Other People's Data and Wiki Websites This article originally appeared in Geospatial Solutions Magazine's Net Results column of June 1, 2003. Other Net Results articles about the role of emerging technologies in the exchange of spatial information are also online.

1. Introduction and Glossary   2. Who's Zoomin' Who?   3. Public Science   4. Cast of Thousands

To a Hawaiian, the word wikiwiki (pronounced "wee kee wee kee") means quick, hurry, or hasten. To a programmer (Hawaiian or otherwise) it means a collaborative Web site where anyone and everyone can insert, update, and delete content. Ward Cunningham, a self-dubbed "Smalltalk/Objects/Patterns consultant" for his own firm, coined an abbreviated version of the term--Wiki--for the first collaborative Web site (www.c2.com/cgi/wiki) he created in 1995 to gather information about patterns in programming languages. Although the idea of a completely unmoderated Web site might seem like an open invitation to chaos and vandalism, Cunningham’s experience in the past eight years of creating Wiki sites has been that people appreciate the responsibility of open access, and prefer to create rather than destroy. Because Wiki have no security to overcome, they present no challenge to the truly malevolent, and so are not heavily vandalized. They are, however, popular: approximately 24,000 Wiki have sprung directly from Cunningham’s original site. Many others exist independently, particularly to support collaborative software projects.

Is there such a creature as a geospatial Wiki, offering every Internet visitor the power to edit the same map? I couldn’t find any quite that open, but at least two spatial Web sites are already headed in the Wiki direction. The City of San Francisco’s SFProspector (www.sfprospector.org) and the University of California’s OakMapper (www.oakmapper.org) both capture some of their geographic content from users unaffiliated with the sites’ owners. According to their managers, collaborative spatial Web sites raise issues of privacy, usability, and outreach, but significantly enhance the value of the existing dataset.

Would your dataset benefit from other people’s data, and, if so, what will prompt them to contribute in the first place? This column explores the issues that arise when a public spatial Web site welcomes data entry by multiple private or public users.

SOD Sudden Oak Death
UCB University of California, Berkeley
USGS U.S Geological Survey

1. Introduction and Glossary   2. Who's Zoomin' Who?   3. Public Science   4. Cast of Thousands