I work in a large organization. A colleague challenged me this morning regarding whether geospatial is special or not. Here's part of what I wrote. Your comments are of course welcome! Do you agree? Any other arguments or counter-arguments?
Is Geospatial Special?
Does geospatial deserves special considerations or even a special treatment within an organization?
Geospatial is a set of sciences and technologies that are often applied to specific topics, such as a geographic information system for a municipality, remote sensing for the assessment of the impacts of a flood, location-based services for a smartphone, an interactive web map to plan a trip, a virtual globe to visualize weather events, etc. Other than researchers, nobody does geospatial just for the sake of geospatial, practitioners apply geospatial knowledge and technologies to their own needs and objectives.
I'd argue that geospatial *is* special, and here's why;
- Geospatial data, which includes at a minimum a geographic projection and datum, is not processed, analysed and disseminated by the same methods and tools as non-geospatial data
- Geospatial data requires software that specifically supports its particularities. Software that not only must support geographic projections and datum to properly store and load the data, but it also provides the methods and algorithms for the processing and analysis of the geospatial data.
- Geospatial data processing and analysis differs significantly from non-geospatial data. Only with geospatial data you have to consider snapping, overlapping, proximity, line of sights, position accuracy and precision, reprojections, data types like lines, polygons and voxels, specific file formats like the Shapefile and GeoTIFF, mosaicking, spatial generalization and scale change, spatial indexes in spatial RDBMS, and so on…
- Geospatial data dissemination also differs significantly from non-geospatial data. Displaying geospatial data uses techniques specific to cartography, data is generally conveyed via maps and similar means, it requires specific data formats and web services to ensure their spatial component is conveyed along with the data, etc.
- Trained geospatial specialists are in much better position to appropriately apply geospatial knowledge, methods and tools to solve complex challenges related to the storing, processing, analysis and dissemination of geospatial data.
In the past decade, we've seen geospatial going from being the playground of trained experts to being accessible to the general public. The advent of ubiquitous free tools such as web maps (e.g. the Google Maps API) and virtual globes (e.g. Google Earth, which has been downloaded nothing less than over 1 billion times), easy and often free access to satellite imagery, and more recently, smartphones and location-based services, educated and enabled many non-geospatially trained users to acquire and use geospatial data and technologies. This is a Good Thing ™, but does that mean that geospatial isn't special anymore? No. The reasons for considering geospatial as special stated above are still valid and geospatial is indeed special.
But does the 'geospatial' term have a future as a unifying umbrella, grouping together the domains which deals with geospatial data? Maybe not in the long run. Nowadays, people working in remote sensing, geographic information systems, location-based services and global navigation satellite systems don't necessary overlap that much anymore. Does this mean the term 'geospatial' has become obsolete, diluted into its specific traditional sub-branches? I'd say no. Geospatial is still a term useful as a way to refer to all domains which involve data with spatial references.