I've been thinking a lot lately about what is missing from the Geoweb. As I am 41, I naturally look back to the early days of mass computing for helpful comparisons. Thinking about the 80s and 90s, I realized just recently what I was looking for. I was looking for everyone.
Stay with me here.
Before the advent of mass computing, accountants were a specialized profession. In order to balance your books, generally you would have a bookkeeper or accountant who went through reams of paper, and did what most people thought was an arcane specialized job. Today, there are still accountants, they still do an arcane specialized job. The difference is that there is a standard type of application, the spreadsheet, that opened up a tool of their job to pretty much anyone.
So a portion of their job, playing with numbers, became open to millions of users. Spreadsheets, and the analysis of data, have become an essential tool for business. People can publish and analyze data in ways they were never able to do before, and have come up with many unique ways to use spreadsheets that accountants never would have. Arguably, Microsoft Excel is the most used database in the world, and the vast majority of users are not accountants.
That's what I want to see happen with GIS. I want to see applications where people are able to manipulate and visualize Geo data even without programming experience or GIS training. I think we've come a short ways toward that. Applications like Google Earth and Google Maps let you visualize data through a standard GUI interface. Maps APIs allow people with some programming skills to put a map on their site.
But nothing makes it easy. People come to me all the time and say "Here's a spreadsheet, how do I put all my stores on the web? Add in driving directions? OK now I want to add in other things..." Data driven apps are still harder to do. I think Fusion Tables is getting there, but needs more. It needs basic spatial queries (point in polygon for instance). And it needs the ability to upload other GIS data formats, not just KML.
But wait, I hear some GIS Pros cry, you'll take jobs from us! If people can visualize their own data, why would they need us? And besides, we do a much better job than they do.
It's true, good GIS pros will produce better analysis than the average person on their own. But I doubt that GIS Pros will lose jobs. What happened with spreadsheets was that whole new uses for data were developed. People created spreadsheets to track and chart all sorts of things. Sure, probably a few accountants lost jobs, but there are still almost 1.3 million accountants and auditors in the US, with their prospects growing. I think putting the ability to visualize geographic data into the hands of everyday users will increase the demand for specialized knowledge, increase the general awareness of geographic data opportunities, and only be good for the profession.