A geographic information system (GIS), or geographical information system, is any system that captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that are linked to location.

The acronym "GIS" can also refer to Geographic Information Science, that is, the field of study of how information can be used to understand spatial regions and interactions - drawing upon the disciplines of both Geography and Information Systems.

Technically, a GIS is a system that includes mapping software and its application to cartography, remote sensing, land surveying, mathematics, photogrammetry, geography, and tools that can be implemented with GIS software. Still, many refer to "Geographic Information System" as "GIS" even though it doesn't cover all tools connected to topology.

GIS tools can also be used to further the goals of sustainable development. Such applications are detailed in this category.

There are several important recent and inter-related trends in GIS that are likely of particular interest to the Appropedia community:

  1. An improvement in standardisation and protocols for storing and communicating spatial information. See GIS Standards for more. This has arguably played an important role in enabling all of the following developments.
  2. an increasing move from GIS primarily involving large integrated desktop GIS applications, to a more modular, integrated model taking advantage of the internet's architecture and ability to provide functionality to users in a light-weight manner. For example, Google Maps is an example of a GIS system that provides considerable navigation and editing capabilities online, with access currently free. Other examples of this nature are building spatial features and maps into other web software platforms, such as by using the OpenLayers tool-kit.
  3. The development of a vibrant set of Open Source GIS tools covering the full range of GIS niches - desktop GIS platforms, servers for managing GIS information, and web and mobile frameworks for incorporating GIS into other applications. An example of evaluating and using such open source GIS tools here on Appropedia is at A transition from ArcGIS to open source GIS softwares. Main page: Open Source GIS.

Taking all of these trends together, there is arguably now much greater scope for people around the world with internet and computer access to use the potential of GIS tools for beneficial projects that interest them, with less need for specialised expertise and investment in software than previously. One way this has been described is in the creation of a "Participatory GeoWeb" (c.f. http://rose.geog.mcgill.ca/geoide/).

The capability for the public and NGOs to develop and use GIS software for their own projects and purposes is significantly related to the Open data movement - GIS software and analysis requires good and relevant spatial data to operate upon. As well as governments providing access to spatial information, there is also the potential of encouraging users to "volunteer" useful GIS information. However, privacy concerns should be kept in mind and planned for as they may arise in this type of initiative.

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