Volunteered geographic information

This article presents volunteered geographic information (VGI) and provides some interesting and new examples of implemented tools using spatial information that has been donated or provided by citizens informally, such as OpenStreetMaps, or data that have been altered (e.g., the John Snow map, which is super cool). I think the primary issues that arise when people discuss VGI are privacy and accuracy. By privacy, I mean that people tend to be concerned about “volunteered” information and whether the users truly understand the potential ramifications of sharing spatial information. By accuracy, I mean the same concerns that surround citizen-based websites like Wikipedia; even though scientists and students use Wiki entries for reference on a maybe daily basis, and even though it is likely the go-to reference for lay people as well, it is a standard practice to reference alternate sources which confirm the same facts. Alternate sources, written by experts (potentially the same experts who wrote the Wiki entry), are considered superior in accuracy because they are not written by an “average citizen.” I think my ideas here are related to what Wyatt discusses in his post – that there might be some irony or plain incorrectness is assuming that a paper in a journal or a book chapter is more accurate than something in a Wiki entry. We all believe this, or at least participate in it (by never citing Wikipedia, while constantly using it), and it’s interesting that while a paper may have been repealed or a textbook may be out of date, a website like Wikipedia is a dynamic, updating realization of current opinion. Is it subject to error? Absolutely, but like Wyatt pointed out, so is everything else. I think these ideas need to be challenged to some degree, and I think geographers and those trained to value spatial information are in a good place to discuss this. What is desirable and not desirable in spatial data, what is “good” data, and who decides?


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