speaking for the general public. In most situations, only a small fraction of society will feel the urge to speak up, but perhaps VGI could have a positive effect on the proportion of people participating. I look forward to finding out how VGI and PPGIS have been used in marginalized communities.


VGI and Geoslavery

Monday, November 10th, 2014

An important issue that was brought up in this article, “Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games” by David Tulloch, was that of volunteers knowing their data is being used or not. The problem is raised that people are collecting and contributing data through their GPS and mobile devices often unknowingly and whether or not this should be considered as VGI. This relates well to the G.I.Science topic of Location Based Services, since often people use applications on their mobile devices or other related services that collect and store location data. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter (et al.), people are voluntarily sharing tons of data about themselves which are then used by those (and associated) companies. I would posit that this does border on geoslavery (versus incidentally volunteered data) as the author questions on page 169 because while people are technically aware that this data is being gathered (from “reading” the Terms & Agreements), I would imagine the majority of users are under-aware of the scope and implications of this multitude of volunteered data. I would say that in a perfect world, VGI should rely more heavily on data which people are aware they are volunteering. However, the data gathered from all the various sources (Twitter, etc.) has many academic uses, such as social-network analysis, not to mention the commercial applications of this volunteered geographic information, such as advertising, so I don’t imagine this trend changing anytime soon. More thought should be placed into the implications of this none the less.





Monday, November 10th, 2014

Tulloch (2008) Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games.

Tulloch (2008) sets out on the daunting quest to determine whether or not volunteered geographic information (VGI) is a form of participation, or more specifically, public participatory GIS (PPGIS).

Tulloch notes that VGI has yet to develop into a “robust literature of its own” (2008: 164). This led me to reflect upon a guest lecture by D. R. Fraser Taylor I attended a few weeks ago on the topic of cybercartography. There seem to be many parallels between VGI and cybercartography e.g. the discourse of power, emphasis on local knowledge and participation, and an appeal to non-expert use. Fraser and his research team compile ‘atlases’ which act as depositories for volunteered local knowledge with explicit geographic content. Ultimately, these ‘atlases’ may reinforce a locally defined counter-narrative. Are Fraser’s atlases simply an application of VGI? How does cybercartography fit into the discourse of VGI? Are they different and competing frameworks or do they evidence the phenomenon of semantic inflation?

It seems that a central component of VGI is the open invitation for participation and the creation of datasets from the ground up. Although the proliferation of VGI may lead to successful development projects, what measure determines if subjects may be better off without VGI & PPGIS? What things, if any, should remain apart from the public sphere? This reminds me of a recent blog post I read on the botany and secrecy: The post describes how botanists withhold the location of endangered and threatened species as a protection strategy.

The features of the Tulloch article that resonate with me are the immense social and political dimensions of VGI and PPGIS. In the context of GIScience—and science as a whole—this challenges the notion that positivism and science go hand-in-hand.




Monday, November 10th, 2014

The article by Tulloch outlines some of the issues associated with the intersection of PPGIS and VGI using two case studies.  I found this article to be an interesting starting point but I wish there had been more of a general overview of some of the concepts inherent in VGI.  I look forward to tomorrow’s lecture.

Some of the issues the author discussed I thought were most pertinent were the issues of “volunteered” geographic data and the issues of participation.  I have used quotation marks on volunteered because of the issue raised by Tulloch regarding individuals who have GPS units constantly transmitting geographic data unbeknownst to them or perhaps against their will.  While I found the term “geoslavery” inappropriate I understand that to many this type of data collection is a serious breach of privacy.

On the issue of participation (a common theme for many of our class discussions) I find the issues present within VGI and PPGIS to be compelling.  I suppose one of the largest issues is whether all voices are being heard.  Worse, what if the shift towards a greater reliance on VGI  makes some forms of knowledge ineligible for collection and thus, validation, scrutiny, and incorporation.

Relating to other presentation topics one can see the issues associated with Ontologies, Big Data, and Metadata being quite pertinent.


The State of Spatial Volunteerism

Monday, November 10th, 2014

In his article titled ‘Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games‘ Tulloch answers the questions he proposes though the presentation of two case studies that feature volunteered geographic information (VGI). VGI is characterized by the collection, organization and dissemination of geographic information by volunteers working individually or in groups. Tulloch works throughout his piece to outlining the overlap between VGI and public participation GIS (PPGIS), as well as the difference between the two fields of study. The clear distinction comes in the level of recognition in the domain of GIScience, with VGI lacking robust literature making it a far less established field. While this is the case, PPGIS is proposed as a “nexus for […] connecting VGI ideas with existing [GIScience] literature”. While an overlap exists between the established PPGIS and VGI, the goals of each field of study differ, the formers is accepted having clear intentions for the empowerment of the public to a position of influence in the policy decision process, where as VGI can be viewed as a frivolous activity, a hybrid of entertainment and informal volunteerism.

