GeoWorld March 2012

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Big Data in a Small and Divided World: Implications for GIS and Geography THE "G" IN GIS O ne of the major developing stories that will affect GIS development in multiple ways in 2012 and beyond is Big Data, which has been the focus of governments, businesses and academy in recent years. As a geographer, I think it's interesting to note that the explosion of Big Data is taking place in an increasingly smaller and divided world. This seemingly paradoxical development will have broad implications for GIS and geography in the years ahead. BY DANIEL SUI The Data Deluge Until recently, the geospatial community has had a pretty narrow definition of what's considered geographic data or information, often heavily influenced by the legacy of traditional cartographic heritage. But rapid advances in a plethora of technologies (e.g., GPS, smartphones, sensor networks, cloud computing etc.), especially all the technologies loosely called Web 2.0, have radically transformed how geographic data are col- lected, stored, disseminated, analyzed, visualized and used. This trend is best reflected in Google's new mantra that Google Maps = Google in Maps. The insertion of an "in" between Google and Maps may signify one of the most fundamental changes in the history of human mapping efforts. Nowadays, users can search though Google maps Daniel Sui is distinguished professor and chair of geography at The Ohio State University; e-mail: 12 for traditional spatial/map information as well as almost any type of digital information (e.g., Wikipedia entries, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Facebook/ Twitter postings, etc.) as long as it's geotagged. Furthermore, in contrast to the traditional top-down authoritative process of geographic data production by government agencies, citizens have played an increas- ingly important role in producing geographic data of all types through a bottom-up, crowdsourcing process. As a result, we now have massive amounts of geocoded data growing on a daily basis (one exabyte per day) from genetic to global levels, covering almost everything we can think of on or near Earth's surface. For the first time in human history, we now GEO W ORLD / MA R CH 2O12 have the capabilities to track where everything is in real time. Not surprisingly, how to deal with the new reality of Big Data is on top of the agenda of government, industry and the multiple disciplines in the academy. The Increasingly Small and Divided World As a concomitant growth of this ever-expanding digital universe filled with Big Data, the world (people and things) seems to be increasingly recorded, referenced and connected by vast digital networks. Geographers and sociologists have studied the acceleration of our time experience and reduction of the role of distance for quite some time, as evidenced by the scholarly literature on time-space compression, time-space distanciation or space-time convergence. The growing popularity of social media on the global scene has pushed time-space compression to new levels. Using a more-popular term, the world is increas- ingly becoming smaller on a daily basis as a result of space-time convergence. When social psychologist Stanley Milgram did his experiment back in the 1960s on how many meaningful steps are needed to connect two strangers on Earth, Milgram and his team concluded that, on average, it takes six steps to make a meaningful connection for two randomly selected individuals, later popularized as six degrees of separation by American playwright Paul Guare (who wrote his 1990 play "Six Degrees of Separation") and the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (to connect people with Hollywood stars). Last year, Facebook and Yahoo conducted a new analysis using the massive amount of data harvested from social media, and they concluded that six degrees of separation had been reduced to 4.7 by the end of 2011 (www.physorg. com/news/2011-11-degrees.html). Almost paradoxically, as some parts of the world are flooded by Big Data, we also must be keenly aware that this world remains a divided one. Although a large majority of people in North America and Europe have access to the Internet (with Internet penetration rates at 78.3 and 58.3 percent, respectively, by the end of 2011), two-thirds of humanity don't have access to the rapidly expanding digital world—the world average Internet penetration rate is 30.2 percent, with Asia (23.8 percent) and Africa (11.4 percent) trailing at the bottom (www. A third of humanity (about 2 billion people) still lives under $2 a day. We also should be mindful that sometimes simply having access to gadgets isn't enough. Many iPhone users in the developed world have enjoyed using one of multiple versions of restroom locators (e.g., have2p), but for a country like India, where there are more cell phones than

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