Maps and map/satellite image servers (static or interactive) are common place on the Internet: Google Earth, MapQuest, etc. Often, when I am trying to find out where retail stores, movies, etc. are located, I use Google Earth. This is common for many people. If you are looking for motels at a destination, for example on a popular website, hotels.com, you can pick the city and then find its location. The maps can show in detail the streets, satellite image and nearby points of interest The maps for this site are powered by Google. There are numerous other examples of this on the Internet. This can be integrated with mobile devices such that persons can use these sites to locate a motel while travelling, see the location and then book it. Navigation systems do some of the same things. Most people are not aware they are using ‘pseudo-GIS.’ They do give a talking point with people unaware of GIS.
Like many professors teaching Geographic Information Science, I have also used Google Earth to illustrate some aspects of GIS, Remote Sensing and Cartography. Google Earth and others can be very useful in all geographically-oriented courses (i.e., urban planning, urban geography, physical geography, economic geography, etc.) For students, it is very accessible and can be used with minimal instruction. Also, if used in a laboratory, it encourages participatory learning. Some of the skills can be readily transferred to GIS, such as zooming, scales, legends, spatial proximity, boundaries, labels, orientation etc.
There are also some serious efforts to bring the power of GIS to the public, such as MapSrver . This is one example of open source GIS, but some have a higher degree of usability than others. Others ‘GIS on the web’ websites are providing geographic information for public inclusion and transparency in government, such as redistricting information for Wisconsin. These maps are created with ArcGIS Online. There are many more examples of online GIS of government and non-profit organizations
Now, the general population is becoming involved in their own map making: OpenMap, Wikimapia etc. Amateur ‘map making’ has been categorized by those in GIScience as ‘Neogeography’, or by Goodchild’s term, Volunteered Mapping. A special issue of Future Internet (2011) has academic articles concerning neogeography. Some think of the discussion of neogeography as trendy, maybe even vapid. It is interesting and hopefully giving a higher profile to spatial technologies and Geography.
Geographic Information Science is not just about spatial technologies, programming and making maps, but how geographic information is used. The use of maps and geographic information on the Internet is confusing, nebulous, non-structured, self-organizing and emerging. It is on the edge of chaos, which is where all areas of studies that are technology related are located. This is what makes GIScience diverse, dynamic, exciting and challenging. Trying to confine the definition of GIScience doesn’t work, as what is included is always shifting.