A major question that arises from the reading of this article is whether VGI requires a widely accepted positioning within the larger GIScience body of knowledge at all. The innovative and creative aspects of VGI point to the fact that it is a citizen driven domain, where in which the public has access to the tools to volunteer information regardless of whether there exists a policy decision in which the volunteer can participate. Information will always be volunteered, data that can be filtered, assessed and used by professionals or the public as they deem necessary.

While the ontology of VGI may have developed in the 5 years since this article was published, my thoughts align with those of Tulloch, that VGI doesn’t align neatly with PPGIS. There remains many unresolved questions about VGI that when answered will allow it to take hold of its rightful place, standing on its own two feet.

– Othello

The dangers and benefits of VGI and PPGIS

Monday, November 10th, 2014

“Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games” by Tulloch evaluates the relationship between volunteered geographic information (VGI) and public participatory GIS (PPGIS). On the one hand, PPGIS embeds issues of power and is driven by political or social motivations, on the other, volunteered geographic information is driven by individuals or a collective group of people.
While the semantic distinction between PPGIS and VGI may be of importance to academics, the everyday users and producers of geographic information are indifferent to the difference. What does deserve greater consideration and should be of interest to the general public, are the issues of power and control associated with both PPGIS and VGI. Tulloch argues that PPGIS shifts power to the grassroots, creating a collective sense of empowerment, while VGI contributors derive power on an individual or personal level by being the ones who control data collection and dissemination. However, this belies who is actually in control of information creation and diffusion. In the case of PPGIS, the public may only encompasses a specific and selected segment of the population, creating a power hierarchy where those involved in the selection process are propelled to the top, those contributing are place squarely in the middle, and those excluded from the process are relegated to the sidelines. Similarly, active contributors of VGI represent only a fraction of the population (typically middle-aged white men in Western countries). While this is not a problem in and of itself, it becomes a concern when volunteered information (geographic or otherwise) is taken to represent the ideas and thoughts of the general public. Moreover, the very fact that one has the time to actively collect and share geographic information betrays one’s privileged rank in society. What is more disconcerting, (and briefly mentioned in the article), is that you may not be aware that you are volunteering geographic information. This passive VGI that is collected, analyzed and then sold, reveals that you, the contributor, are not in control; someone else, something else -Big Brother for lack of a better term- extracts and evaluates your information whether you are actively or knowingly involved in the process.
PPGIS and VGI have the potential to engage the public in a dynamic way; however, the power struggles inherent in both PPGIS and VGI need to be more fully explored and discussed. Establishing VGI as an independent discipline, or a sub-topic within PPGIS is, as far as I am concerned, an unnecessary debate on semantics.

Note: Issues of data quality (accuracy and precision), data aggregation and mashing, as well as concerns of meta data are only some of the concerns of relevance to GI scientists.


Not necessarily about mountains but…

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Alright this article is meant to show the readers that within the geospatial world, ontology must encompass both common-sense world of primary theory and the field-based ontology and I disagree with authors and their way of demonstrating their argument and…basically pretty much everything.

“A complete ontology of geographic phenomena will have to incorporate all of these scientific fact and more, but only some of them are of relevance to the primary theory of the geographic domain”

Doesn’t this mean that the primary theory is not relevant? Why should we stick to this one knowing that it is not near to completely representative of the definition one is looking for?

Beside, author mentioned that the primary theory recognizes the mountains based on their distinct shapes, covering, elevation and its level of hardship to climb, etc. However, geologists often categorize/classify the mountains based on their formations which are one of the most important factors to consider when distinguishing one mountain over other.

Also there is too much generalization and simplification in the authors’ arguments. For instance if one can distinguish between different animals and the authors argue that one can make distinction between these because they were separated through the evolutionary process, well the mountains and other plateau were have been changed and one can differentiate them through the geologic process with respect to their geological time frame. “Mountain is not a product of natural selection…” But it is a product of geological process and young mountains are being born and dying through geomorphological activities daily. There are in fact different types of mountains differentiated by these processes. Why ignore it?

Also it is mentioned that the ontology should be created within neutral framework but it seems like the primary theory is strictly based on the eyes of the humans rather than trying to categorize and view objectively and on top of that it has failed to demonstrate that one has properly done any scientific research to support the argument with over-simplification.

