Another Look at GIS StackExchange

A year ago, I used the StackExchange API to facilitate an analysis of tags on GIS StackExchangeto see what people were talking about on one of the largest and most successful vendor-neutral discussion sites in our industry. In that post, I stated “It would probably be good to revisit this in a year to see how things have changed, if at all.”

Well, a year has passed so I decided to do it again. I used the same scripts and approach I used last time in order to be consistent. Since this is one year later, there is one key caveat. My analysis last year looked at the top 100 tags since the start of the GIS StackExchange site. Since I ran the same query this year, the new results are compounded so what they so are last year’s results plus activity since then. Essentially, you are looking at “that plus this.” The pie chart below shows the breakdown.

Compared to last year’s results, there hasn’t been much movement in the distribution of tags. One thing I did notice, however is that the tag “qgis” leaped to the top of the list. Last year, “arcgis” was the top tag and “qgis” was number three. That said, I wouldn’t jump to too many conclusions. A quick look at the data shows that, in addition to “arcgis”, there are version-specific tags such as “arcgis-10.0” and “arcgis-10.1” as well as product-specific tags like “arcgis-server” so there’s a lot of Esri-centric discussion going on, but that is to be expected. The top ten tags, however, include major components of the OpenGeo Suite (OpenLayers, GeoServer, PostGIS) in addition to QGIS so open-source tools seem to be every bit as active a topic of discussion as do Esri tools.

Speaking of the top ten tags, they were:

1. qgis (3910)
2. arcgis (2382)
3. python (2171)
4. arcgis-10.0 (2142)
5. openlayers (1996)
6. postgis (1560)
7. geoserver (1193)
8. arcobjects (1184)
9. raster (1174)
10. arcmap (1113)

Last year, I got some back-channel requests to do a little more with the raw data so, seeing a chance to play with D3, here is a look at how things break down. Hover over a bubble to see the full name and tag count. If you follow your nose a bit, the color scheme will become apparent in relation to the pie chart’s key.

All of the same limitations I pointed out last year about posts having multiple tags and dilution across related tags still apply this year. If there is any insight into the mind share of the GIS community to be derived from this exercise, it is probably in the aggregate.

The exact StackExchange API URL that generated these results is:

The results were generated on 11 September 2013 and subsequent results will vary from those shown here. The Python script used to process the results into CSV can be found here.

  • Graeme Browning

    Thanks for taking the time to analyze GIS Stack Exchange tags again, and I am hoping you will do so again next year. As a frequent user, it is certainly noticeable that a lot more QGIS questions are arriving each day but there are also lots of questions from the ArcGIS Platform. Adding up all the tag names containing “gqis” and “arcgis” for interest just now, I came up with QGIS being tagged on 4,627 questions and ArcGIS being tagged on 8,955.

    • Thanks. For me, the main takeaway is that GIS StackExchange remains a neutral and open forum to discuss tools and issues in the industry. The numbers I’m seeing seem to bear that out. I think a good, neutral forum is an essential element for a healthy community and GIS.SE seems to be filling that gap nicely.

  • The QGIS community shut down their own forums in favour of GIS Stack Exchange:

    The bit about “[increasing] visibility of QGIS in the eyes of ESRI folks if more QGIS
    questions pop up on stackexchange” was obviously an excellent plan!

    • I had missed that development. It certainly explains a lot. I’m currently slicing the StackExchange data into 1-year windows and it understandably shows a lot of volatility. For example, the period from September 2012 to September 2013 shows a big upswing in Esri-related tags, which makes sense given that the 10.0-10.1-10.2 arc (no pun intended) occurred during that time.

      I’ll probably attach that data as an addendum to this post next week. I’d like to automate the whole process to auto-publish on a regular interval at some point.

  • Matthew Baker

    What is everyone’s take on vender-specific questions on GIS.stackexchange? If I’m paying for software, and they are building a whole support structure around the software they sell to me, why wouldn’t that be the first choice for people to turn to? There are literally people sitting around in offices waiting to answer the phone, and going through their support forums answering questions.

    For the open source user, GIS.stack is sometimes *the only place* to get feedback. Now we can see its clogged up with posts that should be dealt with on the vender support forum.

    Added to this: there are currently *4862* unanswered forum posts on GIS.stack. Perhaps an analysis of only those issues should be looked at?

    Finally, I’m just having a hard time sifting through all the clutter on GIS.stack. Personally, It might be time for a…

    • I have no problem with vendor-specific (read “commercial”) questions on GIS.SE. Prior to its existence, the user fora were the best place to get help with Esri tools. It was well known that you should try there before calling tech support. Read that as you will.

      I’m okay with user communities getting support by whatever means actually works to solve their problems. I originally looked to see if GIS.SE had indeed evolved to be a neutral forum to discuss geospatial issues/concepts of all kinds. From what I see, I think it has and such a resource is crucial to our industry.

      As an integrator, I have seen that the majority of my customers use a mix of tools and place to get hyperbole/marketing-free feedback on them is incredibly useful. I’m not sure that fracturing that community in order to separate open-source topics from commercial topics would be a good way to go. I’m happy with it the way it is.

      Just my two cents.

      • Matthew Baker

        Thanks, Bill!

      • “I’m not sure that fracturing that community in order to separate open-source topics from commercial topics would be a good way to go”

        I agree. Drawing a line in the sand and saying “Your side. My side” isn’t a good way to grow knowledge for anyone. We are all in this together even if you only use open source or propitiatory or a mix of both. I have a helped a few ArcPy uses with Python scripts because I know Python well enough to get by. I’m sure a ArcPy expert would have helped them if they were on a Arc* only forum but hey they got their question answered and I learnt a bit of ArcPy.

        Exposer from both parties is a good thing. If you don’t want to see any of the open source stuff you can always filter them out with a search or a ingnored tag so they are not in your face. I do this on stackoverflow for things like Java, Oracle, etc that I have no knowledge or interest in.

        • mapBaker

          Thanks, Nathan!

  • GeoKevin

    Thanks for the caveat about ArcGIS version-specific and product-specific tags. In fact, one GIS SE user edited hundreds of questions (some new, some old) to replace the “arcgis” tag with product-specific ones over several months this year. I’m glad to see you acknowledge such caveats, and caution against misleading/bad interpretations, when presenting an analysis such as this.

    • Thank you. When I first did this last year, I was concerned it may be taken out of context and I was debating whether or not to do a follow-up. I think there are two broad conclusions that I am willing to draw from this data: 1) GIS SE does in fact seem to be fairly neutral ground for discussions of various types of tools and techniques. I think such a venue is valuable. 2) There really doesn’t seem to be much discussion of any commercial tools other than Esri. The disparity is so great that I think it’s probably valid so I am okay with the conclusion that the market has really boiled down to Esri and open-source tools.

      That said, I could be talked out of drawing the second conclusion. I think any other finer-grained conclusions based on this data would be spurious.

      • GeoKevin

        Well said. I agree completely.