Land Surveyors vs GIS Professionals: What’s all the fuss about?

Drama? What Drama?
Drama? What Drama?

I was reading the other day the Land Surveying and GIS Revisited: An Unnecessary Drama post in GIS Lounge and I am sorry but I don’t get it. I mean, I agree with what the article says, that it IS an unnecessary drama but I don’t understand why there was a drama in the first place. This of course may be down to my ignorance of how the Land Surveying and GIS professions work in the US so please bear with me.

This is not the first time I hear about this rivalry. Similar posts have appeared here, here and here  There is also this image from the “GIS-Analyst: What my friends think I do” meme:


So Land Surveyors think that GIS people play with coloring books… Right….

I still don’t get it.

You see, what I don’t understand is WHY all this press seems to point to a hard line distinction between a “Land Surveyor” and a “GIS Professional”. I am not saying that ALL Land Surveyors “do” GIS, or that everyone that works with GIS is a Land Surveyor, but isn’t GIS a tool that different professions -from Surveyors to Environmental Engineers to Marketing professionals use to help them in their day-to-day jobs? A tool rather than a profession on its own? And isn’t a “GIS Professional” someone that uses GIS within a specific realm? And yes, of course there are those who started with a undergrad degree in GIS and they are the ‘vanilla’ GIS professionals if you like, but I still can’t see why Land Surveyors will look down on them so to speak.

On the posts I mentioned above, the grudge seems to focus around cadastral issues and how a GIS-only person cannot show someone’s legal boundary data on a GIS map. What if the ‘GIS Map’ and the parcel layer is actually constructed from ground topographic measurements? Why is that not accurate? And what if that GIS person is also a Surveyor?

Obviously, if I show someone a Google map and draw on top his/her property boundary by just following the lines I see on the map and then tell him he/she can use it as evidence on a court case, I should be shot on site. This is just ignorance.  But if the GIS I am using includes cadastre data which by definition is accurate, then what’s the problem?

This is something that is used quite a bit here in Greece; Public-facing GIS ran by the City Councils allow users to download boundary data for planning applications. And data IS accurate. And in the majority of cases, these systems are ran by Surveyors.

So as I said in the beginning, the GIS and Land Surveying professions might work somewhat different between the various countries and these discussions are US-focused for which I now very little about but I think there are some fixed constants.

I can’t see the reason of any dramas or “epic battles”. I would be grateful if someone would enlighten me

Disclosure: I have a 5-yr Surveying Engineer’s degree and an M.Sc in GIS. I would call myself a GIS professional rather than a Surveyor.

STOP PRESS: Someone discovered how to “display a map on a computing device”

No really. They did. Unbelievable right? For years we were trying to do this without success apparently. Otherwise how could you explain why Apple filed a patent request for just that? The “inventors” (honestly, they are called that) in Claim 1 are stating:

A method for displaying a map on a computing device, Comprising: storing information to be displayed on the map in a memory of the computing device, the stored information comprising a plurality of different layers of information, wherein each layer contains a respective type of information; displaying a map on a display of the computing device, the map comprising a plurality of the layers of information superimposed upon one another; in response to a user selection of a display mode corresponding to a topic of interest, displaying at least one layer containing information that is associated with the selected mode; and enhancing the value of at least one display parameter for map features of each displayed layer that are associated with the selected mode, relative to a default value for the display parameter.

Sounds familiar maybe? Anyway, there is an effort in asking for “Prior Art” – which basically means any documentation dating before June 5, 2012 (the date of Apple’s patent request), available in the public domain so as to determine whether a patent application describes a new and nonobvious invention. Blindigly obvious you may think. Apart from anything else its really interesting to see the answers as they contains lots of historical facts about GIS including the 1987 video where William Shatner presents GRASS GIS

The Power of Geographic Information

Two excellent videos explaining the use and power of Geographic Information to the non-experts. I will never have any problems again trying to explain what I do for a living!

The first is from Penn State University entitled “The Geospatial Revolution”. There are four episodes of which the first two are currently available.

The second, “Applications of the spatial information” is from The Centre of GIS & Remote Sensing (SIGTE) of the University of Girona.

Silverlight interface for Mapserver GIS

Yes, such a beast does exist! And I am proud to say that Gaiocorp (ok, a bit of not-so grey advertising) has developed it and released is as an open source project in CodePlex ( Lovingly called SLMapViewer, it is a reusable Silverlight map control for use with MapServer, the popular open source WebGIS. It was initially developed as  the the mapping component for some of Gaiocorp’s products and was based on the MapFlash Viewer Framework’s concept  developed by Paolo Corti. Since then it has changed almost beyond recognition, supporting a large number of ‘GIS-like’ functions, different ‘view modes’ to be used as either through a normal browser or in a street kiosk, and extendable helper classes so developers can implement their own business logic for layer display. SLMapviewer can be used as a standalone map viewer or be embedded it and thus spatially enable, ASP.NET or Silverlight applications.

Τοπογράφοι Μηχανικοί, GIS και γεωγραφικά δεδομένα

Οχι, το παρόν δεν είναι “βαριά” ανάλυση ή συντεχνιακό παραλήρημα. Λένε ότι ένα GIS (και οποιοδήποτε βέβαια πληροφοριακό σύστημα) είναι τόσο “καλό” όσο η μικρότερη ακρίβεια των δεδομένων του. Η συλλογή και ανάλυση πρωτογενών γεωγραφικών δεδομένων ήταν και είναι ένα από τα βασικά πεδία δράσης των Τοπογράφων Μηχανικών και αυτό που ο περισσότερος κόσμος έχει συνδέσει μαζί τους. (ξέρετε, αυτοί οι τύποι που βλέπετε συχνά με ένα τρίποδα με ένα “πράγμα” σαν τηλεσκόπιο από πάνω. Και όχι, δεν είναι φωτογραφική μηχανή ούτε γυρνάνε ταινία). Και με την ευκαιρία της συζήτησης περί ανοίγματος των επαγγελμάτων και δικαιωμάτων αποφοίτωνΑΕΙ και ΤΕΙ, δείτε παρακάτω μια διασκεδαστική παρουσίαση με το τίτλο “Your data is crap” (σε ελεύθερη μετάφραση -“Τα δεδομένα σας είναι χάλια”) που δείχνει το γιατί αυτή η συλλογή δεδομένων και η μετέπειτα υλοποίηση Γεωγραφικών Συστήματων/GIS είναι πάντα καλύτερο να αφήνεται στους Τοπογράφους.