The Need for Authoritative Content in a Crowd-Sourced World

All right, welcome to the new geospatial world where everyone is a geospatial content author!  Almost all new cell phones come with a GPS chip in them and allow you and everyone else to create geospatial content.  There are new open source data projects launched seemingly every week where communities are mapping things that are important to them.  Open Street Map allows you to participate in the development of a whole new and open transportation layer.  It is a bright, new wonderful world where vast amounts of geospatial data are being created and maintained by people who are not GIS professionals.  Should the world of geospatial professionals be concerned about being made irrelevant?

I think not.

Think of the hundreds of geospatial data sources that we rely on every day.  Digital elevation models, the National Hydrography Dataset, tax parcels, land cover, new sources of imagery, utility delivery networks, airfield obstructions,  sub-surface geology... where do you stop?  Any geospatial data source that we rely on for business-critical decisions needs to meet certain standards for accuracy, completeness, and documentation.  The development and management of this data needs to be done by people who understand the difference between spatial accuracy and precision.  They need to understand the differences between different spatial reference systems, why one projection might be better than another in a given situation, and what might be lost when transforming data from one spatial reference system to another.  The data needs to be documented in such a way that we can understand how and why the data was developed and maintained and what analyses it might support.  In short, the world needs authoritative data sets, and the need for these data sets will continue to drive a growing need for GIS professionals.  I think that the next ten years will see a tremendous growth in the use of geospatial data and analysis across both government and commercial sectors.  This growth should drive a need for more people who understand geospatial concepts and can apply that knowledge to a variety of different disciplines.  I hope that our colleges and universities will be able to graduate enough people trained in geo-science to meet the need.