How can we make sense of all this data?

Part of Elwood’s paper considers the implications of using data provided from different users. Data providers stemming from different backgrounds and cultures approach information, its synthesis, and its portrayal in varying ways. This heterogeneous data is further transformed through the manipulations required to make any sense of it. Elwood notes, “data are dynamic, modified through individual and institutional interactions and practices” (259). How can we ensure that the meaning instilled by the original user is carried through all kinds of manipulations and transformations, especially when primarily deciphering the original meaning proves to be laden with complexities?

Elwood provides an overview of many solutions to grapple with a wide array of geovisualisation challenges, but I think we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves. Surely there are a vast number of challenges to be addressed (as seen also in the MacEachren and Kraak article), but can we do it all at the same time? Making sense of original user data seems to be of primary importance before we can assess how it changes through practice and collaboration. While initially seeming counterintuitive to user friendliness, approaches like “standardiz[ing] terms across multiple sources” (258) and using formal ontologies may prove necessary in trying to etch out semantic differences in user provided data.

How can we work collaboratively if we’re talking about different things? We can trace the “modification of concepts in a spatial database as they are used in the process of collaboration” (260), but what do these concepts mean? Can we actually standardize open, user-generated geospatial data in order for it to be interoperable? With the increasing amounts of data sources and data heterogeneity, it looks like there is a long, winding road ahead of us.

Elwood, S. 2009: Geographic Information Science: new geovisualization technologies — emerging questions and linkages with GIScience research. Progress in Human Geography 33(2), 256-263.

-sidewalk ballet


Comments are closed.