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Genus Loci

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a keynote address by Michael Jones, the CTO of Google Earth, given at Map Middle East 2006, in Duabi, U.A.E.. Most of his talk dealt with the problem he felt GE was focused on, and how it differed from the problems that had and were being attacked by most of the GIS industry. It was an entertaining and at times thoughtful talk. He said that GE wanted to create what he called a "sense of place" or rather wished to enable people to create that "sense of place" and to share it with their friends and colleagues whether nearby or across the globe. While this was unlikely the original motivation of GE, I think it is a clear summary of why GE has been successful and what in the GE experience really appeals to people. Of course the global imagery is nice, as is the smooth pan and zoom and the neat fly over from one place to another .. all of this is clearly a necessary component of their success – but the sufficient bit as Michael alluded to – is that these things enable a sense of sharing of place – where I went on my vacation – what the area around my cottage looks like – that is something socially valuable to most of the people on the earth – and something that can drive Google's core business, namely the selling of advertising. It may in the process also contribute to a shared sense of the earth itself.

Given all this, there is clearly also a confluence between the objectives of GE and those of the conventional GI community. Traditional users of geographic information – meaning larger corporations and governments at all levels – also deseparately need and want to share geographic information with one another. While they may not be driven by a shared sense of place (genus loci) they are increasingly realizing that their own business processes demand access to information they don't have, and cannot afford to collect.

It is my view that these common objectives can best be met by a global linking of spatial information systems – those that collect and maintain geographic information for operational and decision making reasons – with one another – for broader and higher level decision making and to share the state of the world with one another. Marshall McCluhan said we were living in Global Village – perhaps with GE to bring the awareness and GI technology to provide the foundations – such a village can yet be a nice place to call home.

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