A Classification of User Contributions on the Participatory Geoweb

  • Claus RinnerEmail author
  • Victoria Fast
Part of the Advances in Geographic Information Science book series (AGIS)


“Volunteered geographic information” (VGI) is the term most widely used to describe a variety of user contributions on the participatory Geoweb. These contributions range from coordinate locations and geometries to categorical observations, attribute tags, numeric measurements, and content ratings, as well as complex narratives, photos, and videos. Although researchers are creating and studying Geoweb applications, different types of VGI, and the related phenomena of neogeography, citizen science, and crowd-sourcing, systematic characterizations of user-contributed local knowledge are scarce. In this paper, we propose criteria to distinguish types of user-generated data and contents, and relate these to types of Geoweb applications. The proposed classification provides a conceptual framework to examine the participatory Geoweb, facilitate the processing of user contributions, and identify possible gaps in the data/content types currently used. This approach could help improve the effectiveness of current Geoweb applications, and increase the uptake of the valuable geographic information they generate.


Crowd-sourced data Geospatial web Online participation User-generated geographic content Volunteered geographic information 



This research was partially supported by the GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, Project PIV-41on “Participatory Geoweb for Engaging the Public on Global Environmental Change”, and by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, with a Partnership Grant on “How the Geospatial Web 2.0 is Reshaping Government-Citizen Interactions”. We thank the co-investigators and students of both projects for inspiring discussions that have helped to frame this paper.