The fact that most of people who are not in the expert in such domain and because the time frame for the geologic processes is different, therefore unable for humans to sense but only can observe and analyze through data, does not mean it does not exist nor should be forced to be categorized based on human’s limited senses to perceive things.

Yes, it is not necessarily about mountains and I got carried away a little bit as well, but still my point is it seems like the authors could have done better. Overall, I was uncomfortable and confused while reading this article and can’t get rid of this leery feelings every time I read this article.


Questions of Existence

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms by Smith and Mark deal with questions of ontology within geography: ontology being the philosophical study of the nature of being and existence. By asking the seemingly simple question: “Do mountains exist?” this article threw me headfirst down a spiraling rabbit-hole. I was first clouded by the notion that a mountain is not a detached object with explicit boundaries, it is this very ambiguity that mountains share with other landscape features that demonstrates that a mountain only really exists as a ‘result of human belief’. We have attributed meaning to extrusions of land that dot the landscapes of this geoid one which we live. Where a mountain begins and ends is largely unclear.One might argue that an object does not need to be explicitly demarked to earn the right to existence, however the world is far easier to understand or at least information systems function far smoother when we do.

The importance of ontology is that the modeling of environments scientifically demands the explicit definition of objects and further categorization of objects within categories. Without the understanding of objects and how they are categorized, how does one begin to place information within the database structures employed in GIScience research and information systems. It is this framework for analysis that raise ontology as such a salient conversation, one that I did not appropriately appreciate until I read Rundstrom’s article on the intersection of GIScience and the traditional knowledge held by indigenous people in the northern reaches of Canada.

Both articles expand the horizons of GIScience research beyond the technicality of tools, by examining how our ways of thinking and tendencies of human thought speak to the technologies we employ.

– Othello

Ontologies and the Existence of Mountains

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

In the article we read, Do Mountains Exist? by Smith and Mark, they discuss ontologies using the example question of if mountains actually exist. There were a lot of new concepts that I was/am unfamiliar with which made the article fairly challenging to comprehend. That being said, I enjoyed reading it and gaining a better understanding of the study of ontology and how it relates to G.I.Science.

An important section in this paper dealt with the relationship between ontology and information systems and why it is important. Having a standard definition of an object (ex. creek) would facilitate the sharing of data and information amongst scientists. If everybody had the same definition or way to classify something, there would be less ambiguity and an easier time sharing data. The question then arises of who gets to make those sorts of decisions (and of course, if it is even possible to have one standard classification system or framework).

On a related note, something that struck me as particularly confusing was who gets to decide into which categories objects get classified and how those decisions are made. Concerning the section Categories (pgs. 8-9), it was unclear to me how these categories (ex. subordinate, basic, superordinate levels) were chosen. Perhaps I didn’t fully understand, but it seemed fairly arbitrary. When classifying an apple into the basic level, how is that choice made? When saying that an ostrich is a poor example of a bird, is that only because a lot of people think that, or are there any rules governing those classifications? The article would have been improved if that was more clearly explained.


Does anything exist?

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

“Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms” focuses on geospatial ontology creation and some of the main issues within this field. The main problem with answering the question “do mountains exist?” lies in the absence of bona fide boundaries for mountains. Moreover, the variety of definitions for “mountains” within different cultures adds to the difficulty of describing them. To properly define mountains, one must take into consideration multiple perspectives, including environmental boundaries (e.g. biomes and drainage basins).

One of the problems I had with this paper is that it does not delve into the importance of ontologies for GIS. “It is designed to provide computationally tractable, robust, neutral frameworks within which data deriving from different sources can be rendered intercommunicable”. This raises an issue that I had never fully considered. How can two individuals use the same dataset and be expected to come up with comparable results, if the data is not fully defined. This can cause issues within one research group, but is even more problematic if a researcher is using secondary data and cannot ask the original researcher for supplementary information. In this sense, ontologies serve to standardize concepts and allow for seamless exchange of information and knowledge. However, can concepts each have a single ontology? This seems impossible, considering the cultural and temporal implications of understanding and knowledge.



Positivism, revisited

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Sorry in advance,  this is a long one.


Smith & Mark, “Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms”

Smith & Mark discuss the role of ontology in answering a fundamentally metaphysical question – do mountains exist? Central to their analysis is the ability to algorithmically describe and therefore categorize the geospatial world. Smith & Mark attempt to bridge geography and philosophy in this article to yield a geospatial ontology to support spatial reasoning and the nuances of natural language, however, their article simply comes across as a plug for positivist science.

