Building the Capacity FIG 2010

The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) congress rolls into town this week (Sydney April 11-16) and from all the hype surrounding this congress it will no doubt be a well received and a great learning opportunity. Of course, FIG is not primarily aimed at traditional surveyors, the ten commissions setup cover everything from education and standards to spatial data infrastructures, planning and development , real estate, valuations and also construction economics. In all, FIG covers everything to do with land and as we are seeing more and more evidence of, almost all information collected is being linked back to the land.

What does this mean to the Young Professional?

FIG is large, it is a global body tasked with promoting professional practice and standards for all things surveying. As this congress theme is ‘Facing the Challenges – Building the Capacity’ there looks to be underwhelming support on how we grow this industry as a whole. To a young professional it is an exciting time to be involved. We have seen in the past few years that giants such as Google has taken what we do and thrust it into the limelight. Google Maps if anything has heightened the value of visualising information in map form yet there is little understanding of how this information is generated, maintained and delivered to applications such as Google Maps.

Facing the Challenges

Increasing the awareness and importance of the Surveying and Spatial Industries does present a challenge to us. The challenges lie in growing the interest of students to study and join our profession, in increasing the importance of location in all types of data, the connection and integration of data and the interpretation of data providing the evidence to build and prepare for the future. No small task by anyone’s imagination.

During this congress the Young Surveyors Group are holding a number of sessions as well as presenting on topics of how to attract more young professionals into this industry. The roundtable discussion scheduled for Tuesday 13th of April will surely be an interesting open discussion on how we as a whole can tackle these issues. It is nice to see that through a structured congress, social mediums such as Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/thewinternet?ref=mf#!/event.php?eid=375142717231&index=1) provide the tools to reach out and invite all those who have an interest to voice their opinions both online and face to face.

The plenary sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday titled ‘Spatially Enabled Society and  ‘The Big Challenges’ respectively are shaping to be very interesting talks and I wholeheartedly recommend arriving early for a good seat.

The week will sure to be jammed packed and while I and others will be there at 7am each morning to help setup and coordinate the activities I hope to see you all at FIG 2010. If the registrations are anything to go by this will surely be the biggest congress of its type in Australia for the last few years.

App My State: Victoria

It is no surprise to see that more and more application creation competitions are popping up all over Australia in response to the global push to release and access more public sector information (PSI). Victoria is the latest state to launch a competition for innovative application that showcase the best use of PSI data.

Map My State (http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/app-my-state.html) launched by the Premier of Victoria in late February is designed to run for 8 weeks and award prizes based on youth, sustainability, popular choice and an open category.

The Mashup Australia and Apps4NSW competitions proved to be quite popular (Apps4NSW is still open for those interested:
http://www.information.nsw.gov.au/apps4nsw) although one component that sets the App My State competition apart from the rest is hidden in the terms and conditions where only Victorians can enter. Still that hasn’t deterred me from trying (being from Western Australia) and one can only hope that the organisers of this competition realise that idea’s can spring up from anywhere and still benefit Victoria.

Personally I like the idea of open innovation and how these ideas to be tested amongst the public in an open forum. Mobile applications, the web, interaction and social networking are the mediums where new information is quickly released and facilitates a very smart path to reaching critical mass. These competitions have even pathed the way for new innovative businesses to take advantage of this push for open data. Kaggle.com.au is an example of an innovaive business structured around this style of competition. Data has to go somewhere doesn’t it?

The change we have seen in this industry over the last 2 years has heightened the core element of “location” and its importance to how information can be accessed and integrated creating a common understanding. Visual interpretation of information via maps has allowed a large audience to grasp the understanding and meaning of data and how it relates to the day to day life of you and me.

Let’s face it; the public are the ones who would get the most use out of information so it will be interesting to see what this competition brings us.

Google’s Location Patent

How much power can one company have? With the news of Google being awarded their patent for embedding location into their advertising model I wonder what the future will be for businesses using ‘location’ in advertising their offerings.

Location is a core element in today’s information society and has been integral to almost all aspects of development in the past. Maps, Addresses etc.. are core in finding where I am and where I am going to. In a business sense, the location of the business is key to selling goods and services whether that location is land based or web based as someone is conducting the work somewhere.

