Spaces of Volunteered Geographic Information
Pre-publication version of chapter submitted to: Ashgate Research Companion on Geographies of Media, eds. P. Adams, J. Craine, and J. Dittmer
21 Pages Posted: 3 May 2013
Date Written: May 1, 2013
Open any recent geography article or book that discusses the internet and you will find the opening sentences replete with the terms ‘new’, ‘change’, ‘proliferation’ and ‘recent’. Apparently something is brewing in digital space that makes geographers very excited. Clichés aside, it is clear that many of the most recent additions to the online world (e.g. Google Maps, Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, Twitter) represent important changes to how we can think about spatial information and mapping practice as well as provide new ways for us to use and understand the space and places around us. Since this is a relatively recent phenomenon, there are a number of competing names for this process including, volunteered geographic information (VGI), neogeography and the geoweb. While each term differs in what issues it emphasizes, they all seek to characterize the emerging and evolving ways in which space and place is practiced in the 21st century. While we are not entirely satisfied with any single term we will use VGI in this chapter as it has the virtue of being an early, and thus widely used, term.
This chapter provides an overview of the onset and recent history of VGI and its effect on both spatial knowledge production and how we use and understand the space around us. Central to this review is a characterization of VGI as an integral part of already social spaces rather than as a separate layer ‘on top of’ these spaces. Towards this end, it explores questions such as, How does a website like Google Maps really change the way we live our everyday life? What does Wikipedia have to do with how we think about spatial knowledge? How are our understandings over places changing in concert with VGI? We review both applications of VGI in practice as well as how VGI is employed to study space and place. As noted already, VGI is not without its critiques and an overview would not be complete without trying to succinctly summarize the main issues and critiques of VGI.
Keywords: Volunteered Geographic Information, space, geoweb, code/space
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