Contrary to early predictions that the Internet will obsolete geography, the discipline is increasingly gaining importance. In a 1998 speech at the California Science Center, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore called for replacing the prevalent desktop metaphor with a “multi-resolution, three-dimensional representation of the planet, into which we can embed vast quantities of geo-referenced data” (Gore 1998). After the successful introduction of three-dimensional geospatial platforms such as NASA World Wind, Google Earth and Microsoft Live Local 3D, achieving the vision of a Geospatial Web seems more realistic than ever.

Dubbed the “holy grail of mapping” (Levy 2004), these geobrowsers aggregate and project layers of metadata onto scale-independent spherical globes. They are an ideal platform to integrate (i) cartographic data such as topographic maps and street directories, (ii) geotagged knowledge repositories aggregated from public online sources or corporate intranets, and (iii) environmental indicators such as emission levels, ozone concentrations and biodiversity density. By integrating cartographic data with geotagged knowledge repositories, the Geospatial Web will revolutionize the production, distribution and consumption of media products.

The appearance of geobrowsers in mainstream media coverage (see Chapter 1) increases public acceptance of geospatial technology and improves geospatial literacy, which today exists only among a small portion of highly educated people (Erle et al. 2005). Geospatial literacy includes the ability to understand, create and use geospatial representations for Web navigation, narrative descriptions, problem-solving and artistic expression (Liebhold 2004). In light of the explosive growth and diminished lifespan of information, geospatial literacy is becoming increasingly important, as the thought that needs to be followed in information discovery tasks is often spatial in nature (McCurley 2001). Geobrowsing platforms support such information discovery tasks by allowing users to switch between or integrate a large number of heterogeneous information services.

The 25 chapters contained in this edited volume summarize the latest research on the Geospatial Web’s technical foundations, describe information services and collaborative tools built on top of geobrowsers and investigate the environmental, social and economic impacts of knowledge-intensive applications. Supplemental material including author biographies and bibliographic resources is available from the book’s official Web site.

The book emphasizes the role of contextual knowledge in shaping the emerging network society. Several chapters focus on the integration of geospatial and semantic technology to extract geospatial context from unstructured textual resources; e.g., to automatically identify and map the most relevant content for customized news services. Hybrid models combine such automated services with the advantages of individual and collaborative content production environments – for example by integrating “edited” material from newspapers and traditional encyclopedias with “evolving” content from collaborative Wiki applications.

Automatically annotating content acquired from these different sources creates knowledge repositories spanning multiple dimensions (space, time, semantics, etc.). Geospatial exploration systems will improve the accessibility and transparency of such complex repositories.

Keen competition between software and media companies surrounds the provision of geospatial exploration systems. The platforms are evolving quickly, gaining new functionality, data sources and interface options in rapid succession. But the currently available applications only hint at the true potential of geospatial technology. The Geospatial Web will have a profound impact on managing individual and organizational knowledge. It will not only reveal the context and geographic distribution of different types of location-based resources and services but also catalyze virtual communities by matching people of similar interests, browsing behavior or geographic location.

Arno Scharl
Klaus Tochtermann

Graz, March 2007

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The Geospatial Web ▪ Copyright 2007 Springer ▪ ISBN: 1-84628-826-6