Coming up with a GIS Dataset naming convention

I have tried for several years to come up with/stick to a decent naming convention for GIS data. A colleague of mine came up with a 3 letter prefix scheme followed by an underscore which was pretty nifty:

  • ftr – Feature class
  • tbl – Table
  • svw – Spatial view
  • cvd – Coded value domain
  • vew – Table view
  • loc – Address locator
  • gcs – Geocoding service
  • svc – Service
  • ras – Raster
  • rvd – Range domain

This was done because when looking at the tables via SQL Server Management Studio, one cannot determine which tables are actually GIS tables/feature class attribute tables, and which are native SQL tables at a glance. This solved that problem, and conveniently grouped the different types of data at the same time.

However, a convention only works when everyone sticks to it. The use of plural vs singular is another bone of contention. I am of of the opinion that all feature classes should be named in the singular. This approach has stuck with me since mapwork classes in primary school (ah the 90s). Legends on maps always indicated “River”, “Road”, “Farm”, never “Rivers”, “Roads”, or “Farms”.

This is why when someone gives me shapefiles or whatever that have plural names, I immediately change it to singular. I WILL NOT TOLERATE THIS LUNACY. These naming issues fall under the greater problem of ever expanding formats for GIS data, along with the issue of “How on earth are we going to store all this stuff?!”

And no, saying “in the cloud” is not a solution. Someone still has to manage that data, and structure it in a way that makes sense and somehow anticipate further expansion of the system. That, however, is a story for another day.

GIS, geocomputation, geospatial, geoinformatics, geo-what?

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I actually do, or what I’m “called”.

what GIS does

I’ve struggled with this since university. In 1st year, whenever introductions were made and I said I was studying Applied Geoinformatics, I would get this response:

Kevin hart huh

When I tried to explain it, I’d always make it worse somehow, so then I’d get this face:

Patrick Star

One time, when I told someone that, she asked what it was called in Afrikaans. Saying “Toegepaste Geoinformatika” did not help matters at all. It also did not help that 11 of us started; we were down to 6 after 2 weeks of Computer Science, 5 by the end of the year, and 2 in third year.

The GIS field has changed a lot over the last few years, and rapidly as well. I started out as a GIS intern, then a GIS Operator, when all I was doing was data capture and ad hoc map production. I then started identifying as a GIS Technician once I started doing analysis and more advanced cartography.

After a few months of that, and once the programming snake bit me (Python joke! Or not?), I started identifying as a GIS Developer. Every desktop GIS task I was assigned, I found a way to work some programming into it. I barely use the desktop interface anymore, everything I do is now done from Visual Studio, or at least from ArcCatalog where I don’t have to deal with the drama in ArcMap.

This issue is quite big, especially in a field that is rapidly evolving. Caitlin at GIS Lounge mentioned it:

Q. What do you do?

A. I work in GIS

Q. Um, GIS? What’s that?

A. It stands for Geographic Information Systems.

Q. Um, what’s that?

A. Oh, it’s sort of like Google Maps.

She had a survey form at the bottom of the article, so you can fill in what you call yourself. I was going to fill it in, when I realised I actually can’t sum up what I do in one word. James Fee mentioned this in his first newsletter late last year:

“What do you do?” Remember this question? I used to get it all the time and it was so hard to explain. I’d go into maps, databases and then the Internet. People sort of nod and seem to agree they understand just so you’ll stop talking about intersecting polygons and buffering the result. Then when Google Earth exploded on the scene, I’d used to just always say, “You know, like Google Earth…” and the other person would get all excited and say they looked up their hometown and saw their elementary school and how awesome it was that Google could find it.

I came across Geocomputation recently, which defines itself as “The Art and Science of Solving Complex Spatial Problems with Computers”. I then thought about identifying as a Geocomputation Specialist, but that didn’t seem right either.

Finally, I turned to what probably should have been my first port of call: Wikipedia.

Geoinformatics is the science and the technology which develops and uses information science infrastructure to address the problems of geography, geosciences and related branches of engineering…combines geospatial analysis and modeling, development of geospatial databases, information systems design, human-computer interaction and both wired and wireless networking technologies. Geoinformatics uses geocomputation and geovisualization for analyzing geoinformation.

Geoinformatics Specialist!

here is everywhere

While I wasn’t paying attention here Maps added a Map Creator option, where users can add/edit road and place information. Following the theme of this blog, everything is spatial and spatial is becoming everything. Anyone can now draw a polyline or place a point, create more and more data, and turn that data into information fairly quickly.

This is why it is important for those of us working in the GIS field currently that soon there will be no such thing as the GIS field anymore. It will be biotechnology + gis, environmental + gis, engineering + gis, auditing + gis etc. We need to either specialise in a few subject areas, or position ourselves as providing holistic spatial solutions specific to the client’s domain.