Geographic Information Science After GIS
Geographic Information Science After GIS

A look at the proceedings of the most important conferences in geographic information science reveals the disappearance of a topic that has been at the core of our discipline from the first day: GIS. Apparently, we either know everything about GIS, or researchers simply got bored with the topic and turned to other, more interesting research areas (I think the truth is somewhere in between).
Of course, there are still other important topics within the broader field, such as wayfinding/routing and data integration/interoperability. But in my opinion, those topics will face the same destiny – the most relevant research questions will be solved, and the solutions will be put into practice by the industry. Which brings up the question of what will be the future research topics we are going to tackle – or, to put it more drastically: will there still be a right to exist for GI science as an independent discipline?

The current hot research topics in our field suggest that the per-definition interdisciplinary GIs science community will become even more interdisciplinary. We do no longer stick to the core topic of computing spatial information, but we are taking disciplines such as cognitive science (spatial cognition), AI (spatial reasoning), and – of course – ideas of Web 2.0 (trust networks) into account. From a political perspective, the need for research on privacy becomes more and more pressing. Beyond those current topics, there is still a significant amount of research done on very basic topics, and I do not think that we will run out of such topics in the near future.

With the current state of GI science in mind, I do believe that it will continue to be an independent discipline. It will certainly get even more interdisciplinary – there are still topics which could be seen as obviously related to the field, but which have not been addressed from a GI perspective yet, such as logistics (as far as I know).

Perhaps a reason is that we are still in the transition from local GIS workstations to distributed (or centralised) GIS networks. But this development never really got off the ground. We are stuck in this transition, and we don’t really know what we can expect from the future (and therefore many people decide to put not too much research efforts into it and prefer to wait).

Potential of GIS

GIS. Sold to many as the savior from unemployment and an infinite source for research. Or at least to me and my fellow classmates in GIScience ‘back in the days.’ Despite this very intriguing view of the potential of GIS, we should open our eyes to reality and see GIS for what it is–a set of tools. This realization is nothing new to the broader GIScience community and it is no surprise to me that it reflects itself in the proceedings of current GIScience conferences. Yes, GIS was at the core of GIScience in its beginning stage, but the field evolved and extended far beyond GIS. That is not to say that there is no research left in respect to GIS. One example would be the efforts that are undertaken in the realm of PPGIS–addressing both technical and critical questions. Some might argue that critical approaches are not part of GIScience. I do not subscribe to this view.

At the end, it all becomes a problem of semantics. What is GIScience? If one applies a broader definition, then the shift of GIS to the periphery of GIScience doesn’t really change anything about the discipline itself.