The View from Here: The Geoblogosphere in 2009

By Adena Schutzberg

Back in December 2006, I wrote an article called "A Reader's Guide to Geoblogs." In it I introduced our readers to the "geoblogosphere," which at that time was just catching its stride.

I noted that if you could read only one blog you should read Planet Geospatial. I was then corrected about calling it a blog since it's not one; it's an aggregation of posts from many geoblogs. Since then, Planet Geospatial has been joined by other aggregators including The GIS Forum (an automated aggregator, which includes other offerings and features) and SlashGeo (a human-powered aggregator).

Based on the referrals to our All Points Blog, the role of Planet Geospatial is quite different than it was three years ago. And, I think the role of blogs in and outside of geospatial is changing.

This was driven home to me by a recent lunchtime conversation with some friends. "Dad," who composed our podcast music and heads up a SharePoint implementation for a national company, noted he was bored with blogs. "Mom," who works part-time from home and looks after toddler twins, helped explain his comment: there were simply too many voices. She is very picky about the few blogs she does read, preferring professionals in whatever field over the masses.

I think my friends are onto something. Let me go back to my comment about the role of Planet Geospatial for a moment. That site was nearly always one of the top referrers to All Points Blog in the past year or two. (We list the top referrers on the blog on the top left.) Now it rarely makes the list. As I write (late August), the top referrers list (most sites whose goal is referral are removed - including FriendFeed, Google, StumbleUpon...): - imagery software provider - aggregator - California state GIS site - same one again - Vietnamese GIS blog - aggregator - GPS hardware vendor - discussion site about tracking infectious disease - The Map Room, which cites All Points Blog quite a bit (thank you!) - The Google Earth blog, which also cites APB (thank you!)

I'm going to take a stab at why that list has such a variety of sites compared with a year or so ago when aggregators ruled. I could be totally off base, but here goes. There are not only more voices, but more people have "gotten bored," as my friends noted, and whittled down the blogs they read. Further, instead of using aggregators as much, they use their selected blogs to find other blogs or posts of interest. That, I'll suggest, means fewer popular blogs dominate the geoblogosphere. Instead, I think, more blogs each have more readers. In short, the readers are spread among many other blogs.

Now, is that good or bad? I'm going to agree with one of my favorite media commentators, Callie Crosby who works in Boston. She's a woman of color and always advocates for more voices over just about anything else. With more blog writers (or newspapers or podcasts...) the planet is more likely to get more perspectives and media consumers are going to be able to find content more attuned to their needs and interests.

From a user perspective this may not be such a great thing. If you want "one stop shopping," which Planet Geospatial provided for many people for a time, it's getting harder to find. Instead, the responsibility to "find the good stuff" is falling back to the consumer. For me, Planet Geospatial is still among my daily reads, but it has nine or 10 non-geo blog neighbors that are "must read" for me to do my job here at Directions Media. I suspect others with an interest in geospatial have an eclectic mix, too, that includes some very specialized geo and non-geo blogs.

That brings me to my second observation on blogs in 2009. People are not commenting on blogs as they once did. All Points Blog still gets a few comments nearly every day. Thankfully, few are spam. Perhaps a third of our comments are from anonymous posters. And, now and again, we have authorities (actual representatives from the organizations we reference) comment to clarify or explain a point or two. Those occurrences please me for two reasons: the organizations are paying attention to the blogosphere (far more are not, I fear), and they are equipped to respond in a thoughtful way (there are still organizations that do not empower their staffers to respond).

All that said, more and more people are responding to blog posts via Twitter or on other blogs. The challenge is that the discussion becomes disjointed across these different platforms and may not best serve the media consumers.

My third observation is the increased interest in Twittering about a topic/event versus covering it via a blog or article. Some call Twitter a "microblogging" platform. Instead of posts of unlimited length that may appear on blogs, each Twitter post or tweet is limited to 140 characters. ESRI's announcement (via Twitter) about a special area of the User Conference plenary for tweeters inadvertently, or not, put the emphasis on the short form of publishing over the longer one. I hear less about "live blogging" a conference and instead hear more about following the people who'll be tweeting with a particular hash tag (a keyword to identify tweets about the event).

I have mixed feelings about the focus on Twitter. I love the focus on short, effective communications Twitter requires. Nearly every professional and amateur writer needs practice at being concise. (My students labor under my 500 word/five minute limits!) On the other hand, the reflection and analysis that can't be squeezed into those 140 characters are sometimes not written or shared elsewhere. And that's a true loss to our community.

What, then, is the future of blogs in general and geoblogs in particular? I really can't say for sure, but I feel it's changing. I think other forms of communication are complementing and sometimes taking some thunder away from blogs. Most importantly, consumers of these media options vote with eyeballs and RSS feeds and clickthroughs. They will read what is interesting and relevant and dismiss that which is not. And I would not want it any other way.

Published Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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