Where Are We Getting Our Information?

By Adena Schutzberg

_It's not news that more and more people are turning to the Web for news.And, it's not news that geospatial professionals are also turning the Web for news about their field.Every year or so, I like to look out at the Web and the print world and take the pulse of the information resources for our industry.

When I started writing about this area, the big source was e-mail lists.(Those are lists where all subscribed members receive all e-mails to the list.Many are now mirrored, that is collected, on websites, including Directions.) Those continue to thrive, but the more focused, product specific ones tend to be more active than the general ones.For example, Manifold-L ("L" for "list") and MapServer-L tend to be busier than the more general GISLIST, which sort of replaced the old GIS-L.This week, when I looked, the Manifold, MapInfo and SW (GE Smallworld) lists had 36, 48 and 38 posts respectively, while GISLIST had but 14.

And, I'll suggest the focused forums (website based discussions) on products tend to be busier than the more general forums.All of the ESRI product e-mail lists (from ESRI and Bill Huber) had fewer than three posts when I looked.The respective product forums had many.So, ESRI forums on specific products are busier than say forums on publication websites on more general topics like education and data.That may be in part because topics are separated out making it easy to find areas of interest within a single product.Some online publications have merged those more general topics into a single forum to streamline the effort.

If those are the solutions for the focused, technical view, where can you go for the broader view? Certainly the online publications (including this one) are a starting point.But, so too are the more general "popular" and industry IT publications, including those on Business Intelligence, and the business publications, including those focusing on technology.And, there are the blogs.How much geospatially related material pops up at Slashdot, a general technology/geek blog? Quite a lot.And the views of it by the general IT community are pretty fascinating.More and more we need to see not just the thin sliver of what we do in our own industry, but how others look at what we do and how our work fits with theirs.We share a lot of what we find in those publications in our All Points Blog.Further insight is provided by readers via comments to those posts.We invite your input.

But, there's another corner that's particularly interesting: popular science publications.Scientific American and New Scientist are covering location and sensor technologies very well and in some depth.Even Make, a new title from O'Reilly included a plan to build a remote sensing solution in its debut issue.(It was a kite aerial photography project.) What we do is no longer only in the realm of the social sciences and conservationist journals; it's science.

And, what of academic journals following geospatial technologies? They are out there and include the International Journal of Geographical Information Science, APPLIED GIS (an online journal, once Journal of Geographic Information and Decision Analysis), Transactions in GIS and others.Despite a recent article noting the contribution of academia in the development of GIS (and another one regarding the military's contribution), it appears that those in the field do not read the research or academic journals.In my five years writing about these technologies for the user and industry community, I believe I've never had anyone suggest a topic referenced in an academic journal, save perhaps Knowledge@Wharton, which, while academic, is a business journal.

Finally, it's worth looking at another source of information, advertising.Despite some protestations, it is a method through which readers, in print and online, receive information.(We on the publishing side, of course, receive revenue.) Our advertisers are telling us that they are moving more and more of their advertising from print to the Web.Some are moving almost exclusively to online methods. That speaks to their sense of how their potential customers are tracking industry information.

What does this list of resources and my theories about how we use them say about the geospatial community? Here are my guesses.First, it says we are focusing in more; we want to keep tabs on a smaller set of information, like our product of choice.That may well be in response to perceived or real information overload.It may also suggest that we are becoming better consumers of online resources; we are searching more effectively and participating in more appropriately focused forums where our questions are more likely to be answered.I like to think there are fewer "How do I do this in GeoMedia?" questions on general geospatial lists.The second, perhaps more interesting, conclusion is that our technology, by our own choice or otherwise, is being explored and documented in other disciplines in their publications and blogs.That may be disturbing to some who want to maintain tight control, but may encourage others to find new opportunities.A final conclusion is that we are ready for new media, or interactive media.And, further, that advertisers are ready to step up and "foot the bill" to get their information out.The number of geospatial and related blogs, and RSS feeds of news and other content, from formal and informal sources is growing.When I polled readers of my previous publication regarding RSS feeds in early 2004, 83% of respondents didn't know what they were.Recently I read that third party geospatial developers are hoping software vendors will offer RSS feeds of information they need.

Afterthought: Worlds
Did you ever notice how every industry has a publication with "World" in the title? We have GeoWorld (once GIS World) and Geomatics World.In running it's Runner's World.There's PCWorld, AutoWorld, BeverageWorld, BusinessWorld, ComputerWorld, ITWorld...You get the idea.Few of these publications, before the Web, had anything like worldwide availability.And, as much as editors strive to make the ones that claim worldwide scope truly span the globe, it's a tall order.

Published Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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