Too Quiet?

By Adena Schutzberg

Marketing is all about creating a buzz, getting people talking or blogging about "something cool." That, in turn, creates demand, so the theory goes. What is cool is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but buzz is, in fact, measurable. Those with the interest can measure Internet buzz by counting mentions in blogs and chat rooms and by counting clickthroughs to Web pages, among other things.

When things that you think should prompt buzz do not, it's time to dig out the explanation book. I want to highlight a few geospatial "news items" that I thought should create buzz, but didn't (in my informal buzz meter) and a few others that should not have created buzz, in my opinion, but did.

First off, a few "non-buzz" events. Google Maps Hacks is a recent Web mapping book from O'Reilly. I reviewed it a month ago. While I pointed out a few flaws, the most important of which was that it was dated the moment it hit the bookstore shelves and Amazon web pages, it's clearly the current how-to "bible" of Google Maps mashups. But I found, in my admittedly non-scientific Web travels, no buzz. A few news outlets published the press release announcing the book. A few bloggers said they'd received a copy in the mail. Reviews are hard to find, save the few on Amazon. When I queried Amazon, the book was ranked at 11,200. Mapping Hacks ranks at 10,700 and was released six months ago. Another data point: a New York Times article covering O'Reilly's hacking series mentioned neither mapping book!

I posted this non-buzz observation on our All Points Blog (APB), and two astute commentators (both writers, I should add) offered that: (1) "Google Maps' 15 minutes of fame are over. This fits with the ever-shrinking attention span of Homo Sapiens." [Atanas Entchev]; and (2) the fact "that the number of posts by many of them [geoblogs] have declined, and or, completely ended" due to "brainpower [being] a commodity." [Jeff Thurston]

I'm hard pressed to believe that Google Maps' 15 minutes are over, but I do agree the initial buzz has certainly died down, and perhaps it’s simply moving to the next phase. Maybe Google Maps is moving out of early adopter land into mainstream use, like other Web 2.0 software and hardware technologies? Or, maybe Google Maps’ momentum is being eaten up by Google Earth? I do agree that some geoblogs are quieter and others have closed shop. But, at the same time, new blood is rushing in all the time to fill up the empty spaces. More on that as I explore the next "non-buzz" item.

Second on my list is a post on the Microsoft Virtual Earth blog asking for input on the next version of that service. Now, the post, as I write, has 26 responses, which is good. (No post on our blog has ever received that many responses.) What surprised me was how few blogs pointed people to this post. In the "hot for mashups world" why didn't general geoblogs link to this request for input?

I didn't link to it on APB, so it's fair to ask why. Here's my answer: We are getting to be smarter bloggers and we expect that blog readers are also getting smarter. I think this goes to what Thurston suggested, perhaps indirectly, in his reply noted above.

Stefan Geens at Ogle Earth posted back in December about a new policy at his blog. "I will only post items that have not already been covered by Google Earth Blog and Planet Geospatial, excellent sources both. If you don't already monitor them, I recommend that you do. The only exception to this regime will be for major news, such as version updates and major data updates, or if I can add value through my own commentary." I thought that very wise since, as Thurston notes, brainpower is a commodity and there's no use wasting any to repeat what others say. Further, while the use of RSS and RSS readers is still limited, blog readers using those tools are savvier than ever about finding which blogs are required reading for their professional needs. And, if not, people like Geens spell it out for us. That logic steered me to leave out a link to the Virtual Earth voting post, as apparently others did. There are no listed trackbacks to the post, but I do recall one blog linking to it.

Now, let's jump to the other side, a bit of news that didn't deserve (in my opinion) buzz, but got it: 3D visualization of Dick Cheney's hunting accident in Google Earth. I saw this story on one of the Google Earth blogs (Google Earth Blog and Ogle Earth both covered it). And then it appeared on APB via our newest blogger, Jeremy Crampton, Professor at Georgia State. To my surprise, that post drew quite a lot of traffic, according to our logs.

This got buzz, I'll suggest, not because it was geospatial, nor all that unique (adding 3D to Google Earth is not new), but because it was political, timely, and "funny." I also suspect that it may have gotten a spike on our blog because readers had not yet seen it elsewhere.

Another huge buzz generator, and it's arguable whether it's warranted, is ArcGIS Explorer. There is reason for buzz for this yet-to-be-released product because everyone is anxious to see where this mapping client fits among those from Google and others, as well as where the line might fall between traditional and consumer GIS. On the other hand, the product is free and from privately-held ESRI, so it's not going to directly affect the stock market. Further, experience shows it may be a while before those outside the closed beta have it in hand. I give ESRI marketing credit for keeping the buzz alive by sharing the beta initially with ArcGIS 9.2 beta testers only and keeping them under non-disclosure on the topic. The company is deftly rolling out more information on ArcGIS Explorer via screenshots and tidbits, like an FAQ last week, and by showing the product but not announcing details. And, who has provided details on all those things? Bloggers, not ESRI. Bloggers have been the key to letting the population know about new screen shots, about new FAQs, and about what senior staffer David Maquire showed and told in London.

What do I conclude from all this? A few things.
  • Geospatial technologies are seeing their 15 minutes of fame come and go. (Consider this: Have you been back to since it launched? I have not.)
  • Geospatial bloggers are getting savvier and redoubling their efforts to be more valuable.
  • Things that get buzz in the geospatial arena may not deserve it.
  • At least some vendors in the geospatial arena are playing the buzz game and using bloggers effectively.

Published Tuesday, March 7th, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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