Tag: spatial information

But My GPS Told Me To….

It seems like I am hearing a lot about the problems with personal navigation technology these days. A recent twitter post by @mapserving of a news article by the BBC describes another case of GPS misadventure. And only a few days ago, my wife and I, attending a reception listened to an extended dinner table discussion of the problems of in car navigation. Some of the accounts are humorous but sometimes the consequences may be serious.

So as a one promoting the benefits of spatial technology, what does one make of these types of reports?

As the growth in location aware applications and services is upon us, we need to remind ourselves first, that technology in itself is probably not the complete solution to any user’s needs.

In the case of GPS navigation there are many potential sources for error including the following:

  • Outdated map data – recent street addition
  • Incorrect or incomplete data
  • Inaccurate geocoding
  • Poor routing models
  • GPS satellite system responsiveness and accuracy
  • Interpretation of user queries
  • Operator error

Take a look at the manuals that accompany your GPS device. If these issues are addressed at all, it is not in an overt way. And even if they were spelled out more prominently, would it make a difference? My sense is that in today’s technological world, there is a tendency among all of us to focus on the benefits of technology while losing site of its limitations.

There is a fine balance between promoting new technology and ensuring that users are aware of the limitations of its use or the need for other information, common sense, etc. One of the challenges of those providing technology based products and services is to minimize the limitations of the technology during the user experience. This can be accomplished by:

  • Understanding the use case – this will change as products and service uptake moves from early adopters to mainstream users;
  • Ensuring you have thought through and are able to provide a complete solution to the user – are things like documentation, training, etc necessary and how should they be implemented to be effective; and
  • Constantly work to solve technical limitations or provide workarounds.

These are pretty fundamental and there are probably others but we need to keep at least these three in the foreground as we work to advance the use of spatial information and technologies.

Spatial Data Infrastructures (SDI) have been around since the mid 1980’s when the Australian Land Information Council was first created.  While somewhat of a generalization – SDI promotion and use has largely been confined to those with a high degree of knowledge of spatial data and technology.

Recent coverage of government transparency and data access in the United States got me thinking about the role spatial information tools and infrastructure play in enabling a broader community of people and organizations to access and understand the value of spatial information.

The concept behind an SDI is that it provides a mechanism for greater accessibility to spatial information with resulting economic (to both the data providers and users) and social benefits to countries or regions implementing SDIs.  Today SDIs have been or are being implemented in well over 100 countries.


(modified from Rajabifard et al, 2002)

In their early formulation the focus of SDIs was largely on database creation but in recent years the focus has been more towards user community needs with emphasis on processes for data access, use and dissemination.  This shift can be seen clearly in the refocused mandate of the Canadian GeoConnections program which now concentrates much of its effort (and funding) on encouraging user communities to take advantage of the Canadian SDI (Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure).

Despite the shift in focus, considerable work remains to be done in order to facilitate greater access to data.  Surveys have shown that SDI usage is still predominantly in the world of research and government where knowledge of spatial concepts is on average higher and technology infrastructure greater than in the general public as a whole.

However, the emergence of tools such as Google Earth and other “geo-browser” tools and the associated interest in spatial information among a broader range of users has not gone unnoticed by SDI policy experts and researchers. Today there is considerable discussion about the evolution of SDIs and what can be learned from the Web 2.0 world of spatial information.  The challenge will be to draw the best from both worlds to create an environment where the value of spatial information can be realized more simply and by a broader group of people.

I see at least two threads emerging in this discussion: one around the challenges of evolving SDIs to bring all the value of past investments to a point where a broader group can access it in a user friendly manner and the second around helping users to fully benefit from all spatial information has to offer.

What form will user implementations take, how will they be sustained, and what benefits will users realize?  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.