GIS, GPS, LBS, and GeoWeb: They're different, People

When I tell anyone one that I work in GIS and tell them about what it’s about, I always get the response of "Oh, I know what that is, it’s the little screen in my car with the navigator". No people, that’s GPS. Smarter responses include "Is that part of GPS?" and "Yeah, I know what that is, I use Google Maps". But All of that is still not GIS. So, I’m gonna write this down for one last time and the next person to ask me about what I’m doing for living, I’ll just give him the link for this post.


Let’s start with the most known one, GPS. The Global Positioning System is a network of satellites that orbits around the earth at let a receiver device determine its location, speed, direction, and time. The receiver device (which is commonly known as "GPS") needs to be connected to at least 4 satellites to determine its location, and hence speed, direction and time. GPS is an American system, and it’s the only completely implemented global navigation satellite system. There are other GNSS like Russian GLONASS, European Galileo, the proposed Chinese COMPASS, and Indian IRNSS. GPS devices are now widely, not just used but also, integrated into other devices like cars, smart phones, and cameras.


Geographic Information System is the implementation of database for spatial data. If a database can have text, numbers, dates, and photos, it can have maps as well. It’s not just about the location, it’s about querying the location and analyzing that location with respect to other locations. It’s just like querying and analyzing tabular data. The only difference is that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a thousand pictures.

GIS is a mix of science (Geography), information systems, and modern software technologies that hasn’t - unfortunately - exploit the potentials of GIS yet, but hopefully one day it will.


This is the new buzz, and I think we owe the credit to Keyhole. Keyhole was the company that created the software that we know now as Google Earth. In 2004, Google acquired Keyhole and changed their paid software to a free software that we all use now.

It was Google Earth and its user generated content that required the creation of this new term "GeoWeb". GeoWeb is basically to provide a geographic dimension to the information on the web. You want to find a house in your area, but what really defines "Your Area", it’s where you think is close to you and you can’t define that unless you use a map.

Even though GeoWeb is the natural evolution of GIS - It’s GIS for the public, where everyone can search, add, or analyze spatial-based information -, the GeoWeb didn’t come from a GIS software company but rather a company founded only in 2001.


Location Based Services is the product of GIS, GPS, GeoWeb, and mobile computing. Here’s a scenario of what LBS can offer, you’re on the go and you want to find the nearest favorite sports store, you pick up your cell phone and connect to the Internet to get that info, easy, then you get directions to the store and as you move, the cell phone adjusts the route and suggests other routs depending on the traffic and how long is the route, still easy. As you approach the store you get a message telling you that there’s another sports store near by that is offering 50% discount on exactly what you’re looking for. Now, that’s not easy. Of course there are other applications to LBS, but this is one of its most widely known ones. It’s about offering the right information at the right time in the right location so you can act on it immediately, and if that info is an ad, that mean there gonna be people looking forward for LBS.

Google has been working building an alternative to LBS that can be implemented now. Based on a free widely available WiFi network, Google can distribute ads to those logging in to the network with their Google account.

Downside, Privacy. LBS - in my opinion as one whose working in GIS - is a major violation of privacy. It’s not just that the service providers know who you are and what you’re interested in, but also where you are and where you’ve been. Your location is identified in real time but also could be logged very easily. And who knows who’s listening.

Anyway, forget about the differences between the technical terms. One thing is for sure, Location is next big buzz.