Say it with maps: popularizing geospatial


Recently, a Google Maps engineer, Ari Gilder, proposed his girlfriend, Faigy, for marriage using Google Maps for mobile. I call this as a geospatial marriage proposal. Ari describes in Google Blog how he managed to utilize My Maps in Google Maps to create a customized route for her girlfriend to follow. Using the map, Faigy finally reached a place where Ari was anxiously awaiting her arrival at the Roosevelt Island lighthouse nearby Manhattan in New York City. Ari asked the big question and it turned out to be a very romantic and memorable married proposal.

For geospatial people, creating an interactive map using Google Maps might not be that difficult but it can certainly be something special for those who do not know much about mapping. Interactive map, for geospatial people, might be part of day-to-day life but it can be the best thing for a girl like Faigy when the interactive map leads her to a life-changing proposal of marriage. This is what I refer to as giving a geospatial touch to non-geospatial issues. This is what we, geospatial community, should do more.

Admittedly, in a country like Indonesia, becoming a surveyor or cartographer is not one of the most well-recognised professions to have. I am no surprised if this is also the case in other countries. This seems to be the reason why numbers of students studying surveying or geodetic engineering (or other variant names) are generally declining in developed countries. There is something to be done. The challenge is to convince people around us that geospatial discipline can really contribute something valuable to existing businesses. A geospatial married proposal like Ari has shown us is one of the ways we tell people that geospatial discipline is not untouchable. That it is also part of our daily life.

I remember early in 2006, I wrote a piece for local newspaper in Semarang, Indonesia about Google Earth (GE). Back then, GE was just new and it revolutionised the way we treat geospatial data and information. Some of my colleagues did not see writing this piece as a special thing to do because for them GE is just another geospatial application. In contrast, GE is a revolution to me and it can be used to show the laymen how we work with geospatial data and information. A few hours after my article was published, I received an invitation from a land administration agency to give a talk on the advancement of geospatial science and technology and its role for land administration. If it was not because of the short popular writing, the opportunity would not have been there for me.

In the centre where I am now doing my PhD in ocean affairs and the law of the sea, we have more lawyers and social scientists as opposed to surveyors or cartographers. People prefer to communicate using words, not maps. My contribution to add illustration maps to their writings (journals, books, reports) has changed things. It seems that adding animated maps to lecture materials of some senior professors also makes a difference. It is hard to imagine that previously those lawyers preferred words to describe location, maritime claims, and international boundaries while we can actually say it with maps.

When I was asked to help with managing alumni data, I decided to create a map using alumni data to illustrate geospatial distribution of the alumni. Using Google’s Fusion Table (www.google.com/fusiontables/), mapping the distribution of the alumni was not a big deal. It is technically easy to do for geospatial people but it certainly generates a huge impression to non-geospatial people. Now many seem to agree that we can often say things better using maps.

Earlier in September of this year, we, the Indonesian Community of Wollongong had a gathering to celebrate our 66th Independence Day. It was organised in a community building not far from the City. The organiser was nice enough to provide direction for new members on how to get to the venue. Here is the description sent by email:

“Using a free bus, make a stop at Aldi and walk back toward the intersection close to a gas station. Then turn right and walk for about 200 metres, you will arrive at the venue. Alternatively, you can take a train and get off at Fairy Meadow station, take the left path toward the bridge, walk through and pass Aldi store so you will arrive at the gas station. After this you should follow the same direction until you reach the venue.”

In my opinion, being a geospatial person, the description will be better explained using a map. I then decided to create a customised map using My Maps in Google Maps illustrating the direction to the venue and send the link (http://bit.ly/q6HXGk) to the email group. The map might not completely replace the description but it certainly helped many people find their way. Undoubtedly, we can explain directions with maps.

When Mount Merapi (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) exploded last year, many Indonesians living overseas were worried, especially when alert and safety zones were advised by the government. They were curious whether or not their houses and families were safe back home. To help them I created a simple map using My Maps in Google Maps showing various circles with different radii (http://bit.ly/ooLhFQ). I added common placemarks such as universities, palace, and airport to help readers navigate the map. Using that simple map they knew whether or not their family need to be evacuated.

In the eyes of geospatial people, what Ari Gilder and I did are by no means great things but they can be life-changing for others. We, geospatial people, often underestimate our ability to contribute valuable things to people around us. In order for our profession to be more recognised, we have to think outside the box and this can mean simply turning what we use to consider as something ordinary into something extraordinary. It might not be for a marriage proposal, but we certainly can say a lot of things with maps.

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Author: Andi Arsana

I am a lecturer and a full-time student of the universe

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