Thoughts on Researching Volunteered Geographic Information

Elwood et al.’s article discusses the emergence of VGI as a new form of geographic information and how this can influence geographic research. This article did a good job analyzing the related concerns and issues in using VGI in geographic research, which provides me with a lot of new insights on this topic. I’m particularly drawn by two points discussed in the article.
The first point is the data quality of VGI. Researchers are often concern about the data quality of VGI as it is non-authoritative and has not been validated in a formal way. In response to this, the authors argue that VGI can be regarded as authoritative on the basis that it originates from direct local knowledge and observations, and the reliability can be rested on the convergence of information generated by a number of contributors. However, this does not mean that expertise is not important anymore. As argued earlier in the article, “expertise, tools, and theoretical frameworks of professional geographers are essential to addressing many of the more profound questions associated with VGI”, including the issue of data quality. I’m wondering what role professional geographers could and should play in the data quality issue related to VGI, given that the reliability is based on the “similarity of the submissions”.
Second, the authors highlight the issue of digital divide formed by the VGI. Several groups or individuals are included while others are excluded in creating and using VGI. For researchers who are using VGI as research input, it is important to realize that the data is biased towards the people who are “privileged” in contributing to this information.

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