URISA Celebrates the Past at GIS-Pro 2012, Whither the Future?

By Adena Schutzberg

No staffers from Directions Magazine traveled to Portland Oregon to attend the 50th anniversary URISA conference, GIS-Pro 2012, held in early October. We were, however, interested in what took place.

I followed along via Twitter (@urisa, #gispro) and read one or two longer pieces on the event. I learned at the last minute (via Very Spatial) that a limited number of online streams (100) were available to watch the keynotes. The late notice left me unable to rearrange my schedule to do so.

One of the terms that popped up in the event Twitter steam was “disruptive.” That caught my eye, but the references were to the Vanguard Cabinet (a select group of younger members) and bagpipes. From my vantage point, the event didn’t seem disruptive at all; it seemed all together too conservative for an organization looking to move into its next 50 years.


Let’s start with the keynotes. There were three: the first by retiring University of California Santa Barbara professor Michael Goodchild on the state of Digital Earth (Gore), the second by Johannes Kebeck of Microsoft on demystifying the cloud, and the final one by Jack Dangermond of Esri on GIS technology in transition. These are fine speakers (I’ve heard all of them, including John Sanderson, for whom Kebeck stood in) and the topics were appropriate, if not disruptive.

The tweet that stood out from Goodchild’s talk was from @simogle:

#GISPRO Future is platial not spatial, physical & virtual totally integrated; exciting, powerful, frightening. Plenary by Michael Goodchild

Michael Goodchild presents his talk on Digital Earth. Photo by Amanda H. S. Taub,GISP, @amandahstaub, used with permission.

I’m still a bit fuzzy on the distinction between “platial” and spatial. I think the idea is that data need not be globally meaningful, but rather locally meaningful.

The tweet that stood out from Kebeck’s talk was from @amandahstaub:

@johanneskebeck has delivered a great tech keynote this afternoon at #gispro. Really gave a great overview of 'The Cloud'.

A followup tweet from @JocelynTutak pointed readers to Wikipedia for more info about Iaas/PaaS/SaaS. I first wrote about the cloud using those terms in 2009 (after an Esri UC session by Scott Morehouse). While I’m all for revisiting the basics of GIS and technology, I’m curious if attendees found this keynote backward- or forward-looking.

 The tweet of note from Dangermond’s presentation was from Esri’s @daviddibiase:

gispro Dangermond "I love URISA" and "ArcGIS Online is like Facebook for geography" - 90 million maps a day. Don't miss URISA next year!

I’m not sure how ArcGIS Online is like Facebook for geography. Perhaps Dangermond or Esri will expand upon it. The statement reminds me of “GIS for Everyone,” the tagline for ArcView 1.0, circa 1992.


For further confirmation of the non-disruptive nature of the event, consider the individual award winners and GIS Hall of Fame inductees. The former include GIS Corps committee members, Greg Babinski (for being disruptive, among other things) and David DiBiase. The latter include NASA, USGS and Census, Natural Resources Canada, and Statistic Canada. I do not doubt the contributions of the groups and individuals honored. I had hoped to see a name a bit further afield, a bit more disruptive and unexpected. I, for one, would love to see OpenStreetMap in the Hall of Fame.

Barry Wellar (former URISA president and Hall of Fame inductee himself) suggested (via @urisa) that URISA should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. What does it say about an organization if it might end up in its own Hall of Fame? I’m not sure.


Let me conclude with a Tweet from @educontribution:

Leaving #GISPro in an hour. Feels like leaving summer camp.

I suspect that comment reflects leaving friends one will not see for a long time and relishing the fun of the recent past. @educontribution and others included “see you soon” or “next URISA” in their farewell tweets. I did not find sentiment on Twitter about learning something new to try back at the office. Nor did I find any discussion of the future of URISA or the detailed document on that topic by incoming president, Al Butler from earlier this year. Perhaps the future of URISA is to be addressed in another forum, at another time. The goal of this event clearly was celebrating “Fifty Years of Education and Connection,” and it seemed to do so admirably.

Published Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Written by Adena Schutzberg

Published in



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