Researching Volunteered Geographic Information: Spatial Data, Geographic Research, and New Social Practice

Sarah Elwood, Michael F. Goodchild, Daniel Z. Sui

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

478 Scopus citations


The convergence of newly interactive Web-based technologies with growing practices of user-generated content disseminated on the Internet is generating a remarkable new form of geographic information. Citizens are using handheld devices to collect geographic information and contribute it to crowd-sourced data sets, using Web-based mapping interfaces to mark and annotate geographic features, or adding geographic location to photographs, text, and other media shared online. These phenomena, which generate what we refer to collectively as volunteered geographic information (VGI), represent a paradigmatic shift in how geographic information is created and shared and by whom, as well as its content and characteristics. This article, which draws on our recently completed inventory of VGI initiatives, is intended to frame the crucial dimensions of VGI for geography and geographers, with an eye toward identifying its potential in our field, as well as the most pressing research needed to realize this potential. Drawing on our ongoing research, we examine the content and characteristics of VGI, the technical and social processes through which it is produced, appropriate methods for synthesizing and using these data in research, and emerging social and political concerns related to this new form of information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)571-590
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Geospatial Web
  • Web 2.0
  • neogeography
  • spatial data infrastructure
  • volunteered geographic information

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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