In this time of companies being sued for patent infringement some parts of the patent lodged by Google could be questionable. For example, in a broad sense the patent secures the use of geo-information in computer systems to link a request to an output. This means that if I use my location as the core component in the search criteria to find my local coffee shops and the computer system locates these for me and details the offerings (an ad) then at that point the service I am using could be breaching the patent.

Of course the Google patent refers to the advertising model which drives the Google ads system it can be expanded across many types of service offerings. With regarding to mobile applications and the increase usage of GPS in these devices basically making them location aware, any search from a mobile device for services ‘around me’ Applications such as Walk Score, Around Me, Urban Spoon could be reigned in by Google. As real estate basis its housing advertisements primarily on address (the core location reference globally), this may be affected.

Google is keeping tight lipped on the patent at the moment and so it is with interest we watch this space. The push for location advertising kingdom looks to be between Apple and Google and so in Australia where location is embedded in everything and many companies utilise location for services it will be interesting to see how the fallout might affect us. The question I have is that if Google and others rely on the information provided by Governments and US Department of Defence for GPS then will they licence and pay a royalty on the ongoing use of this core location asset information?

It must be noted that this patent was filed almost 6 years ago and signifies that Google has the foresight to look into the long term and secure its market place and so kudus to them!

More info on the patent can be found here.

Spatial Industry Marketing – Where is the next generation?

As the New Year grinds into motion I take a look at the spatial education industry within Australia. Recently the Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI) and the Institute of Surveyors Australia (ISA) merged and formed the Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute. (www.spatialsciences.org) This single body represents all the geomatic sciences and industries in Australia and is the representative body for FIG (http://www.fig.net) on the global stage.SUrveying and Spatial Sciences Institute

The amalgamation of these two bodies was not an easy task for the merger committee to accomplish throughout 2008 and 09. Firstly, in Australia, the Surveying discipline is divided between a traditional surveying degree and a Geographic Information Sciences degree thereby leading to a distinction between a surveyor and a GIS/spatial professional. This divide itself is quite uncommon within the global industry as we can see from the FIG definition of what a surveyor is:

—- —– —–
A surveyor is a professional person with the academic qualifications and technical expertise to conduct one, or mInternational Federation of Surveyorsore, of the following activities;
•    to determine, measure and represent land, three-dimensional objects, point-fields and trajectories;
•    to assemble and interpret land and geographically related information,
•    to use that information for the planning and efficient administration of the land, the sea and any structures thereon; and,
•    to conduct research into the above practices and to develop them.
—- —– —–

As with the definition above, the divide within Australia of a Surveyor and a Spatial/GIS professional is potentially damaging and can affect the next generation of potential surveyor/spatial professionals. The need for capacity building within the industry is now paramount as we have seen with the explosion of ‘location’ services. By providing a professional consultancy to location information, the Surveying and Spatial industry is primed to become a leading force for the future.

In guiding the next generation into this industry it is important to focus on building a ‘brand’ that easily defines what we do and showcases the value to the overall Australian economy. By doing this the definition of the Spatial/Surveying industry remain a key challenge to the overcome and ensure that the general awareness of the industry becomes known to the lay-person.

In building brand it is important to focus on grass root development and linking the outcomes of what we work on day to day to lead to recognising the learning courses available throughout our universities. We see in Australia that Surveying and GIS generally falls under the Engineering or Science faculties with some other universities grouping ‘spatial’ within the urban development faculties. A single identify that is easily recognisable will no doubt drive the industry forward. It is good to see that the first steps have been taken with the merger. Now it is up to us to instigate the cultural change throughout our peers to fully recognise and drive the future directions of the industry.

p.s. My ranting here is part of a joint presentation titled “Identity Crisis:
Challenges and Capacity Building for Next Generation Surveyors” that will be given at FIG 2010 in Sydney (April 11 – 16). More information can be found at www.fig2010.com)


The Age of Social Media: A Look at Emergency Management

Happy New year to you all. It has been a while since my last update on Project Spatial and in that time quite a bit has happened within Australia and the Spatial industry. As with each new year in Australia, extreme weather conditions seem to be a norm and bushfires are ever prevelant.

