How the Internet Changes Human Geography (part 2 of 3)

In part one of this series, we examined how the participatory Internet (sometimes called Web 2.0) changed the nature of creating and finding geospatial information.  In part two, we explore new tools that help users deal with this information explosion.

GeoCommons in action at the Taj in Afghanistan

Online Tools
Simultaneous with the expansion of capabilities relevant to human geography, there has been a renaissance in online tools for the exploration and analysis of location data.  Notable innovations include Google FusionTables, GeoIQ’s (formerly FortiusOne, now a part of ESRI) collaborative GeoCommons site, and enhancements within Google Maps.


Google’s creation of FusionTables has opened up a world of thematic map generation.  FusionTables provides a simple, Web-based service for uploading and sharing tabular (structured) data. As a simple consumer technology, Fusion Tables lacks many of the features belonging to sophisticated data analysis software.  However, its ease of use vastly eclipses other online offerings.

In just five minutes, a user can upload a text file with detailed geospatial data, generate a geospatial heatmap based on location data, and then share it with the world as a downloadable KML file or network-addressable KML network link.  The simplicity of this data mashup solution has significantly lowered the bar for viewing and exploring location data online.

GeoCommons, the open geospatial analysis platform provided by GeoIQ (now an ESRI company), provides easy data processing and analysis for the novice GIS user.  Slightly more complicated than FusionTables, but much more customizable, the GeoCommons site provides a very rich interface for creating compelling and beautiful thematic maps.  Through its wizard-driven interface, GeoCommons guides users through the process of selecting datasets (from an online collection of more than 4,000 sources, and up to 23,000 when you include data contributors and map makers) and choosing thematic views of the information.  Like FusionTables, GeoCommons allows users to share their creations as KML file downloads.

Google Maps

The granddaddy of Web 2.0-style online maps, Google Maps now provides many optional location data points and photos in conjunction with its standard interface.  In addition to its “slippy maps” (the first Web-based maps that allowed moving maps around without reloading the Web page), Google Maps now provides users with three significant enhancements that improve data exploration: photos, places and buzz.

The “photos” feature allows users to turn on a layer of geotagged photos from the site  Similar to the capability native to Google StreetView, these images give users ground-level photos of the region of interest, along with the annotations and metadata that the originators uploaded with their photo.

The “places” feature enumerates a number of major locations significant to the local community, such as schools, historical landmarks and government buildings.  These places provide insights into especially important regions of social significance.

[stayed tuned for the next installment — part 3 of 3 coming soon…]