So Neo-Geo Is Not GIS, Huh?

All Points got the ball rolling this time around. Peter Batty responded with his usual thoughtfulness and Paul Ramsey gets the award for the best reponse so far.

I watch this and can’t help but wonder: haven’t we been here before?

If we replace the phrase “neogeography” with the phrase “desktop mapping” then I feel like we had this conversation 10 (or more) years ago. The ironic part is that MapInfo was in the position then that neo-geo is in now.

Many GIS hard-liners argued that non-topological mapping packages could not be called GIS. “Real GIS” understood topology and could do analysis based upon topology. That argument was mostly forwarded by the Arc/Info crowd (although I don’t think ESRI was directly involved, it arose more from Arc/Info adherents). Software such as MapInfo, Maptitude, etc. was not “real GIS” and, therefore, their outputs could not be trusted.

Well, we see what happened: that market proliferated. ArcView 3.x became the most widely used GIS package around at the time. Other desktop systems (MapInfo, Manifold, etc.) beefed up their capabilities and ESRI eventually produced ArcMap. Anyone care to have that conversation again? I didn’t think so.

So, is neogeography GIS? I don’t know. What’s the measure? Those put forth by Mike Hickey are different than those put forth as arguments against desktop mapping years ago. So, really, the hurdle has just been moved. Maybe neo-geo isn’t GIS…yet. But does anyone really think the technology won’t advance? Take a look at FeatureServer. Take a look at the various spatial SQL implementations in PostGIS, SQL Server 2008, Oracle and many others. People are trying to solve that problem. If ESRI ever puts out their REST API, the neo-geo community will have the full power (maybe) of ArcGIS Server at their disposal. I have an idea: if MapInfo feels that neo-geo isn’t really GIS, why don’t they create a product line targeted at giving the neo-geo community “real GIS” tools. Whatever those are. Looks like a market opportunity to me.

Making decisions about the viability/validity of neo-geo based on the current state of the technology is a little short-sighted to say the least.

  • whippersnapper

    I agree with both sides. Consumer grade Neogeo is not really GIS. Corporate Neogeo is. The difference is what data it ties into and if it does more than just show a dot on a map or give directions. I have read many people claim that google earth is being used to visually analyze things. In reality GIS analysis involves much more than a map report. I agree that technology will catch up, but at current, I see more eye candy than substance. When the day comes that a person asks me what I do for a living and I say “GIS,” and don’t get a funny look and tons of questions,
    l’ll know that Neogeo = GIS.

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  • I don’t get this discussion. I’ve been “doing GIS” for nearly 20 years now, and the longer I do it, the less I think it IS anything distinctive. This neo stuff you are talking about, if I understand you, is just a variety of data viewers. Okay, but “spatial analysis” requires a bare minimum of “GIS” functions – everything else is just SQL and records.

    Think about it: spatial analysis is just another take on sets that involves geometry. I don’t like to say I “do GIS” because what I really like to do is analyze data. Sometimes I make maps, i.e., do cartography. Actually, I’m an engineer. But I don’t think GIS per se has much intellectual content. Geography does, and GIS is a tool.

    I recall this discussion from longer than ten years ago: the big question was, “Is GIS a discipline or a tool?” One fellow put it really well: “When you want a fine cabinet made, you go to a carpenter, not a hammer specialist.”

  • I’m with you on that. GIS is a tool and it’s best defined loosely. I am personally of the opinion that “neogeography” tools are GIS. I think the whole discussion is somewhat silly.

    Geometry is another data type with its own analysis methods (and visualization, too). There was a time when technology couldn’t support geometry/geography and thus the separate toolbox of GIS was born. Technology has caught up and the tools are blending in with mainstream IT where they belong.

  • “…the tools are blending in with mainstream IT where they belong.”

    Amen to that! One of the big obstacles I’ve seen to the exploitation of GIS tools in organizations is that there is no buy-in from IT. They think it’s just “pretty pictures,” as the deprecating phrase goes. With all the “spatial plugins” to RDMS these days, and the money in “locational tech”, maybe that’s changing.

    Maybe one day ESRI will go on the ropes financially, and people can start thinking about data and geography again, instead of “doing GIS the Arc Info way,” as their manuals used to say.

  • It goes beyond the “pretty pictures” misconception, too. I had a conversation with CIO one time who clearly understood the benefits that GIS analysis could bring to his company. As I laid out the technology required to get there, he lost interest. He wasn’t willing to bring a bunch of stand-alone tools in that wouldn’t integrate with his IT architecture. This happened quite a while ago when GIS tools weren’t as good at implementing security and still used mostly file-based data formats but the issue was clear: in his mind, the benefits didn’t outweigh the effort/cost involved with maintaining dedicated hardware, software and staff. I couldn’t really argue with that.

    As RDBMS platforms support spatial data, an organization can capitalize on existing resources. That doesn’t mean they won’t need staff that understand spatial data and methods but data administration and security and other such lifecycle functions can be done by traditional DBAs and the like. That should make implementing GIS more of an incremental cost, rather than a mammoth undertaking.

    As for ESRI, I get the sense that many people there get this concept but they have the challenge of moving an existing product line built on the old model to one that supports today’s way of doing business. That’s a hard task and they may get left behind in the process but I don’t think they’re blind to the transition going on around them.

    All that said, I’m more than happy to pull out a chair and welcome “neogeographers” to the table.

    BTW, I read a little of your blog. Looks interesting. I’ll probably dig deeper when I have more time.

  • Just to clarify: The Maptitude mapping software has always supported topological databases, and also enforces topology.