Geographic Information Observatories

Workshop on Geographic Information Observatories 2014

at GIScience 2014; 8th International Conference on Geographic Information Science Vienna - September, 23-26.

Workshop Description and Scope

Over 20 years since Geographic Information Science was established as a bona fide scientific field of inquiry and with the subsequent explosion of spatial data sources from satellites to sensors and mobile devices, the geographic information universe is rapidly expanding. However, in many respects the nature and structure of this information universe is poorly understood. Traditionally, GIScience research has focused on the relationships between theoretical information models and the geographic phenomena that they are representing. In this workshop we would like to explore the idea of expanding GIScience research to empirically examine the structure of the geographic information universe itself, with the hope that a better understanding of this universe will ultimately give us new insights into how this information can be utilized. This includes both observational and experimental approaches to science. Can we develop a research road map for future observatories of the geographic information universe?

GIScience was established to study the theory and concepts that lie behind Geographic Information Systems and other related technologies. This allowed researchers to ask more general and foundational questions and to explore topics such as usability and representation using scientific methods instead of a purely engineering based perspective. Nonetheless GIScience remained a kind of supporting science that investigates, develops, optimizes, and evaluates the methods, techniques, and tools required by researchers in the broader geosciences such as geographers, ecologists, geologists and so forth. [There are also counter-examples such as the field of spatial cognition that is situated between GIScience and cognitive science (and not a support science).] As GIS and GIScience gained more visibility, the developed tools, methods, and theories were applied in other domains such as economics and archeology.

This led to another broadening of GIScience represented by the notion of spatial sciences. The key insight was that many scientific domains require expertise in spatial aspects or study spaces that are closely related to geographic space. This gave birth to spatial centers such as spatial@UCSB that serve as nexus for researchers interested in spatial questions. Examples for involved domains include cognitive and brain sciences, religious studies, chemistry, the digital humanties, and so forth. Nonetheless, one could argue that GIScience and spatial science remain supporting sciences that deliver services to other disciplines. Consequently, in many geography departments, GIScience and related areas are still summarized under labels such as methods, techniques, computation, and so forth. [For instance, the Annals of the Association of American Geographers use Methods, Models, and GIS as section name.] It is not widely recognized that GIScience is the information science perspective on geography and on the same level as physical and human geography. GIScience does not depend on other domains and branches (of geography) but is a (meta) science in its own rights.

There have been several attempts to overcome this narrow perspective. For instance, Skupin and Fabrikant have investigated spatialization methods for non-geographic information visualization. One example for such work is the landscape of a music folksonomy derived by using self-organizing map. Similar to the idea of spatial sciences, the core insight is the fact that research methods from GIScience can also be applied to other research questions and domains. To give another example, Couclelis' recent work outlines an ontological perspectives on geographic information layers, while Kuhn introduces core concepts for spatial information. Both focus on the characteristics of information . Kuhn, for instance, makes this very explicit by stating that the selected core concepts are informed by the available (types of) spatial data. The Oxford Internet Institute publishes Internet and information geographies using the slogan Understanding life online .

With this workshop, we would like to go one step further and expand the presented arguments not only to the developed methods but also to areas of study, namely the geographic information universe. For instance, one could investigate (as recently proposed by van Harmelen) whether there are laws of the information universe, observe how the types, media formats, and data models of geographic information change as a function of new technology, e.g., Google Glass, study the dispersion of information, spatiotemporal scientometrics, and so forth. How could we create such geographic information observatories based on current cyber-infrastructures, knowledge graphs, and the geographic information universe?

Finally, it is worth mentioning that this is not an entirely new idea. In fact, the new research direction of Web Science established by Berners-Lee, Hendler, Shadbolt, and others, calls for an interdisciplinary science of the Web as a large-scale cyber-social-system. Areas of study for Web Science include motivational topics (e.g., the VGI phenomenon), the interaction between social dynamics, creativity, and technologies as enablers, dispersion of information on the Web, provenance, and so forth. Along similar lines, Sheth and others proposed Physical-Cyber-Social Computing as a holistic study of data and knowledge from physical, cyber, and social environments to provide contextually specific abstractions to human users. Thus, our workshop can be understood as the GIScience contribution to these emerging fields.