On a philosophical level, Smith & Mark fail to place their ontological discussion into the mid-late 20th century discourse on existentialism and phenomenology. In this respect, the most pernicious argument they make is the existence of common-sense, universal to all cultures and intrinsic to all human beings (7). Further, they contend that common-sense vis-à-vis primary theory “must be compatible with the results of science” (8). This conclusion diametrically opposes the work of theorists such as Edward Said and Michel Foucault who note that knowledge systems are subject to complex political relationships of subordination and domination. From the relativist perspective, science is no exception to the power struggles of knowledge systems. From their logical, positivist science standpoint it is understandable that Smith & Mark make the conclusions that they do, however, they cannot simply brush over fundamental philosophical discourses.

From a geographical standpoint, Smith & Mark utilize and reinforce a narrative that portrays humanity and nature separable phenomena. By this account, pristine nature exists in the absence of human interaction. Smith & Mark do not acknowledge that many geographers, anthropologists, historians, and scientists reject this view. Political ecology, an interdisciplinary community of practice, is devoted to showcasing how policy makers seeking political gain often exploit the pristine myth. For a case in point example, see “Misreading the African Landscape” by Fairhead and Leach (1996).

Finally, the so-called “geophysical reality” of Mount Everest is yet another straw man argument constructed by Smith & Mark. Elementary geomorphological theory immediately contradicts that the “exactly this shape and material constitution [of Mount Everest], was there many millennia before humans came along” (14). Geographers know that this is not true even on a daily basis do the continuous, simultaneous, and dynamic processes of orogeny, weathering, and erosion. Additionally, a growing number of geomorphologists consider how humans influence geomorphological systems e.g. how dams affect river systems, how anthropogenic climate change is affecting glacial melting, etc.

Smith & Mark make the important recognition that ontology is inherent facet of scientific endeavour, however, I believe their allegiance to positivism is flawed and outdated.



Murky Waters

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Seeing this week’s reading topic I was already intimidated. I generally do not do well with philosophical rants and wonderings of why things are the way they are; I struggle with abstract concepts. From what I understood of the article (which I am still trying to wrap my head around as I type this sentence) is that someone like me would subscribe to Robert Horton’s primary theory. Primary theory is ‘common sense’ and object based which is cross-cultural. In other words, it is a set of accepted paradigms. It doesn’t concern itself too much with ‘why’ or ‘how’ things are but just that they exist. This was pretty much where I got lost. This article was wordy and weird. I found it difficult to follow and it made my already loose understanding of what ontology was even worse. The article was somehow explaining how geomorphic processes occur while simultaneously attempting to explain the concept of ontology. I understand why ontology is important – especially given the rise of information sharing (the internet). If everyone has a different concept of what a ‘mountain’ is then it becomes very difficult to collaborate on projects or even to understand products (such as maps). What I don’t understand is why this article needed to make an already murky subject so much more dense and confusing.

Until next time,


Do Mountains Exist

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

In Mark and Smith’s article ‘Do Mountains Exist’ the authors explore the idea of ontologies using the example of how we understand, recognize, and define the geographic concept of a Mountain.  Mountains can be described using common-sense theories and language while also described using topography, hydrology, and geomorphology.  The complexity of language is increased when one considers how culture and context affect how we know and understand various geographic contexts.

The implications for functional ontologies within GIScience are important and far reaching.  One of the most important implications is that with functional ontologies of geographic concepts comes the ability for data to be shared more effectively.  Because different organizations often use their own definitions, data collection techniques, and storage methods having ontologies that are able to sort and define various datasets can be extremely useful for the sharing of information.

Although I really enjoy this article, one aspect of ontologies I would have liked to learn more about from these authors is how ontologies are formally constructed.  This article was useful in understanding why ontologies are necessary though it would have been beneficial to provide information regarding what ontologies actually are in a tangible sense.



Monday, November 3rd, 2014

“Do Mountains Exist? Towards an Ontology of Landforms” by Smith and Mark explores the ontology of mountains. Before reading this article, I had never given much thought to the question: “what is a mountain?” I know what a mountain is when I see one, at least, I thought I did. But differences in language, culture and context, highlight the importance of properly defining the world around us. The link to GIScience is made obvious in the article: How do you store and define a mountain in a computer system, in a GIS, or in an environmental model? A good ontology provides a common framework to understand ‘things’ and to create such ‘things’ in a computer system. This allows for standardization which in turn facilitates communication and interoperability. Ontologies are at the foundation of shared information (spatial or other). However, it is important to consider who created the ontology when assessing its relevance and supremacy in different contexts or situations. While ontologies are useful, they are not necessarily inclusive of differing perspectives. Consider the (overused) example of how the Cree define a river (which includes the bank and the river) vs how Western scientific thought describes a river. How do you reconcile competing ontologies within a GIS? Is there no room for competition?