Neogeographer? Hah!

This conference brought to light that I am one of the quintessential examples of a neogeographer: wordspy, for example, lists two examples for the term, one of which is:

Schmidt spends his time wandering around his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, using his custom cell-phone software to unmask the ID numbers on each GSM cell tower he passes. Then he associates that tower ID with a GPS-defined location, and uploads it to his website.

When his electronic surveying is complete, Schmidt will have a system that can tell him where he is at all times — without GPS — by triangulating the signals from the newly mapped cell towers.

Calling himself a “neogeographer,” Schmidt is part of a generation of coders whose work is inspired by easily obtained map data, as well as the mashups made possible by Google Maps and Microsoft’s Virtual Earth.

—Annalee Newitz, “Where 2.0 Gives the World Meaning,” Wired News, June 16, 2006

where image -- cell stumbling inverse distance weighting
A closer look at the article brings you to my pretty face above a screenshot of some work I did while doing cell tower mapping. Some people might recognize that the cell tower mapping in the picture is actually an image rasterized out of GRASS, an Open Source GIS tool which existed before the term “open source” did. GRASS has been around for 30 years, and is probably the single tool which is the clearest example of software from the “GIS experts” that the neogeographers are so often compared with.

So perhaps I am a neogeographer, but the image points out one thing only: even neogeographers can learn something from the GIS experts. This is a point which was made by Schuyler in his lightning talk at the FOSS4G conference, and has been made by me at other times in this journal of technical ramblings, but it’s a point that bears repeating.

I always said that I used the term neogeographer as a deragative term for myself, not one I expected to be used to praise me. After thinking about it more, I realized it’s not that it’s deragative — or it shouldn’t need to be. The term is describing the ability to take the things which other people agonize over, and make them fun. GIS work and neogeography are two ends of a spectrum: one dedicated to analysis and accuracy, the other dedicated to sharing stories, which oftentimes results in a loss of accuracy. That loss of accuracy is not always a bad thing: There are many things which don’t *need* to be accurate to the meter, or centimeter, level. Putting my photos on a map can tell a story — even without being 100% accurate to the meter.

Neogeography can be good — but many times, the neogeographers need to learn from the GIS experts before they reimplement the wheel, and give it squared off corners.

One Response to “Neogeographer? Hah!”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    This picture is frightening — you look about twelve.