Generativity and the Geospatial Web

The Geospatial Web or Geoweb is the system that combines precise geographic information with World Wide Web content (Haklay et al. 2008; Elwood and Leszczynski, 2012; Scharl and Tochtermann, 2007 ). The components of the Geoweb are the tools, applications, data, protocols, and practices that merge Internet digital content with locational referents (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2012). In such a complex and hybrid system, geographic information (place names, latitude/longitude coordinates, and any other information about place) becomes a major means for indexing and accessing content.


Since the early 1990s, GeoWeb developers have been in the process of creating different techniques for delivering geographic information over the WWW. Examples of GeoWeb software are the interactive mapping platforms that allow users to search for specific locations, get directions and navigation assistance, and add content to the map (e.g. Google Maps, Bing, MapQuest, OpenStreetMap). The “Mashup” technique that consists in the blending of multimedia content from the Internet with a digital map of a particular place is another example of GeoWeb in action. It illustrates how the openness of spatial application programming interfaces (APIs) has encouraged interoperability and innovation (in 2005 Google Maps opened its API for public use). Web maps have become a great resource for placing digital photographs, videos, blog entries or Craigslist adds that have been tagged by humans or machines with geographic information. Because maps are a great resource for indexing data and for visualizing relationships, they have become one of the most popular representatives of the GeoWeb.

Due to its ability to facilitate relationships and its reliance on open standards the GeoWeb has become one of the most powerful examples of “the generative Internet”. As Jonathan Zitrain has explained, generativity is the “capacity for unrelated and unaccredited audiences to build and distribute code and content through the Internet to its tens of millions of attached personal computers.” The GeoWeb is generative; it enables creativity and is one of the leading forces driving the interconnection between physical and virtual worlds. Technologies and practices of what is commonly known as the Web 2.0 such collaboration, sharing, curation, tagging, Social Network Sites (SNSs) and other kinds of user generated content (crowdsourcing projects) are organically integrated in the GeoWeb across different platforms and applications.

It is precisely the generative capacity of the GeoWeb, together with the development of mobile and ubiquitous computing, that has enabled the emergence of a variety of web platforms and services where users of GPS-enabled devices can easily publish, visualize, store, share, and circulate the GPS data (GPX files) they record. EveryTrail, for instance, is a platform that invites people to share their travel experiences by uploading their GPS traces and photographs, and visualizing them in interactive maps. RideWithGps, specializes on cyclists and runners and offers a detailed analysis of the GPS traces that produsers upload so they can measure their performance and compete with others. OpenStreetMap, focuses on amateur cartographers who record GPS traces as they survey territories and share them with the purpose of creating a free map of the world. Wikiloc tries to appeal to the wide scope of identities that can be associated with outdoor activities (e.g. mountain bikers, hikers, climbers, horse riders, skiers, and all kind of outdoor sport enthusiasts) and invites them to not only publish their GPS data but also download the GPS traces made by others. As people discover and join these platforms, they engage in produsage practices that are socially and culturally meaningful. They become active produsers that participate with and through geo-locative media in the building of knowledge communities, affinity groups, and networked publics.
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