So all the discussion about my last post got me to thinking about how to define "neogeography". I was really using it in a pretty broad sense, as a convenient label for the “new generation” of web mapping tools and related technologies that have emerged over the past few years – essentially the “disruptive technology” that Clayton Christensen talks about. These systems include Google Maps and Earth, Virtual Earth, Yahoo Maps, and various offerings from smaller players. However, I feel that the distinction between “neogeography” and “GIS” is becoming increasingly blurred, to the point where it really doesn’t make much sense to even try to make a distinction in many cases.
As I discussed, “neogeography” systems are now increasingly being used for more activities that were in the domain of “traditional GIS”, including cartography, analysis and data creation. And “GIS” is increasingly using ideas that originated in neogeography systems, like using pre-rendered raster tiles for fast map rendering, implementing REST APIs, etc. The summary for O'Reilly's "Introduction to Neogeography", which is probably as good a source as any, says "Neogeography combines the complex techniques of cartography and GIS and places them within reach of users and developers". So according to that definition it's really about simplification, which is certainly a key characteristic of systems like Google Maps and Virtual Earth. But it's obviously not a hard and fast definition, and many efforts within the traditional GIS space could be said to have done the same thing, especially more recently as ideas have been taken from the first round of "neogeo" products.
I think that one other difference between those who describe themselves as neogeographers and those who describe themselves as GIS professionals is that the former see geospatial data as just another data type, whereas the latter tend to see it as something more specialized. But this also a continuum, and this difference in philosophy has been around in the industry to a large extent since well before neogeography arrived on the scene (but maybe with a smaller proportion of those with the first opinion).
So to me, the main point is that there is now a broader set of tools available to help address geospatial problems, regardless of what you call them. I think that many people in the traditional GIS world haven’t had too much exposure to these new tools, and a lot of people still have the mindset that they have selected a primary GIS vendor – ESRI, Intergraph, Smallworld or whoever – and they should only use geospatial software from that vendor as it will make their life easier. But it is really very easy to mix and match geo software tools these days, so it’s worth looking around at the various new options. But clearly there are still many tasks for which the best choice remains the current generation of traditional GIS. However, the traditional GIS vendors will face major price pressure over the next few years as the newer generation of simpler and cheaper systems mature.
So in summary I really don’t see much value in trying to define some tools as “neogeography” and some as “GIS” – to me it’s all just geospatial technology and you should choose the right tools for a given job. Maybe the term "neogeography" has outlived its usefulness and it should just quietly fade away, except as a historical term to describe the new geospatial systems that emerged in the past few years, before they interbred with traditional GIS and became just part of the new and richer set of tools that is now available for geospatial applications? Or we just regard terms like neogeography, GIS and geospatial technology as synonymous?