I had a good time at AAG, and found it a solid if not remarkable conference. The word on the street during the conference was that it was the largest ever, at over 9,000 people. That’s pretty big league. We used to gasp at the Esri User Conference being so huge at 13,000, which it is, or the MLA at 10,000. Partly this is location, with its East Coast time zone and accessibility to Europe. Next year is LA so we’ll see.
One of the more interesting discussions came up at the Iron Sheep debriefing session (described here). It was mentioned that VGI/geoweb/web mapping services and “traditional” GIS were two tribes, and that for today’s upcoming graduate students while VGI/geoweb was innovative and interesting, it was the “wrong” tribe (Renee Sieber).
I’m not sure this is the right way to think about it though. It diverts attention to the dichotomy of the right vs. wrong tribes in which to belong. Rather, as I argued in my book, we can think of the situation as the play of tensions across the field of cartography, as illustrated here.
Upcoming graduate students and others are being pulled in two or more directions, and do not wholly belong in one tribe or another. The idea of separate and opposing tribes is too simple. (Parallel cases are C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures, or Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”).
One is situated at different positions on the field, or different squares of the chessboard if you prefer, at different moments. (If it wasn’t 7am in the morning following a restless night I would say something profound here about the inevitability of power meeting its own resistance.) At some times, you will be using Big GIS like an Esri product. At others you will using MapQuest-OSM tiles with open source map rendering. While the allure of these newer more open tools is attractive, it is also premature I think to speak of the “democratization” of mapping and geography.
As Muki Haklay pointed out in one of the best papers I saw at the conference, most of what these tools provide here are for–and by–the “outliers.” The 1 percent if you like, of users. (His talk was basically an extension of the “long tail” hypothesis.)
This applies not only to the geoweb, but to Big GIS as well. The challenge then as always, is to smooth out the long tail and, to use Muki’s phrase decrease “digital inequality.”