Are We Suffering From a Data Glut?

October 26, 2005

Sharing is Caring

_I have a Soloflex exercise machine in my basement.I have had it for years.It was pretty expensive at the time, but I got it free from a friend, so it cost me nothing.It weighs a ton.I can't remember the last time I used it.And I have moved it four times, from house to house.

Of course, you don't care about my Soloflex.But I am sure you care about your GIS data.And if you are like me, or like most GIS users I encounter, you are hoarding and herding tons of GIS data, from server to server, from network to network, from one projection to the next, from one format to another.Most of the data are probably useless and outdated, but you keep them "just in case" you might need them some day.Unless you are a GIS historian, that day never comes.You spend more time sifting through your data than using your data.And unless Google comes up with a GIS search engine soon, things are only going to get worse.

Data Hoarders
Why do we do that? It seems to me that our natural desire for more data has led the collective GIS user community to a state in which we have more data than we can realistically manage.We went very quickly from having little or no data to having tons - in all sorts of formats, projections and locations.We are drowning in data.At least this is what my ongoing experience with municipal and county governments shows.

The issue is no different at all levels of government, and in the private sector (and not at all limited to GIS data).In general, it seems that the ease of acquiring digital data, paired with the low cost of acquisition, has led to a point where we spend more and more resources filing, searching, managing, backing up, than we spend time using the data.We are drowning in data, and the paid is all self-inflicted.

GIS Data Cost Balance
The cost of this data glut must be staggering.Even though we are paying less per layer or per feature collected, and we pay less per gigabyte stored, we pay more and more to manage the ever increasing library.So the GIS data cost burden has shifted from data collection to data storage and management.Perhaps we are not really saving any money.GIS has not become more affordable.We just spend the money on different things.Like on tape backups for old data.And on time spent searching for the tapes.

All too often organizations insist on collecting every possible data layer and feature, and figuring out what to do with the data later. More often than not, they end up with gigabytes of data just sitting somewhere, aging.Like produce, GIS data has a shelf life.But unlike the supermarket manager, we can't get ourselves to discard the old data.

Data, information, knowledge, wisdom
So what is the solution? Target the collection effort better.Collect less data to begin with, even if it is tempting to collect more.And it is tempting, especially when it is so cheap.Scrutinize your wish list. Focus your collection effort.

In one of my early GIS classes I learned (and afterwards myself taught) about the evolution from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. After all these years, I feel that we are still all collectively stuck somewhere between the data and information stage.Knowledge? Maybe some day.And I can't wait to get to the wisdom part.But first I must clean house.

Anyone want a Soloflex?


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