One of the most pressing issues facing our planet is of course climate change and its close sister ecological decline. In order to act on these issues we need to come (more or less globally) to an agreement on the “state” of the world. Is global warming a reality or not? Is it significantly induced by the activities of human beings or is it a consequence of some larger cycle which we simply do not yet understand? I do not intend to comment on any of these specific questions in this blog, as that is not my purpose. The important issue for me is simply that we are seeking in this discussion to express something akin to the “state” of a system, in this case the state of the world climate or world ecosystem, although many other system states are of interest. What is most interesting about this quest is the use of word “we” in the sentence “we need to come to an agreement on the state of the world”. This word “we” can be understood to mean all of humanity, and the state can be seen as something between what “we” all agree to and the unknowable truth.
The most interesting aspect of this train of thought is that it reveals what may become a significant difference between the GeoWeb and the conventional Web of documents, this difference being an expression of the “state” of some aspect of the world. When we do a document search on Google or MSN, there is no integration of that information, and the state of things is in no way accessible. We are simply presented with a large amount of data. What to make of that data is up to each searcher.
While this can also be the case for the GeoWeb, my thinking is that it will evolve in a different direction – one guided by the desire to abstract in the direction of answering some question of state. I say this for a variety of reasons. The data must be organized with respect to space and time. We have begun to augment the world obtained from data by constructing 3D models, models which are necessarily abstractions from the real world – meaning we make decisions about what to include and what to leave out. These actions are the basis of model construction.
Another line of thought to be considered is what one might call “GeoPresence”. In the conventional web we all have a web site. No company, almost no matter how small could think not to have a web site. It would be as if the company did not exist. This is not yet true in the world of the GeoWeb, but it will be. At the same time, I think it will be different. There is something narrative about the GeoWeb (back to that idea of abstraction again), and that narrative aspect will seek expression in a person or organization’s GeoPresence; something which tells a story in time and space about that person or organization’s activities. It is not clear what that might mean today, but the StreetView is I suppose a harbinger of the future – not flying into a picture of a streetscape only, but flying into a story of an organization or a person. I think this has already started through the use of 3D models for buildings and other structures, but will grow into real models of business and individual activities.
GeoWeb is not just a fusion of the Web and Geo-technology. It is response to an unmet need in our society to know and express the state of the world. This part of the journey has hardly started.