Public Talk on Gazetteer for Scotland

As part of the University’s mission to reach out into the community, Bruce Gittings gave another public talk, this time to the Liberton Association in South Edinburgh. Taking place on Saturday 22nd February and attended by about 60 people, the talk was entitled “Describing Scotland from the 19th Century to the 21st”. This described work over a period of twenty years on The Gazetteer for Scotland, a web-based resource which has also given rise to a reference book published by Harper Collins. The web site grows continuously and now contains almost 23,000 entries on places in Scotland, 10,000 photographs and includes the same volume of words as thirty paperback novels. The talk was very well received by the audience, who had many questions to ask at its conclusion.

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GIS Students find their Careers

Thursday 19th February saw our GIS Masters students involved in a Careers Workshop organised by Programme Director Bruce Gittings.  Speakers were Susan Bird from the University of Edinburgh Careers Service, Liz Richardson a researcher from the School of GeoSciences, Alma Jones and Alan Bragg from the Scottish Government, Scott Krueger from Edinburgh travel success-story Skyscanner, Charles Kennelly from major GIS company ESRI-UK, David Lawton from Cheshire-based consultants Informed Solutions, and Tom Stork from the humanitarian REACH Initiative.

Several of the speakers were former graduates of the GIS programme. Liz spoke about her background including undertaking a PhD before the GIS Masters and her current work as a researcher in the modelling of health, environment and inequality. Scott discussed the importance of data to Skyscanner’s business and the value of formal database management, while Tom Stork, who had just returned from Northern Iraq, discussed the importance of GIS and mapping in terms of humanitarian aid and the relief of suffering, showing examples of refugee camp maps and safe escape routes from threatened cities.

Alma and Alan discussed their roles in the Geographical Information and Spatial Analysis Team.

David Lawton talked about consultancy and the role of the consultant, while Charles Kennelly, who is Technical Director at ESRI-UK discussed possible roles in that company but also gave useful insights into the directions of the GIS industry.

In introducing the workshop, Bruce Gittings stated that the GIS jobs market was buoyant and that students shouldn’t jump at the first job offered, as several of last years students had had multiple offers. He also explained the importance of networking, and illustrated some resources which were available to the students. He also expressed his thanks to the speakers who had taken time to contribute.

Edinburgh MSc Project featured in GIS Professional magazine

The February 2015 issue of GIS Professional features a three-page article on mapart1ping books. Entitled Once upon a somewhere: The challenges of putting books on the map and written by Alex Mackie and Bruce Gittings, the article is based on Alex’s GIS Masters dissertation.  It explains that books are spatial objects – written, published, printed and consumed at particular geographical locations. Importantly books also feature places as their subjects or within their storyline. Thus, it is perhaps surprising that there have been relatively few attempts to exploit their spatial location, whether as a means of promotion or a way of connecting people to place. The article goes on the explain how Alex implemented a global book map, which constantly grows by automatically harvesting publication data from the internet. The system proving popular on social media and has been picked up by the literary press.  Alex’s book map is available here: www.mappit.net/bookmap/

GIS Contracting Back in Fashion?

Following a decline in daily rates for contracting jobs in GIS in 2013-24, itjobswatch.co.uk reports that the past year has seen a marked increase in daily rates by 36% to £400 per day this past year.  This suggests that contractors are now back in demand after a couple of years of the industry divesting itself of those in such roles. Itjobswatch reports there were 341 permanent jobs advertised last year, although the average salary has settled a little from £48,000 to £44,000, after a 20% increase 2013-14.

Will Google leaving the enterprise market set back our industry?

Who would have thunk it, but Google have announced over the last fewearthban weeks that they are de-supporting Google Maps Engine and the Google Earth API, plus Google Earth Pro will now be free.  This all adds up to Google no longer being interested in the enterprise mapping market, or anyone paying them for mapping services.  It probably also means the writing is on the wall for Google Earth more generally – this neither produces an income nor is it a helpful part of google’s search (in the way that Google Maps is). Seems difficult to believe given the money they have invested over the last 10 years or so.  But Google are a pretty ruthless bunch.  While we used to get really excited over the innovative new technologies that appeared from Google Labs (itself discontinued in 2011), and we certainly like what they give away for free (eg. gmail, docs a.k.a. drive, calendar), Google do have a bit of a reputation for dropping things that are not congruent with their direction of travel or don’t (directly or indirectly) make enough money.  It’s not a long-term “lets migrate our users to the new product” approach, it’s rather a blink and it’s gone, dropped-like-a-hot-potato.  It’s a shame to see a company move from being innovative and ideas-led to become narrowly focussed on making short-term money, and fighting off competitors (who mentioned Microsoft?).  I guess the worry is that this may signal that Google’s entire investment in data and free mapping is ‘at risk’ – which would certainly be a shock, with ramifications across our industry.  There is no doubt that the way Google provided maps, imagery and technology has overturned the geospatial industry and showcased the value of ‘geo’ into a world far beyond.  Is there a risk it all falls apart?  Probably not, we’ve come too far with open data, open street maps, openlayers, leaflet, chameleon, mapserver, standards (like KML and SVG) and Google’s many imitators to return to the bad old days of expensive data and expensive applications, but ESRI are clearly rubbing their hands with glee as they get set to takeover Google’s enterprise customers.  Given the history of ESRI’s panic reaction to Google’s entry into this market, Uncle Jack Dangermond must be smiling like a Cheshire cat.  Equally, in the UK, I am sure the Ordnance Survey see Google’s move as a marvellous opportunity for OpenSpace and other services.

