Friday, December 12, 2014

Data revolutions and Google's balloons

Two stories in yesterday's Independent caught my eye.  The stories are not unrelated, though their relation consists almost entirely in an overlap at the geospatial level (meaning the data is georeferenced to known ground control points).

The first story has to do with a push by Government, supported by the Open Data Institute, to provide support in the form of apps for massive new datasets.  Property, rights of way, and flood data (with 15 minute interval water-level measurements), would be available through new mapping apps and Google Maps mashups.  This is part of The Data Revolution noted by Rob Kitchin in which data assemblages and new co-productions of data are emerging and re-coding the world.  Other Open Source Data Values include: "Parking, football and antisocial behaviour" allowing motorists in Westminster to find parking spots; health applications for accessing anonymised patient records; and public building information for valuation and identification of empty building stock.


The second story is about Google's balloons, and sets of engineering processes, trials, and tribulations associated with Google's push to provide worldwide wi-fi access.  This is most certainly related to concerns in the ICT4D world around digital divides, access, and mobile technology with expensive reliance upon satellite signals being a prohibitive factor to uptake in many locations.  The entry of potential global wi-fi access would be a paradigm shift in the global south, where Google's efforts are focused.  The south has less land-mass, making it an easier testing ground for the large unwieldy balloons that Google's engineers are barely able to control.

The outlook on both fronts is very promising in terms of broad data access and popular mapping application.  Government and industry will see new forms of innovation and uptake as the push for open government data services to the public proceeds.  The social implications of these two open data initiatives are massive, tying into economics (see the new digital economies alliance for sharing best practices, G8-style, page 25); education (introducing computer science and coding concepts into school curricula); and health (involving new forms of self-identification and verification for access).

Geospatial analysis and social critique alike must heed these new developments, consider them using our best scholarly tools, and offer considered comment.  The new developments are very exciting and it is clear that we are entering a brave new world of the data revolution.

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