Workshop Topics

Topics of interest include (but are not limited to):

Workshop Format

The workshop will focus on intensive discussions setting a roadmap towards future work on geographic information observatories. The workshop will accept two kinds of contributions, full research papers (typically 6-8 pages) presenting new work in the indicated areas, as well as statements of interest (about 4-6 pages). While the research papers will be selected based on the review results adhering to classical scientific quality criteria, the statements of interest should raise questions, present visions, and point to the open gaps. However, statements of interest will also be reviewed to ensure quality and clarity of the presented ideas. The presentation time per speaker will be restricted to 5 minutes for statements of interest and 10 minutes for full papers. This ensures that there is enough time for discussions, interactions, and breakout group leading to a typical workshop setting instead of a mini-conference. Papers should be formatted according to the Latex or Doc LNCS template.

Submissions shall be made through easychair at by 6 June 2014.

To register for the workshop, please visit

Keynote Speakers

Keynote I: The Mining and Application of Diverse Cultural Perspectives in Volunteered Geographic Information and User-Generated Content by Brent Hecht.
Geotagged Wikipedia articles, tweets, and other forms of volunteered geographic information (VGI) play an essential role in how average Web users understand the world around them. Outside the public eye, VGI has become equally indispensable as a source of world knowledge for systems and algorithms that help us make sense of geographic big data. In this talk, I will demonstrate that VGI and user-generated content (UGC) more generally reflect the cultural diversity of its contributors to a previously unidentified extent and that this diversity has important implications both for Web users and existing VGI- and UGC-based technologies. Focusing on Wikipedia, I will show how VGI and UGC diversity can be extracted and measured using diversity mining algorithms and techniques from geographic information science. Finally, through two novel applications – Omnipedia and Atlasify – I will highlight the exciting potential for a new class of technologies enabled by the ability to harvest diverse perspectives from VGI and UGC.
Brent Hecht is an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota. With interests that lie at the intersection of human–computer interaction, geography, and big data, his research centers on the relationship between big data and human factors such as culture. A major focus of his work involves volunteered geographic information and its application in location-aware technologies. Dr. Hecht received a Ph.D. in computer science from Northwestern University, a Master’s degree in geography from UC Santa Barbara, and dual Bachelor’s degrees in computer science and geography from Macalester College. He was a keynote speaker at WikiSym – the premiere conference on wikis and open collaboration – and has received awards for his research at top-tier publication venues in human-computer interaction and geography (e.g. ACM CHI, COSIT). He has collaborated with Google Research, Xerox PARC, and Microsoft Research, and his work has been featured in the MIT Technology Review, New Scientist, AllThingsDigital, and various international TV, radio, and Internet outlets.

Keynote II: ‘Post-Normal’ Geospatial Science by Sven Schade.
Increasing data intensity and new technological capacities are changing our private and working life. This talk presents some of the most disruptive ongoing changes (including latest sensing capabilities and the raise of social machines) and reflects in their impact on the scientific process, especially in relation to the geospatial domain. It provides its own interpretation of geospatial information observatories and their role in next-generation - ‘post-normal’ - geospatial science.
Sven Schade's professional career focuses on spatial information sharing and use, multi-disciplinary interoperability, and open innovation. Since September 2013, he is working as a scientific officer for the Digital Earth and Reference Data Unit of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), where he already worked for three years as a post-doc (2009-2012). Before re-joining the JRC, Sven was employed by the European Environment Agency (EEA) as project manager for the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS). In his early career, Sven spent ten years with the Institute for Geoinformatics (IfGI) of the University of Muenster - where he completed his diploma and PhD studies (in 2004 and 2009, respectively) and contributed to numerous national and European-level research projects in the area of geospatial information science. Sven is the Editor-in-chief of the International Journal for Spatial Data Infrastructure Research (IJSDIR), co-chairing the Youth Commission of the International Society for Digital Earth (ISDE), and has authored and co-authored more than 80 publications in the fields of geospatial semantics, observation web and next-generation knowledge infrastructures.

Important Dates

Submission due: 6 June 2014

Acceptance Notification: 27 June 2014 8 July 2014

Camera-ready Copies: 3 July 2014 17 July 2014

Workshop: 23 September 2014

List of Accepted Papers

Tentative Program


Programme Committee

Related Links

  • TED founder thinks big data needs a big makeover
  • Urban Observatory
  • Points of Interest City Pulse
  • ...

    Please feel free to contact the organizers for further questions at jano @ geog . ucsb. edu.