Recently in Western Australia, bushfires have ravaged the town of Toodyay, multiple fires are burning all over Australia which makes me think of a round table discssion i participated near the end of 2009. Under the Gov 2.0 taskforce a project emerged on how the government could use Web 2.0 technologies within the social media sphere to help the management of incidents such as bushfire, flood and alike. http://gov2em.net.au/

The project which only ran for a little over a month has delivered its report on how government can use social media tools to help premare and manage emergency situations. The key to it’s findings is that government needs to be able to convey trust, transparency and timeliness. In some situations, accuracy and reliability can be traded off against timeliness of information. Getting a message out there stating the threat can be more important than knowing exactly where the threat is. Of course you don’t want to instigate panic. J

I’ve talked about mashups in previous posts and the abilty to provide timely information can easily be mapped. Take the Landgate Firewatch service coming out of Western Australia, this data feed can be combined with othe feeds to create a ‘mashup’ of incidents happening around Australia. http://www.aus-emaps.com/fires.php is a good example of this where RSS feeds from NSW and Victoria are combined with Firewatch, BOM Weather and other data into a simple map.

Further out from Australia we are even seening new and exciting uses of social media for EM. For example, in San Francisco there is a twitter account setup for the earthquake prone area that people can subscribe to.  http://twitter.com/earthquakesLA. Combine this with TwitPics (see: http://mashable.com/2010/01/09/eureka-earthquake/) and you have a detailed account of an Earthquake, providing more timely information and shared accross many users faster than traditional media sources.

What is needed in Australia is a coordinated approach to 2.0 technologies in areas such as Emergency Management. Setting standards and policies will help ensure that information is not abused or worse becomes mis-trusted.

The key really is to keep it low tech (another finding of the Em 2.0 report) although as technology evolves very quickly and newer generations are turning away from normal media channels (radio, TV) any impementation of 2.0 technologies needs to stay consistent, reach a broad range of users and be simple. Technology isn’t a barrier although controling how much technology is used will remain a factor. Remember they say you only have 8 seconds to capture someones attention through the Internet so information related to EM incidents needs to stay clearly articulated and remain accessible.

Interesting Case Study on the Victorian Black Saturday Fires: http://gov2em.net.au/twittersocial-media-during-the-victorian-bushfires-february-20009-a-case-study/

Simple Interface + Rich Content

The Government 2.0 Taskforce “Mashup Australia” Competition closed some time ago and roughly 2 weeks ago the winners were announced. I have held off commenting on the winning applications due to work and a little bit of gloominess in that my help in a submission only rated 3 stars. (http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/locate-me/)

The number of entries to the Mashup Australia competition attracted 82 entries ranging from web page mashups to mobile applications. Some were complicated and others were simple to use. A favourite of mine was the ‘Meat in the Park’ (http://meatinapark.appspot.com/) application which quite simply allowed you to find a public BBQ and invite friend so you can have a picnic. Very simple interface, rich content and specific outcome.

The winning application, the Suburban Trends mapper http://www.suburbantrends.com.au/ showed that with a little bit of effort and a focus on user design that a complicated application could be quite simple to use. This application, like so many others combined Australian Bureau of Statistics data, location services and other datasets and presented this in map form. The application took the mashup approach one step further and applied dashboard style indicators to give the user a quick overview of their desired area. Not unique in the approach although commendable in the layout, colours and use. Certainly something for all of us is to think about is the intended audience and their technology prowess (or potentially lack of). They say you only have 8 seconds to grab someone’s attention on a website so the aim is to get it right and this application gets it right and better yet it was developed by a student!

With the push to open data policies and location aware data, a very significant mashup utilised typically non spatial data and combined this with location to produce ‘In Their Honour’. This mashup is dedicated to the service men and women who fought and died for Australia by allowing the user to search for their final resting place. http://mashupaustralia.org/mashups/in-their-honour/

A very powerful mashup that is easy to see why it won the peoples award.

I commend all entries to the Mashup Australia competition and with the Apps4Gov awards in NSW and other competitions that are springing up all over the place 2010 seems to be moving towards to social mapping/media space. With data access on the increase, content and rich content is at the fingertips for anyone who wants it. The challenge moving forward is to utilise the data in such a way that makes it easy to find, use and interpret!