The Rise of GIS Terminology

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Google offers the Ngram Viewer (named after the term n-gram) which allows users to query for the frequency of one or more terms found within its huge arsenal of scanned books.  For a little fun trivia, I looked up trends in the use of several GIS and geospatial related terminology.  The Ngram Viewer searches for matching case sensitive terms within the 5.2 million scanned volumes up to 2008.  Users can use comma delineation to search for more than one term and see a comparison of those multiple terms on a graph to see trends in usage over time.  For the search graphs below, I choose a smoothing of 3 in order to see trends over a moving average.

The logical first search is for the term GIS.  The first publication of the term “Geographic Information System” was in the late 1960s.  Since then GIS very gradually increased in popularity until the term rapidly began to increase in the literature in the mid 1980s.  The peak of popularity for GIS occurred in 2002.

Occurrence of the terms GIS and Geographic Information Systems according to Google Ngram between 1960 and 2008.

Occurrence of the terms GIS and Geographic Information Systems according to Google Ngram between 1960 and 2008.

Graphing out the full spelling of the acronym shows a more muted curve when graphed against the term GIS.  A solo graph of the full term mimics the GIS curve at a smaller frequency.  This is most likely because the full term is only introduced a once or a few times in each book and then the acronym used for the rest of the volume.

Frequency rates for the term Geographic Information Systems on Ngram.

Frequency rates for the term Geographic Information Systems on Ngram.

More recently, the umbrella term geospatial has been used in lieu of GIS.  Geospatial first starts showing up with any significance around 1993 and rapidly increases each year.  A graph of frequency between geospatial and Geographic Information Systems shows geospatial finally eclipsing in 2008 (unfortunately, Google doesn’t offer data beyond 2008).


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Frequency of the term geospatial versus Geographic Information Systems on Ngram.

Frequency of the term geospatial versus Geographic Information Systems on Ngram.

Geomatics, the term for geospatial technologies more commonly used in Canada, also shows a sharp increase in frequency starting in 1987.

Frequency of the term geomatics in Google Ngram.

Frequency of the term geomatics in Google Ngram.

 


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