Universal GIS!?

The critical GIS article by Aitken and Michel brought forward once again the concept of homogeneity in GIS through the proposal of having a universal GIS which would be “flexible enough to accommodate the demands of locally based, micro-scale uses”. I would generally say that I don’t believe that any type of miracle universal GIS could be created to deal with planning issues anywhere on the planet particularly if the GIS were produced by a single company like ESRI or SPANS. As far as I know (feel free to let me know otherwise!) companies are out to meet user needs and to make money and to do so, they must cater to their users but arguably only the majority of their users in the interests of time and profit.

What I wonder is: could the geoweb play a role in producing a GIS that caters to a far broader variety of users and allows these users to build on the GIS to improve it for specific purposes and, in the context of planning, for specific locales? The paper does not deal with this concept likely due to technological evolution since it was written in 1995. At that time, users could access the internet but not necessarily contribute to its content in any way. Today, users can create vast amounts of information as well as software and this kind of power could be harnessed to create a universal GIS with many components for a variety of users, uses and places.

Another necessary aspect of a universal GIS is that it would have to have different possible levels of analysis to serve the experts and the naive users. This would in turn rely on both experts and naive users contributing to the online GIS, something that may not happen. Additionally, such a GIS would not be capable of ensuring naive users are using the level of analysis geared to them as opposed to a higher level for research purposes. To assist in solving this problem, I would say users need to be educated about GIS and how to use it but that perhaps if they chose not to learn all the technical details, they could still use the level of the GIS geared toward them.

-Outdoor Addict

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