Trends in GIScience: Big Data

The Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is notorious for detecting and/or setting trends in the field. In February, they held a panel discussion on “Big Data in Geographic Information Science”. Moderator Dr. Krzysztof Janowicz reports that Big Data are not only characterized by their volume, but also by the variety of their data sources and data types, and by the velocity with which they are accumulated. In geography, Big Data are generated from high-resolution satellite images, transportation simulations, government data published in spatial data infrastructures, volunteered geographic information (e.g., geo-tagged flickr photos, OpenStreetMap data), and geographically referenced social network activity (e.g., twitter messages).

Coincidentally, the Obama administration has just announced a “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” with US$200m research and development funding in the sciences, health, military, and earth science fields. The initiative also aims at new undergraduate and graduate student training in advanced data management and analysis. My students’ research in public participation GIS, volunteered geographic information, geographic visualization, and spatial decision support are contributing to this emerging research area.

OpenStreetMap developer event

Ryerson’s Department of Geography, Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) program, and Student Association of Geographic Analysis (SAGA) are hosting the first-ever Canadian, and second-ever North-American meeting of OpenStreetMap (OSM) developers, the Toronto Hack Weekend March 2012. We want our students and the community to be aware of this “Wikipedia for geographic data”, as keynote speaker Richard Weait of the Toronto OSM group put it.

The OSM data were contributed by over half a million volunteers world-wide, and are often more detailed, accurate, or up-to-date than those of commercial competitors such as Google Maps or Bing Maps.

Friday afternoon’s presentation and discussion session raised a number of interesting issues regarding the future development of OSM, including the thematic scope of the data being collected and the mechanics of rendering the comprehensive dataset (“planet file”) into maps (map images, or “map tiles”) of different contents and styles for different purposes. I think Ryerson-trained geographers and spatial analysts will make valuable contributions to OSM in the near future ;-)

A report on how the weekend proceeded can be found on Steve Singer’s Scanning Pages blog. Ryerson Geographic Analysis student Michael Markieta has also posted a summary on his fabulous Spatial Analysis blog.

Scholars GeoPortal

Today was the last meeting of the external advisory committee of Scholars GeoPortal. Scholars GeoPortal was developed by the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) with funding from the Government of Ontario. The project received the 2012 OLITA Award for Technological Innovation.

The portal officially launched on 1 March 2012. It facilitates access to geospatial data from Statistics Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, DMTI Spatial, and other data providers. Those are data that are heavily used by University students and researchers in geography, planning, civil engineering, and many other disciplines.

It was a privilege to work with data, map, and GIS librarians across Ontario and contribute to the development of the GeoPortal.

Hockey and academia – a thank-you to student parents

The Globe and Mail ran an interview with the governor-general of Canada, entitled “Fighting and ‘goonery’ not something to celebrate in Canada’s game”. I stumbled upon the following piece of Mr. Johnston’s biography, which happened when a hockey scout offered a contract to young David to play junior hockey in Hamilton:

“My mother asked him, ‘What university would the boys go on to and what high schools would they be attending?’ The answers were not to her satisfaction and that was the end of any discussions about me possibly going to Southern Ontario to play.”

Congratulations, madam, on your courage and foresight! As an academic, I am grateful to the parents of my students who support their childrens’ quest for higher education and intellectual development.