Ten Suggestions for Those Who Write About Local GIS Implementations
it great when the local paper highlights a local (town, city, county,
even state) GIS project? The unsung heroes of GIS get a bit of
recognition and the locals get enticed to visit a website or otherwise
explore the technology and its use.
But let's face it, you, the GIS professional, don't have the time or
energy to walk the reporter through everything. And, that reporter or
citizen journalist may have anywhere from a great deal to no
familiarity with technology in general, let alone geospatial
technology, in particular. The result? Many, many well intentioned, but
less than stellar articles about our community's work appear every day.
Another result? Many technologists (yours truly included) write e-mails
or leave comments to correct one or more errors within the articles.
Below, I've compiled 10 suggestions for anyone involved in writing "local GIS" articles.
1) Write it Out Correctly
Be sure GIS, geographic information system, and GPS, global positioning
system, are written out and defined correctly. Don't get confused by
global information systems or graphic information systems. And, don't
get trapped thinking that GPS receivers send out signals! (They'd not
be called receivers if they transmitted, now would they?)
2) Include a Link
If the website is public, be sure to include a URL (Web address) for
it. These long and ugly strings are not always included in print
editions, but they are all too often missing in online versions (where
their ugliness is nicely hidden in that blue clickable text).
3) Detail the Data
If there are aerial images, discuss when they were taken - ideally
month and year. Nothing is more exciting than shiny new data! If
there's a new road centerline database, mention when it was last
updated. Oh, and include who to contact if visitors to the site find
errors. That information is not always easy to find on the website
itself and it shows the team behind the site really wants feedback.
4) Highlight the Most Valuable Tools for Different Users
Make the app compelling to different kinds of users by illustrating what types of questions can be answered. For example:
"Residents can use the trash pickup layer to learn what day trash is collected in their neighborhood."
"Those involved in real estate can see the assessment of each property.
They can search properties by location, block and lot number or owner's
"Those familiar with GIS technology can download datasets in shapefile
format for use in their own maps, so long as they follow the license
5) Mentioning the Underlying Technology is Optional
Unless the real goal of the article is to highlight the underlying
software or programming, there may be no reason to mention the local
consultant or the software program that powers the application. If you
choose to mention either, be sure to get company and software packages'
names correct. The companies behind the technology are generally not
household names (yet) and the product names can be even more obscure.
6) Screen Shots are Great
A colorful picture of a valuable and aesthetically pleasing map is
eye-catching and communicates quite a bit. While it's tempting to take
a picture of the GIS team around a monitor or pointing to a paper map,
an actual shot of the application in action is far more interesting. If
the image is going online, provide either a link to that live "map" or
be sure a larger version is available where all the text is readable.
7) Talk About the Future with Care
It's fine to speak about upcoming data additions or features, but be
wary of hard deadlines such as, "The new interface will be up and
running on June 4." Hedge a bit: "The new interface is expected to be
implemented in June." On a related note: try to hold off on an
"announcing a new feature" article until that feature is really up and
8) Where are You?
If at all possible include hints in the text about the coverage of the
application. While the article as printed on paper relates to the area
in which that paper is distributed, many local papers lose that sense
of place when they go online. The Forsyth News Star has a market in and
around Forsyth County, but online, it's a challenge to determine the
state in which a news story is taking place (example).
There may be few, if any, details in the header or footer to cue the
reader about where you are, so if you can include it in the text, all
the better. A great way is to note, if it is in fact the case, that
data were provided by the state of Indiana's "Indiana Map."
9) Distinguish the App from Consumer Offerings
Because readers are very likely to be familiar with Google Maps or the
maps in their GPS devices, it may be worth highlighting how this
application is different. Is it aimed at a different audience? Used to
answer different questions? Does it have newer or more detailed or more
authoritative data? Are the data available for download?
10) Quote Costs
When quoting the cost of an implementation be sure to detail if the
figure includes any pre-implementation studies (a needs analysis, for
example), labor costs, software costs, data costs, hosting costs, data
update costs and/or long-term maintenance costs. If only some of those
costs are easily available, be sure to explain which ones are included
in any figure in the article.
I hope these suggestions will help create more accurate and more
interesting articles about local GIS implementations. The people
building them and the people paying for them via their taxes deserve
nothing less. And, of course, the overworked and underpaid reporters at
local papers and blogs deserve our help and respect and the chance to
write a crackerjack article about our favorite technologies.
Ed. Note: You can subscribe to All Points Blog's Local GIS Tidbits feed; it highlights just these sorts of articles.