Letter from the Low Lands: WTOWOA and Other Acronyms and Buzzwords

April 13, 2010

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In a few weeks time the "greatest show on earth" (well, at least in the Netherlands) will take place. It's the ICT Overheid conference, from April 27th through April 29th, in Utrecht. In 2009, more than 7,000 participants from government, semi-government and companies supporting government convened, and that number is expected to grow this year. The exhibition floor plan includes a lot of local names and a few international companies. A handful of local geo-companies are attending, and there is at least a full day on geo-information in the program.

Scanning through the conference program, I noticed quite a few acronyms and buzzwords, and wondered what they mean and why they are used. Are we trying to obscure something that should not be that difficult to discover? Is it just a Dutch habit? Welcome to our world of acronyms (WTOWOA)?

ICT - obvious
Somehow I expect the world of Information and Community Technology, better known by its acronym ICT, to be filled with acronyms and buzzwords like SOA, SaaS, Ajax, 4GL, HTTP, RSS. I guess this relates to its early history starting with terms such as CPU and ROM. Some terms, like mashups and cloud computing, make concepts easier to grasp. ESRI Nederland's GIS Tech, the premier GIS technology event in the Netherlands, is rather modest in technical terminology and acronyms in its program. Python, Silverlight and Flex sound a lot more comprehensible then "the API for WPF."

But this is what I find in the non-technical program of the ICT Overheid conference: NUP, BiZa, GBA, VNG, ICTU, DKD, KING, GEMMA, BGT, Wabo, GEOZET and more. You have to be pretty much into "ICT and government" to understand what this is all about (or visit the conference). I do find a few buzzwords which are more understandable, like GovUnited and KennisLab (knowledgelab). They give a direct hint as to their meaning and one can get a correct first impression.

On Friday, April 16th, I will be attending a workshop about VGI for SDI organized by Wageningen University and the Netherlands Geodetic Commission, which is part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

VGI stands for Voluntary Geographic Information, a term first proposed (pdf) by Prof. Michael Goodchild in 2007, as a special case of user-generated content. In other words, the workshop is about voluntary geographic information for spatial data infrastructures. Although the combination of acronyms does make the announcement of the workshop a bit obscure (intentionally?), the content of the day certainly is interesting for a wider audience.

Some topics during the workshop are: an overview of VGI activities, motives for participants, legal issues, case studies and accuracy investigations. I am looking forward to the presentations and discussions. Lukasz Grus will present his Ph.D. defense at the end of the workshop, and I plan to report on that in the future.

Point of view
I see the practical use of acronyms and buzzwords in any professional field. But somehow they form a "barrier to entry" to open conversations about the real topics. Could they be a bit more self-explanatory? I like GeoDesign - it's obvious that it's about bringing geography and design together.

As for the "GIS" acronym: I have never heard anyone spell it out in Dutch. We pronounce it as one word: GIS. The plural, GISSEN, translates to "guessing," which is what you are aiming to avoid when using a GIS.

As a voluntary reporter, I will be sharing the experience of the VGI for SDI workshop "live" using #vgisdi on Twitter and in my next blog. And I hope we can come up with a definition that is easier to communicate. Any takers?


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