Goodchild (2007)-The brave new world of VGI

Goodchild’s very-well-cited paper on VGI from the mid-2000s is, among other things, a great example of prescience on the part of an academic–comprehensive (for 8 years ago), concisely-written, and representative of both specific knowledge in the evolving realm of GIScience as well as a general interest in the future of society as it becomes acquainted with powerful new technologies and their potential. While it is taken for granted that scientific papers present expert knowledge, having an understanding of the implications of technological advancement is much rarer to find.

VGI is simultaneously a huge leap in the field of geography–presenting a new way of  collecting data, a new relationship between the field’s professionals and the general public, and a radically increased amount of information about the Earth’s surface–as well as a curious psychological phenomenon similar to avid Yelp reviewers and other altruistic givers of information to public platforms.

Perhaps of even greater import for research–revealing my biases here–is the use of humans as sensors. We are, as Goodchild reminds us, extremely sensitive beings. What better way to collect information that is valuable to humans than by harvesting it from masses of humans, rather than, say, limited embedded sensor networks? Humans know what a traffic jam looks like, what an earthquake feels like, etc. This direction of inquiry into future development of technology quickly transcends the notion of ‘volunteering,’ becoming what other scholars have referred to rather innocuously as “ambient” geographic information. Will the future resemble the popular location-monitoring app Find My Friends, where all of us are “friends” with a central authority who watches over us, benevolently (or not)? Perhaps heart rate monitors could detect disasters even more rapidly than volunteered reports–or disruptions to social order.

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