So Long, Directions

Directions Magazine has announced that it is shutting down, with May 31, 2024 as the deadline to access/republish any content from the site. My first reaction when reading this was that I didn’t know it was still around. Unfortunately, I was not being facetious, but it’s also not funny and I should have been more aware.

In the early parts of my career, Directions was an important independent source of news (for me) about the geospatial industry. I did not come to geospatial with formal education or training in it, so Directions was a great resource that pointed me to other content where I could build my knowledge. This was prior to social media and mostly prior to the rise of blogs. A traditional independent news site was an important resource in those days.

I think the key word there is “independent.” While Directions, like many such sites, took press releases, it also published its own original content. For a long time, it focused mainly on the commercial geospatial market and, while most roads in that sector lead through Redlands, not all of them do. Directions was a place where you could learn about the varied nature of commerical geospatial software and data offerings.

Independence means more than just software. Directions would publish articles on geospatial application areas, such as homeland security, and on open standards that were free of spin related to any particular solution or vendor. Its articles were a good place to get informed without being sold.

As blogs began to proliferate, I, like many others, began getting independent information from the many self-published blogs that were aggregated by James Fee‘s Planet Geospatial. (This blog was also aggregated there.) Planet Geospatial aggregated the RSS feeds of nearly 200 geospatially-oriented blogs into a single feed that made it easy to see what was being published by GIS practitioners across the industry.

Independent blogging is hard. (Ask me how I know.) Over time, most of the blogs in Planet Geospatial went silent and James shut down Planet Geospatial in 2014. Twitter had become the primary place to find news and content. The remaining blogs, including this one, created dedicated Twitter accounts to publicize posts. RSS fell out of favor as readers were discontinued. Social media was just easier.

Directions, however, kept going – gamely plugging away as an independent voice for geospatial information. I would check in from time to time and, if I had one criticism of its late-stage content, it is that its coverage of open-source tools was thin, in my opinion. I’ll tread lightly there because open-source can be hard to cover, but searching the site shows coverage of major open-source events and tent-pole open-source projects to be spotty at best.

The long-term trend has been clear: independent written content about geospatial has been on the wane. Podcasts proliferate, but audio and video are linear media that are less searchable and have far less utility than written text. It’s good that audio, in particular, uses another sensory channel that doesn’t compete for screen real estate and can be processed in the background, but even it does not offer the detail that can be had from text.

Blogs, where they still exist, are mostly press release engines for companies. There is some independent content being generated on platforms like Medium and Substack, but those platforms feel like walled gardens with their own agenda. I’m still working out how I feel about them.

It’s been a very long time since I looked at, or thought about, Directions Magazine. So maybe I’m part of the problem. As RSS feeds, independent blogs, and Planet Geospatial wound down, I began to rely more heavily on social media for direct access to “news” about the geospatial world. The news has mostly devolved into press releases and the “direct access” means consuming press releases with little or no critical review. I pressed the Easy Button and took what it gave me.

With the recent meltdown of Twitter and the subsequent balkanization of social media platforms, it has become really hard to keep track of who is publishing what where. Maybe we need Planet Geospatial and Directions more now than we have in a long time.