Saturday, 4 October 2014

Big data and maps reloaded

Social media really work! +Vicky Gallardo posted on Google+ that the map is not the territory, with a wonderful big data map by Ben Allen of Denton TX (near where I used to live). That prompted a post by the same title on my companion map blog. The distinction between data and maps has long kept me up at night (see my blog tagline), and many others to judging by exhibits and media only in London (near where I live now).

That led me thru a brief history of mine, from early field mapping thru computer mapping and GIS to big data and disruptive tech. The latter is where the distinction between data and maps is clearest. To put it simply in my sphere:
Big geo-data originates in the enormous input from current sensors 
In oil&gas this could be 4D Seismic and Measure While Drilling. In global monitoring that could be millions of distributed sensors. While apps like Earth exist, Mansour Raad notes as below that ALL [BigData stores] lack something that is so important in today’s BigData world and that is true spatial storage, index and processing of native points, lines and polygons.

 MapReduce API and the spatial index [...] to visualize hotspot conflict in Africa

AGI's Geo Big5 events highlighted big data in London this week. As mentioned in my map blog, topics ranged from LiDAR and UAVs to cash registers and NFCs (inventory control and touch-card and -phone payments). And their delegate pack asks this:
  1. What is big data, how does location augment it and why should I care? 
  2. Hasn’t location data always been big?
  3. What does location bring to the party?
  4. Where is big data and location really adding business value? 
What struck me about this show is that whilst largely driven by vendors - other than M&S a British retailer (keynote ) and Telefonica a Spanish telecom - it was very business-driven looking for outcomes: the tech was very much left in the tech sessions and maps most definitely moved into the background.

wordle from geoBIG5 delegate pack

Another striking element:  the sheer amount of data coming down the proverbial fire-hose put us right back to a situation akin to early computing: in the early days data, say, from banks and from geophysics were treated as data not as geo-data; storage and processing space were so constrained then, that location as an attribute was either ignored (as in banks) or as an output parameter (as in geophysics). When GIS came along a generation ago, it faced the same questions as those numbered above. The genius of Roger Tomlinson's Canada land inventory - and Jack Dangermond followed with topology-driven county maps at Esri in So. California - was to put the geo part as a key to process geodata, rather than as an attribute to print out as maps and reports. 

Roger Tomlinson, 1967, source directionsmag

Almost fifty year later this is what geocomputing environment looks like with real time weather (mega)data... to the point where the UK Met Office and US NOAA offer space weather forecasts!

source ISES Australia