A Year of GeoMusings

It’s been a year since I stood up GeoMusings. This is my second attempt at blogging. My first, ArcDeveloper, fizzled mainly because of a lack of focus on my part. So I started again on 1 December of 2006. I was originally on Blogger but quickly moved to WordPress. Early on, I started playing with zigGIS, the open-source PostGIS connector for ArcMap. I was impressed with the code and eventually joined the project. So the first couple of months were heavily focused on zigGIS and the blog may have been interpreted as a “zigGIS blog.” That was never the intent but have been the first impression.

Generally, the blog has been a way for me to vent about things I’m working with as well as an outlet for my own experimentation. It has been a great way for me to get exposed to the open-source GIS community. There’s a lot of impressive work going on in that area and it’s been interesting to see the pace with which open-source technology is advancing. I have also been able to meet some great people, such as Paolo and Abe as well as many others. Anyway, here are some of the observations/opinions I’ve formed as a result of a year of blogging:

1. Open-source – Huge interest in open-source GIS. Any post related to SharpMap seems to generate a lot of interest. This leads me to believe that there is pent-up demand for a low-cost or free alternative in the Windows/.Net space. That’s generally the environment in which I work and I know that’s what lead me to SharpMap. Quite frankly, the de-emphasis of MapObjects has left a huge hole in the .Net application development space. MapObjects hit a capability sweet spot (just enough but not too much) for a relatively low price. To my way of thinking, SharpMap is the strongest alternative now that MO is out of picture. In addition, open-source server technologies generate a lot of interest. This seems to directly correspond to the backlash against the ArcGIS pricing model. Maybe their new product manager will figure out a way to address this but open-source GIS is strong and here to stay (and that’s a good thing).

2. ESRI not dead – ESRI-related posts generated a lot of traffic. As a matter of fact, I was surprised at how much interest my GeoRSS post has continued to draw. Also, zigGIS seems to hit at the nexus of two phenomena: 1) a LOT of people out there are using ArcMap (because it’s good at what it does) and 2) a LOT of people are balking at the pricing strategy for ArcSDE. People want their ArcMap but they also want a low-cost way to use a database to manage their GIS data. ESRI really needs to pay attention to this. They have a huge market vulnerability here that could be mitigated by simply changing their pricing structure. So, they’re not dead and they have huge user base (no news there) but that shouldn’t be seen as all being well. In addition to open-source, they’re getting new competition from strong commercial competitors. ESRI technology has served me well over the years and continues to do so. The vast majority of my work is with ESRI technology and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon due to strong customer demand I’m seeing. They’ve got some challenges ahead but the market is still theirs to lose, IMHO.

3. OSS/Commercial mix – I really see this as the sweet spot right now. There are some really good open-source projects out there (PostGIS, GeoServer, etc.) but there has also been a lot of innovation in the commercial world (Google Earth, Virtual Earth, SQL Server 2008, Manifold, ESRI (yes), etc.). Anyone who can’t recognize the rapid advances in both spaces is probably taking a very doctrinaire look at the world. The binding glue across all of these developments seems to be OGC standards. Products that implement them (regardless of pedigree) just seem to play well together. This has really opened up the possibility of a true best-of-breed (still hate that term) approach to a GIS enterprise. Those who have known me for a long time will recognize a huge personal shift in my regard of OGC. They seem to have evolved past their “anti-ESRI” focus. In general, their specifications seem to work and make it easier to share data. That said, they still have yet to crack the dominance of the most universal spatial data transfer standard: the shapefile. So the combination of open standards and innovation in both the open-source and commercial geospatial spaces have opened a world of possibility. This is perhaps one of the more exciting times in our market.

4. Power of Planet GeospatialIt has been previously noted elsewhere but I accidentally found myself to be a unique test case. As a small blog, any bump in traffic is noticable. When I first started this blog, a REALLY good day brought about 35 views. A couple of months after I started James added my blog to Planet Geospatial. This happened the day before he had his “hiccup” with Planet GS while (if I remember correctly) trying to migrate it to PHP. That day, my blog had an astronomical 81 views. The next day, James had to restore Planet GS from a backup and GeoMusings wasn’t there anymore. That 81-view day stood as the pinnacle for months as I got anywhere from 10 to 30 views on a given day. Eventually, I contacted James and he added it back in and traffic has been much more brisk since then.

This episode confirms for me what many have observed: Planet Geospatial is a primary information resource for the geospatial community. It’s the one feed that a GIS professional has to have in his/her aggregator. That’s an important service. In addition to his regular job and his blog, James has taken the time to maintain Planet GS. We can debate the potential issues around the fact that it seems to be a single entry point for the community but I think James does a good job of not filtering so it seems to work so far. So thanks to James for taking the time to create what is probably the single best resource for information about GIS on the web.

5. Be careful about post titles – A while back, I posted about my interest in open-source with a post named after a famous Robert Frost poem. Since then, toward the end of the fall and spring semesters, that post spikes in traffic. Since I have started using StatCounter, I have learned that traffic from the .edu domain goes up correspondingly. I can only imagine how many lit majors take a wrong turn to that post while doing research… 😉

I could probably go on but need to cut this off at some point. It’s been an exciting year. Thanks to all who have visited GeoMusings and especially those who have commented in some way.