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Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Is There Ordinary Skill In The Art – in 2009?

September 16th, 2009 by MDob

Let me start this out by saying that I am not a lawyer and I do not play one on TV or the Internet. However, sometimes on those glorious days leading to fall, my mind wanders back to Perry Mason and how I could have ever thought the show was good drama. Today, however, I found myself wondering about the law, but in a way that deals with more practical matters. Well, maybe practical.

Persons Having Ordinary Skill in the Art (phosita) is a term of some consequence in Patent Law. Often called a “legal fiction”, the term is used to define a person having ordinary skill in a particular technical field of interest in determining whether the claims of a patented invention were obvious or not at during the period of time surrounding its patent prosecution. Although there are more specifics concerning the deliberations that one must make regarding “ordinary” skill and the state of the skill at a particular point in time, as well as the legal standards guiding its application in patent cases, I began to wonder, the other day, about the characteristics that would be used in future patent cases to help define one of ordinary skill in the art of mapping in 2009.

Mapping? Don’t you mean GIS? Hmmm. Maybe that’s part of the problem of defining one of ordinary skill in the art of the field of endeavor that was known as mapping. For a long time I had thought of cartographers as being the likely population for persons having ordinary skill in the art in mapping, but my belief about how that would play out in the future changed about the time calendar turned to the new millennium.

Actually, I think I changed my view when my friend and fellow consultant Mike Sena told me that it was his opinion that the advice that we use to provide to our mapping clients was now commonly thought to be somehow embedded in Geographic Information Systems. Well, I was at the ESRI UC this summer and toured the Mapping Hall. It was filled with maps by ESRI users and I can assure you that while what Mike and I once knew about cartography might be in ArcInfo, it apparently has no way of getting out and benefitting the user experience.

As I was contemplating these issues, I decided it was time to clean my desk and remove all of the articles I had put aside, once intent on reading them at some future date. I knew the pile had aged far too long, when one of the items was Arc News volume 30, number 3 – the Fall 2008 edition. I had saved it to read Harlan Onsrud’s Excellent summary of “Implementing Geographic Information Technologies Ethically.”

However, when I finished with Harlan, my eyes were attracted to an equally excellent article by Mike Goodchild titled Spatial@UCSB: A New Kind of Campus GIS Center. In this article Mike made the point that “…what distinguishes a GIS professional is a keenly developed spatial intelligence.” He continued, “Spatial thinking is different.” Next, he posed a test of critical thinking skills for those you meet, by asking them the length of the coastline of Italy. He noted “Ask Google and you will get as many answers as you have time for, but any critical spatial thinker knows that there is no answer independent of scale, and that many other properties, including slope and the number polygons on a map of soils class are also scale dependent.” Yep, that’s just the kind of knowledge that isn’t in a GIS and is unlikely to be known by those who have never studied geography, mapping or GIS.

So now we come back to the problem of ordinary skill in the art in 2009/2010. Due to my gregarious nature and ever inquisitive lifestyle, I use conferences and almost any meeting with a new face to try and find out the background of the person with whom I am conversing. Have any of the rest of you come to the realization that most of the people you meet who are involved in developing products that depend on spatial data and spatial concepts have little background in geography, mapping, GIS or spatial studies of any sort?

In the same Arc News I also found an interesting article titled “ArcGIS Online Services – The Foundation of Web GIS”. (Maybe I am going to have to read these things a little sooner.) The article provided what I considered a very insightful and accidentally telling comment about the state of the art. The comment was, “As an emerging dominant platform for both social and business-driven interaction, Web GIS merges (or mashes up) authoritative content with user-generated content to deliver location-based information and applications to a broader audience.”

I suppose this is the “Borg” approach to mapping – take authoritative data, mix it with other data (which apparently does not need to fall within the authoritative class) and voila, you have new spatial concepts – like a map of the length of the shoreline in Naples, Italy as influenced by the production of mozzarella de bufala in Campania – on its way to becoming a classic mash-up. Best thing about this is that it follows from Tobler’s First Law of Geography – “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” Oh wait, maybe that’s not an example of what Waldo meant – but how are these mash-upers to find that out? Just what button do we need to click to infuse geographic knowledge to a user community that is larger and with more technical talent than any previously known?

Come on geographers, cartographers and GISers, we need to do better in helping the world find the hidden secrets of spatial analysis or Web GIS will become “state of the art”. And Mike, Spatial@UCSB is a great idea! (For those of you who missed it, you can find all of the articles I referenced at the ESRI website.

On a completely different topic, in keeping with these disasterous financial times that have so dramatically maniputed my retirement account, I am going to have my right shoulder “manipulated” sometime next week. The procedure was explained to me by my orthopedic surgeon, is that he will hire a 500 pound wrestler to put me in a half-nelson and manipulate my locked shoulder back into its rightful place. Thereafter, I will once again be able to tuck the back of my shirt into my trousers for the first time in several month (normally I would have used the word “pants” here, but that would have sent my readers in the UK into convulsions of laughter).

Wish they could do something like that manipulation with my pension -(wait, it already has been manipulated to pay the bonuses at Bank of America). Anyway, I am not sure that I will be able to stop screaming long enough to write a blog, but if there is break in the action, I will do just that –

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Posted in Authority and mapping, crowdsourced map data, Google, Local Search, Mapping, Mike Dobson, User Generated Content


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