Crowdsourced Geospatial Data Will Mean A 'Seismic Shift'

Astronomy has long been dominated by expert amateurs but with geospatial data everywhere, thanks to widely available internet and smartphones, it is not just that directions that were once only available in a paper map are now updated on your phone in real time to account for traffic.

It is changing the relationships of science also. Crowdsourced scientific data will go from obscure folding protein folding of 15 years ago to relevance everywhere.

That evolution will continue to be driven by how the data is gathered.

Credit: Xiao Huang, Emory University


According to the authors, urban planning, transportation and environmental monitoring have been particularly impacted by crowdsourcing information, with “unprecedented real-time sights and community-driven perspectives, often leading to more responsive and adaptive decision-making processes,” thanks to user-generated data.


The same type of data is informing the commercial sector, as well, with better-informed customer-centric product development and marketing strategies. The significance of this shift lies in its empowerment of ordinary individuals to contribute to and influence fields traditionally dominated by experts and authorities. This democratization has not only diversified the types of data available but has also led to richer, more multifaceted insighted into human behavior and environmental changes.


Despite such a shift, however, the researchers said a comprehensive, overarching perspective to connect the various data sources, such as social media platforms, with the application domains, such as public health or remote sensing, is still needed.


“We aim to bridge this gap and provide a holistic view of the use and potential of crowdsourcing geospatial data,” said Emory University professor Xiao Huang. “In this study, we conduct an exhaustive analysis of the current efforts, possibilities and obstacles associated with crowdsourced geospatial data across two fundamental perspectives: human observations and Earth observations.”


Earth observations refers to the work of large entities, such as academic institutions or government bodies to record data, as opposed to human observations made on social media, for example. In coupling these two perspectives, the researchers identified seven specific challenges: ensuring data quality and accuracy; protecting data privacy; training and educating non-experts; sustaining data collection; navigating legal and ethical issues; and interpreting data. Their paper summarizes the current state of affairs in each area, as well as a potential pathway forward.


“Crowdsourced geospatial data has a critical role and vast potential in enhancing human and Earth observations,” Huang said. “This data, contributed by the general public through various platforms, offers high-resolution spatiotemporal observations that traditional methods might miss. This comprehensive review paper underscores the democratization of data collection and its implications for various sectors, emphasizing the necessity of integrating these non-traditional data sources for more comprehensive and nuanced understanding and decision making.”


The researchers identified three primary future directions: expanding the scope of geospatial crowdsourcing by harnessing the power of the crowd; pioneering a sustainable crowdsourcing ecosystem, from motivation to retention; and translating crowdsourced geospatial data into real-world impact.


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