If you attend an upcoming Esri conference and have the opportunity to attend a keynote presentation by Jack Dangermond, you will hear about three concepts.
The three concepts are "Geodesign," "Webmap," and "Geography as a Platform." This may then be followed by demonstrations of ArcGIS.com. You may walk away with many questions as I did so it's worth an explanation of each and where there is a common thread.
It helps to separate each concept before bringing them back into a more coherent argument for a new way of working with geospatial information.
The definitions of gedesign I offered in a recent blog post
and you may hear Mr. Dangermond say something like, "Geodesign is in everything we do." The most concise definition is that geodesign is a from of "storytelling." That is, if you are doing a presentation of your GIS project you are invariably explaining about the data, the analysis and the impact on business, the environment, whatever. You are storytelling and hence have employed a form of "geodesigning." We do this everyday but now think more broadly; think scale. What if all your projects had a consistent, interconnected theme; more like a TV mini-series which has connected episodes. The storylines are connected albeit sometimes convoluted. What if you didn't think of your projects as being totally independent but interconnected. It might change the way your approach your next project. It might just break down a data silo or two.
Now let's take "webmap." Webmaps? You'll say you've been doing webmaps since 1996. What's new about that? Indeed the way we have "created" webmaps in the past have been an end in itself. You may have a developed web-based maps or advised on how to publish maps on a web platform. The simple workflow is putting data on a server and then expose it on the web. End of story. But what if your map was exposed in a way that others could use the data. What if you built it with the understanding that it is a service; not simply a digital map published on the web. Dangermond suggests webmaps could be a new "datatype" and that would be true if you are prepared to expose the data to others.
To help explain the difference, let me use this example. If you use Microsoft Word and you want to insert a piece of clipart into the document. You open the clipart function and drop in a graphic. To do this you accessed a library of clipart from a web service. Now, what if you were working on a map document and you open up your webmap service and drop in a map of crime occurrences in downtown LA from 1990-2000. That's a web service from which you are obtaining new data. Many GIS software solutions have a similar function today with linking to outside, OGC-compliant web services but I can't say that I've seen this done very elegantly. Searching catalogs of web services has not been easy for the end user. It must be a more simple workflow. But, in short, the webmap to which Mr. Dangermond refers, as I understand it, is a data service.
Let's move on to Geography as a Platform. If you understand, Infrastructure, Platform and Software as a Service, Geography is no different. The idea is to take basic operations such as an operating system, a database or programs like Google Earth or ArcGIS.com and use them as a foundation on which to build other services. It's not any more complicated than that in concept.
In practice, it might be hard to think of everything you do as being connected as suggested above with a geodesign approach. It's a new way of thinking; a paradigm that in large organizations might be hard to implement but it's worthy of additional investment to think about a new process. Approaching webmaps as services or a new datatype and not as an end in itself also takes a different way of thinking. Finally, Geography as a Platform may incorporate webmaps or other services such as analytical models to which you can subscribe but only when needed. I think Geography as a Service might be more consistent way to discuss this given the current nomenclature of IaaS, PaaS or SaaS but "GaaS?" Well maybe GaaP is OK afterall.
To me, Geodesign is a process; Geography as a Platform is a foundation on which to start the process; and webmaps are elements of the foundation, the platform.