Further Reading:

  1. http://www.vicchi.org/2015/01/26/with-the-demise-of-google-maps-engine-what-next-for-gme-users/
  2. http://m.theregister.co.uk/2014/12/13/google_earth_api_to_shut_down/
  3. http://www.zdnet.com/article/google-maps-engine-quietly-coming-to-a-halt-as-sign-up-window-shutters/
  4. http://spatialiq.co.nz/index.php/uncategorized/google-and-esri-whod-have-thought
  5. http://spatialiq.co.nz/index.php/spatial-linq/google-esri-what-will-this-mean-for-you/
  6. http://www.esri.com/landing-pages/products/google-lp

Oh, and before you get too excited at Google Earth Pro being free, it doesn’t give much in the way of extra functionality!

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Prof. Muki Haklay : 16th Jan

The talk by Muki Haklay on GIScience and Citizen Science reflected on the developments in Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and Citizen Science, their areas of overlap and in particular the existence of potential reciprocal contributions between them. He made extensive use of the trends in VGI and Citizen Science to help illustrate how the two are increasingly overlapping and hence the potential for mutual contributions.

VGI, also known as Crowdsourced Geographic Information, first gained academic recognition from scholars like Michael Goodchild about eight years ago and has undergone massive changes ever since. It is now considered a vital source of geographical data for GIScience which is both low cost and in most cases, of good quality. Muki gave an outline of developments in the web mapping industry which have led to the current state of VGI. The coming in of Web 2.0, increased GPS availability (removal of selective availability), reduced costs to data storage and increased broadband access can all be credited with making it far much easier for the ordinary person to contribute geographic content from different parts of the world.

Citizen science unlike VGI, has been around for much longer and can be defined as being “any scientific work undertaken by the general public in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists or scientific institutions”. It can be traced back to the early 19th century, to some of the work by Marry Anning which was done outside the confines of official research structures. Over the years Citizen Science has consisted of an ever increasing number facets ranging from biological recording (e.g. bird counts), environmental observations and different other forms of community science many of which are non-geographical. Muki attributed the current state of Citizen Science to trends in levels of education, evolution of scientific standards and also massive developments in technology.

It is interesting to note how the trends outlined above, in particular developments to the web, have extended the capabilities of both VGI and Citizen Science in a remarkable way. Citizen Science has, over the last decade taken new forms such as ‘Citizen CyberScience’ and now consists of activities such as volunteer thinking, volunteer computing and do-it-yourself (DIY) science with an increased involvement of the general public. Muki managed to reveal how traditional facets of Citizen Science like biological recording and environmental observations which have always possessed a spatial component, are increasingly overlapping with VGI. Web-based and mobile applications such as eBird, iSpot and MySoil which are now considered indispensable tools in Citizen Science are not entirely different from projects such as OpenStreetMap used in VGI.

Considering the various areas of overlap between the two fields, it then becomes useful to identify ways in which the two can contribute to each other. GIScience can contribute to Citizen Science in a number of ways. The data quality assurance methods, standards and interoperability aspects currently emerging in VGI can be similarly applied to Citizen Science. GeoVisualisation and human-computer interaction methods in GIS can be used as well to develop very useful and more effective applications for Citizen Scientists. There are also a number of Spatial Analysis methods which make use of heterogeneity that can be applied to Citizen Science data. In turn Citizen Science has much to offer to GIScience, particularly to VGI. Citizen Science can provide large, complex, heterogeneous datasets dating from way back whose interrogation can allow formulation of a variety of interesting questions about different phenomena. It also presents GIScientists with opportunities to contribute to critical societal issues such as biodiversity and climate change as well as possibilities for interdisciplinary contributions.

Reason Mlambo
(MSc in GIS at the University of Edinburgh)