The State of the Geospatial Industry

Adena at AvidGeo/LocationTech BostonYesterday I hosted a conversation on that topic as part of the AvidGeo Conference 2014/LocationTech Tour Boston event. I was invited to "give a talk," but if you know me I'm the last person who wants to watch or give a PowerPoint presentation. So I didn't do that. Instead, I pushed the question of "what is the state of geospatial industry" out to the attendees. I had the about 60 people in the room form groups of five or six and talk for ten minutes and come up with one agreed upon answer to the question:

What’s “new” in what you are seeing or doing  in the industry?

When I sad "go!, I added: "It should get very loud in here very fast!" It did. I had each group share its contribution with all the attendees. I also had each group document its idea in a sentence or phrase on index cards (self-documenting!). I've paraphrased one or two of these from the scribbles.

  • Revenge of Geography
  • Data->Visualization->Stories->Oculus->Free the Data
  • Awareness and demand for geospatial products and analysis, but not necessarily with an increase in the available of easy to use technology.
  • End-user demand is pushing simplified access to tool, UX enhancements, access to real time (and other) data/imagery
  • More people want access to our geospatial data in more different formats [dreaded "open data"]
  • Understanding data regarding (1) who customers/user are and (2) where they are active

I thought those were pretty valuable ideas for a ten minute discussions with new acquaintances. Some of the ideas overlapped the few points I shared about what I'm seeing:

1) Lawyers - some are focusing on IP and policy, but a new firm is look at geodata as evidence 

2) FOSS4G is Mature and far less "special" and "competitive" with Proprietary Solutions

3) Mapping is Still Hard

4) Too many “This map shows” and not enough “maps that matter”

A few other observations from the event:

  • Esri's Sam Berg showed off a slew of Esri templates.
  • There were about six women in attendance, so there was no line for the restroom. The men had a line. The women agreed, when I asked, we'd love to see more women and would be happy to wait for the restroom. Andrew Ross of LocationTech shared that about 30% of the presenters at the upcoming FOSS4GNA in San Francisco in March are women.
  • I learned that good tutorial provide warnings to prevent users from going astray when using tutorial ideas beyond their intended use, such as in production solutions.
  • Raj Singh, now at IBM-owned Cloudant, talked about NoSQL. While that was a hot topic in 2011 (I even wrote about it), it's pretty quite now. We agreed that NoSQL was becoming an "Intel inside" type of technology: you use it and it helps do the job, but you don't really need to know it's in there.
  • I learned about WhirlyGlobe from the mousebird guy, Steve Gifford. I didn't know that the open source globe powers Dark Sky, a popular weather app. Why is the company named mousebird? "I paid a guy..."
  • There were three 90 minute hands-on bring your own device tutorials: QGIS, CartoDB and PostGIS. My best guess was about half the attendees were following along on their devices while the rest "just watched." I was a watcher. I'm seeing more of these sorts of sessions at conferences. While not my preferred method of exploring software, I wonder if this teaching format is valuable simply because they can "force" one to actually touch software that they'd otherwise never "get to."
  • Attendees were a mix of government folks (MassGIS and Duchess County, NY), small company folks (Interactive Tactical Group and Mouse Bird), big company folks (Esri, Boundless, Applied Geographics) and academics (Clark, Smith and MIT). 

Image: I'm letting the attendees know the game plan for my session. Photo by Andrew Ross.

Published Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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