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What is GIS?

What is GIS?
GIS? GPS? GNSS? The acronyms abound!
Mapping technologies have come a long way since explorers triangulated their location by the North Star. Every part of contemporary life is affected in some way by these mapping systems, from the route you take to work to the vegetables you have in your fridge. 

What is the difference between GPS and GIS?
As described in our previous blog post, How Does GPS Tracking Work?, GPS technology is how people on earth receive timestamped location information from a US-owned constellation of satellites. GIS, which stands for “geographic information system,” is any technology that collects, analyzes, and represents GPS data, as well as many other different kinds of data. The kinds of data that can be incorporated into GIS maps are endless: from agriculture to business to law enforcement to public health, GIS can be used to turn raw information into visual representations that make patterns visible and comprehensible.

Why is GIS important?
In pre-algebra class, chances are you used a set of numbers to plot a graph. Trends that were difficult to see in the numbers would become easily readable. The idea behind GIS is the same: to display data in a way that makes it useful (and, often, beautiful) by charting the information on a map. Like a graph, GIS technology can even represent information in three dimensions.

GIS maps are collected into databases, many of which are publicly available. For example, New York City publicly shares GIS maps of tax lots, administrative boundaries, transportation data, and much more. If you’re a New Yorker interested in biking, you can view cyclist volume, helmet usage, bike lane usage, rider gender, and other information from 2006-2016 with just a few clicks. These representations are useful not just for city planning, but for private enterprises as well (for example, where would be a good intersection to open a bike shop?). Because GIS databases aggregate so many different kinds of data, researchers can discover trends and connections. 

The 3D capabilities of GIS technology allow users to add “layers” to better visualize the collected data. One instance in which 3D GIS technologies are especially useful is disaster response. By adding elevation information to maps, emergency teams such as fire departments can understand the path that a weather event is traveling, as well as potential situations that might arise when they respond. GIS can be used to map real-time data as well as historical events, making it invaluable for both ongoing situations and analysis after the fact.

The Future of GIS 
The possibilities for GIS in the future are exciting whether you’re a data analyst or a teenage gamer. The expansion of GIS into artificial and virtual realities means that exploring virtual worlds will be more complex, realistic, and useful than ever before. Other developments, like the advent of GIS softwares that are simple enough for ordinary people to use, will allow organizations to come up with unique ways to use GIS maps in the future.