  1. Baker R, Neu C (2013) Ushahidi: frameworks for effective platform management. Course description, TechChange—The Institute for Technology and Social Change. Accessed 6 Sept 2014
  2. Barth D (2009) The bright side of sitting in traffic: crowdsourcing road congestion data. Google Official Blog. Accessed 6 Sept 2014
  3. Bill R, Fritsch D (1999) Grundlagen der Geoinformationssysteme. Band 1: Hardware, Software and Daten. Wichmann, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  4. Bowker GC (2005) Memory practices in the sciences. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Brandusescu A, Sieber RE, Jochems S (2015) Confronting the hype: the use of crisis mapping for community development. Convergence 1–17. doi:  10.1177/1354856515584320
  6. Budhathoki N, Bruce B, Nedovic-Budic Z (2008) Reconceptualizing the role of the user of spatial data infrastructure. GeoJ 72(3–4):149–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cinnamon J, Schuurman N (2013) Confronting the data-divide in a time of spatial turns and volunteered geographic information. GeoJ 78(4):657–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coleman D (2010) Volunteered geographic information in spatial data infrastructure: an early look at opportunities and constraints, Chap. 10. In: Rajabifard A, Crompvoets J, Kanantari M, Kok B (eds) Spatially enabling society: research, emerging trends and critical assessment. Leuven University Press, Leuven, pp 131–148Google Scholar
  9. Coleman D, Georgiadou Y, Labonte J (2009) Volunteered geographic information: the nature and motivation of produsers. Int J Spatial Data Infrastr Res 4:332–358Google Scholar
  10. Deparday V (2010) Enhancing volunteered geographical information (VGI) visualization with open source Web-based software. Master’s thesis, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Accessed 6 Sept 2014
  11. Elwood S, Goodchild M, Sui D (2012) Researching volunteered geographic information: spatial data, geographic research, and new social practice. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 102(3):571–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fast V, Rinner C (2014) A systems perspective on volunteered geographic information. ISPRS Int J Geo-Inf 3(4):1278–1292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fischer F (2012) VGI as big data—a new but delicate geographic data-source. GEO-Informatics 15(3):46–47Google Scholar
  14. Fogliaroni G, DeFelice J, Wallgrun O (2010) A qualitative perspective on volunteered geographic information. In: GIScience 2010 workshop on role of volunteered geographic information in advancing science, Zurich, 14 Sept 2010Google Scholar
  15. Goodchild M (1997) Towards a geography of geographic information in a digital world. Comput Environ Urban Syst 21(6):377–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goodchild M (2007) Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography. GeoJ 69:211–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goodchild M (2008) Assertion and authority: the science of user-generated geographic content. In: Proceedings of the Colloquium for Andrew U. Frank’s 60th Birthday. GeoInfo 39. Department of Geoinformation and Cartography, Vienna University of Technology. Accessed 6 Sept 2014
  18. Goodchild M, Li L (2012) Assuring the quality of volunteered geographic information. Spat Stat 1:110–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Haklay M (2013) Citizen science and volunteered geographic information: overview and typology of participation. In: Sui D, Elwood S, Goodchild M (eds) Crowdsourcing geographic knowledge: volunteered geographic information (VGI) in theory and practice. Springer, Berlin, pp 105–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haklay M, Singleton A, Parker C (2008) Web mapping 2.0: the Neogeography of the Geoweb. Geogr Compass 2(6):2011–2039CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hall B, Chipeniuk R, Feick R, Leahy M. Deparday V (2010) Community-based production of geographic information using open source software and Web 2.0. Int J Geogr Inf Sci 24(5):761–781Google Scholar
  22. Heywood I, Cornelius S, Carver S (2006) An introduction to geographical information systems, 3rd edn. Pearson Education, HarlowGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson P, Sieber R (2012) Motivations driving government adoption of the Geoweb. GeoJ 77(5):667–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson P, Sieber R, Magnien N, Ariwi J (2012) Mining the Web: user-generated content as a data source for tourism research. Curr Issues Tourism 15(3):293–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klinkenberg B (ed) (2014) E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Accessed 6 Sept 2014
  26. Leszczynski A, Wilson M (2013) Guest editorial: theorizing the Geoweb. GeoJ 78(6):915–919CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Li S, Veenendaal B, Dragicevic S (2011) Advances, challenges and future directions in web-based GIS, mapping services and applications. In: Li S, Dragicevic S, Veenendaal B (eds) Advances in WebGIS, mapping services, and applications. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 3–12Google Scholar
  28. Longley P, Goodchild M, Maguire D, Rhind D (2011) Geographic information systems and science, 3rd edn. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  29. Lukyanenko R, Parsons J, Wiersma YF (2011) Citizen science 2.0: data management principles to harness the power of the crowd. In: Proceedings of 6th international conference on service-oriented perspectives in design science research, Milwaukee, WI, USA, 5–6 May 2011. Lecture Notes in Computer Science No. 6629, pp 465–473Google Scholar
  30. Meeks WL (2007) The utility of geospatial data and information used in geographic information systems (GIS): an exploratory study into the factors that contribute to geospatial information utility. Doctoral Dissertation, The George Washington University, Ann Arbor, MI. Accessed 6 Sept 2014
  31. Mennis J, Guo D (2009) Spatial data mining and geographic knowledge discovery—an introduction. Comput Environ Urban Syst 33:403–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mooney P, Corcoran P (2011) Can volunteered geographic information be a participant in eEnvironment and SDI? In: Hřebíček J, Schimak G, Denzer R (eds) Environmental software systems: frameworks of eEnvironment. IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology, vol 359. Springer, Berlin, pp 115–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rinner C (2001) Argumentation maps—GIS-based discussion support for online planning. Environ Plann B 28(6):847–863CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rinner C, Bird M (2009) Evaluating community engagement through argumentation maps—a public participation GIS case study. Environ Plann B 36(4):588–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rinner C, Kumari J, Mavedati S (2011) A geospatial Web application to map observations and opinions in environmental planning. In: Li S, Dragicevic S, Veenendaal B (eds) Advances in WebGIS, mapping services, and applications. Taylor and Francis, London, pp 277–291Google Scholar
  36. Scharl A, Tochtermann K (eds) (2007) The geospatial web: How geobrowsers, social software and Web 2.0 are shaping the network society. Springer, LondonGoogle Scholar
  37. Seeger C (2008) The role of facilitated volunteered geographic information in the landscape planning and site design process. GeoJ 72(3–4):199–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sieber RE (2004) Rewiring for a GIS/2. Cartographica 39(1):25–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sieber RE, Rahemtulla H (2010) Model of public participation on the Geoweb. Paper presented at the 6th international conference on geographic information science, Zurich, Switzerland, 14–17 Sept 2010Google Scholar
  40. Stefanidis A, Crooks A, Radzikowski J (2011) Harvesting ambient geospatial information from social media feeds. GeoJ 78(2):319–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sui D, Goodchild M (2011) The convergence of GIS and social media: challenges for GIScience. Int J Geogr Inf Sci 25(11):1737–1748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sui D, Elwood S, Goodchild M (eds) (2013) Crowdsourcing geographic knowledge: volunteered geographic information (VGI) in theory and practice. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  43. Sullivan B, Wood C, Iliff M, Bonney R, Fink D, Kelling S (2009) eBird: a citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biol Conserv 142:2282–2292Google Scholar
  44. Tomlinson R (2007) Thinking about GIS: geographic information system planning for managers, 3rd edn. ESRI Press, RedlandsGoogle Scholar
  45. Tulloch D (2008) Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games. GeoJ 72(3–4):161–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Walker B, Rinner C (2013) A qualitative framework for evaluating participation on the Geoweb. URISA J 25(2):15–24Google Scholar
  47. Wilson M, Graham M (2013) Neogeography and volunteered geographic information: a conversation with Michael Goodchild and Andrew Turner. Environ Plann A 45(1):10–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zook M, Graham M, Shelton T, Gorman S (2010) Volunteered geographic information and crowdsourcing disaster relief: a case study of the Haitian earthquake. World Med Health Policy 2(2):6–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ryerson UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations