VGI in the Geoweb: An Experiment to Test Data Reliability

VGI in the Geoweb: An Experiment to Test Data Reliability

Michael Buzzelli (The University of Western Ontario, Canada), David Brown (The University of Western Ontario, Canada), Kenwoo Lee (The University of Western Ontario, Canada) and Justin Mullan (The University of Western Ontario, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2446-5.ch004


The advent of user-generated content, crowdsourcing and other forms of lay data generation have led to opposing arguments about the quality and reliability of data in the geoweb,. The main focus of this chapter is an ‘experiment' to test the quality, validity and lay monitoring of volunteered geographic information (VGI) data. Given the growing importance of VGI, in particular its very different sources and potential uses, it is important that we also consider how this movement affects the ways in which we re-envision the pedagogy of geographic education. Accordingly, a sub-theme of this paper focuses on the manner in which the VGI experiment is undertaken: the experiment is run with students as a means of complementing their otherwise technical GIS training with primary research that exposes them to the wider social issues and debates relating to geographic data. We discuss the implications of this research project both for observers of the development of VGI and the pedagogy of GIS teaching and learning.
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Vgi In The Geoweb: A Debate

VGI, a movement encompassing user generated content for the Internet, crowdsourcing and other forms of lay data and information generation, is both mirror and molder of wider social movements (Sui et al, 2012). We appear to be on the cusp of a fundamental shift in information collection and dissemination that increasingly incorporates volunteers or citizens as key actors (Elwood, 2011; Haklay, 2012). However these movements evolve, we argue that their importance will pivot around a key point: the extent to which volunteered data and information is ‘reliable’ in the broadest sense (Goodchild and Li, 2012). One side of this debate says that lay-volunteered data in the geoweb is championed by citizen sensors (Goodchild, 2007) who represent an opportunity for the geoweb to facilitate data provision, quality monitoring and citizen cartography. By contrast, others see the advent of user-generated data on the Internet as the rise of the ‘the cult of the amateur’ (Keen, 2007). This view refutes the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and suggests that the lack of authority may usher in poor data quality and uncertainty around lay collection, dissemination and use of geodata.

We have begun to see examples of the kinds of answers that may arise in relation to our core question of VGI data quality and reliability. For instance, user-generated geoweb content may occasion mischief for some (Coleman et al., 2009). If true then there may be a need for some form of authority or official validation of volunteered data (Flanigan and Metzger, 2009). Yet as Cha et al. (2007) argued in relation to Youtube, it may be too soon to judge the reliability of user generated content given its novelty. Perhaps only the historian will be able to discern if and when volunteered information will have achieved widespread acceptance. We acknowledge that this might be true of Wikimapia (, the resource used here to test the sensor-versus-amateur debate, though we also argue as Elwood (2008) did several years ago that the advent of VGI bears ongoing research and interpretation.

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