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A Quarter Century of Sharing

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Esri International User Conference. The number of attendees has grown from 16 users who met with Esri staff members in Redlands, California, at the first conference to nearly 13,000 users from around the world who gathered this year from July 25-29 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

User Conference plenary session

Growth in the number of users reflects the expanding use of this technology in an ever-lengthening list of applications across nearly every industry. The conference theme, GIS Helping Manage Our World, conveys the role GIS now plays as a framework for bringing data, analysis methods, and models together to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and make better decisions through more effective communication and collaboration.

Each year, the conference has been a way for the GIS community to reassess, reflect, and reconnect. Although presenting the conference is a tremendous effort, Esri has always been more than repaid by the opportunity it provides for learning what is important to users. The conference also lets users preview the newest trends in Esri software and get software-specific information and techniques through hundreds of technical presentations.

This year, three additional conferences, dedicated to users in specific industries, were held in conjunction with the Esri International User Conference. The Survey and GIS Summit, Esri Telecommunications and Location-Based Services Summit, and Esri Education User Conference also took place in San Diego. An accompanying article, "Learning, Sharing, and Relaxing at EdUC," describes the highlights of the Esri Education User Conference.

Users are the main focus of all these conferences. In hundreds of paper presentations, a score of special exhibits, and thousands of maps displayed in the Map Gallery, users had the opportunity to communicate the exciting and diverse work they are doing with GIS.

Jack Dangermond, Esri's president, emphasized the focus on users' work during his plenary address to the conference at large on the opening day of the Esri International User Conference. "This week is all about GIS and geography, obviously, and also sharing our knowledge. It's also about you and your work," he said. He applauded the scope of this work and the positive effect it is having on the world. "You're working actually on just about user conference 2005 attendeesevery problem that humanity faces today. From global warming to homeland security to defense to the oceans to land use to logistics—many things."

In his address, Dangermond shared his vision of GIS moving beyond the enterprise to have "a larger value in a larger context," that he called the GeoWeb. The GeoWeb would encompass "large, widespread, distributed collaboration of what we know." This system would support the publication, discovery, and sharing of data and methods and would rely on standards and interoperability to make it work. It would create "a fabric of applications that work synergistically for a whole range of purposes." Individual systems would be connected into a kind of system of systems.

The geodata-rich environment that is expected to emerge in the next decade will also spur an increase in spatial literacy. GIS Web services will provide the framework for this environment, and GIS servers will provide the content. GIS networks will foster improved situational awareness and collaboration in real time that will help both individuals and organizations benefit from the "geographic advantage."

Dangermond also discussed GIS for the nation. Because federal, state, and local governments have found geospatial information technologies a powerful means of delivering services to citizens, they invest billions of dollars annually in the collection, management, and maintenance of geospatial data. GIS for the nation would build an interoperable system of systems that leverages standards and best practices to develop geospatial data infrastructure that would meet local data needs and provide data integration at the state; regional; and, eventually, the national level.

While exploring the future of GIS, the conference is also an occasion for celebrating the achievements of members of the GIS community through the presentation of awards at the plenary session.

The work done by citizen scientists who are also students at a small school located in the middle of Washington state was recognized with the Youth GIS/GIS in Education Award. Students at Waterville Elementary School worked with local farmers to gather and map data on short-horned lizards (Phrynosoma douglasii) as part user conference 2005 demonstrationof a nationwide project called NatureMapping. Sixth graders Taylor Northcott and Briana Hinderer, fifth grader Mitchell Clements, Waterville teacher Diane Petersen, and Karen Dvornic of the University of Washington who is the national director for NatureMapping described the project and accepted the award.

Dr. David Cowen, head of the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina and a Carolina Distinguished Professor, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Cowen has always been motivated by a desire to solve the world's problems and make a difference. The Presidential Award went to the Danish utility company NESA, headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark. NESA embraced GIS and completely reorganized its workflows based on GIS. The company has saved money and created a more usable and integrated system. Rene Vedo, executive vice president of Information Technology and Customer Service, accepted the award. The Distinguished Service in GIS Award went to Chuck Johnson, CPSS, who is the chief of the Land Resources Branch and regional GIS program manager with the United States Bureau of Reclamation, Mid-Pacific Region.

In addition to the awards presented to individuals during the plenary session, select organizations were honored for contributions to the advancement of GIS with Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) awards. The SAG awards ceremony was held on July 27, and the organizations recognized this year are listed on the esri.com Web site.

The plenary session concluded with a moving keynote address given by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, world-renowned chimpanzee expert, conservationist, and humanitarian. She described her chimpanzee research in the Gombe region of Tanzania. GIS is an integral part of the work of the Jane Goodall Institute and is helping the institute address deforestation problems in Gombe National Park and manage habitat restoration programs. For more information on the keynote speech and Dr. Goodall's work, see the fall issue of ArcNews.

Goodall's passionate address underlined a point made earlier in the day by Dangermond. The collaboration needed to safeguard a world grown more fragile by the increasing impact of human activities will require more than technology. GIS professionals will need to supply the vision and leadership to transform the potential of GIS into a reality. "This will, I think, create greater good beyond what we are doing as individual organizations and individuals," said Dangermond. "I think it will help us manage our world better."

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