Monthly Archives: October 2009

GIS is Dead – Long Live GIS

What is the state of GIS, and where is it going?

Wow, is it even possible to answer that? It seems to be the perpetual question asked at every GIS conference, and embedded into every keynote address given at them. In an attempt to describe the state of GIS, some (many?) are using the terms Paleo and Neo in an attempt to describe past and future tenses of all things geo/gis-related. I’m still not sure these are the correct words to use ( See my blog post titled “My Latest Lesson in GIS”), but they have become a part of the GIS nomenclature, none-the-less.

The impetus to write this post came from a recent discussion on Twitter about how to advise someone just entering the GIS field. It all started innocently enough with a Twitter post by Shawn Bichsel“I’m meeting a potential #geonerd for lunch to spread the GIS gospel. What’s one piece advice you would give someone entering the GIS field” Shawn did a great job summarizing the responses to his question on his blog – Bixel Is Outside.
My response to that question was “New GISers should view GIS as a tool, not a profession. Need to know enviro, transp, engineer, planning, helath, web, etc…”. Then Justin Houk followed up with a tweet “I like your thinking don. You should do a post on your views of GIS as a profession.” And so, here it is.

GIS is a myth

I apologize for the abundance of Twitter quotes in this post, but there were so many great ideas flying around that day, it’s just easier explain my thought process by using them. Bill Dolans said in one of his most profound tweets ever: “IMO, GIS is a myth. There are info systems/apps that use spatial data and methods but GIS doesn’t exist.” This then led to a few more exchanges comparing GIS use and using computers as “text information systems”. And that’s when the light bulb lit up in my head. We are probably at a similar point in GIS evolution as word processing was 30 or 40 years ago.

GIS and Word Processing

People have been drawing maps and communicating through the written word for thousands of years. There was a time when Word Processing was as much a profession as GIS is today. Read this description of word processing from the Wikipedia article, and see if it looks familiar to you GIS folk:

[In the late 1960’s] IBM defined the term in a broad and vague way as “The combination of people, procedures, and equipment which transforms ideas into printed communications,”

Now look at the definition of GIS from the ESRI website:

A geographic information system (GIS) integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.

Actually, if I had defined GIS that way on a test in my intro to GIS class, without mentioning that a person was needed to operate it, I would have gotten that one wrong.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this:

  • There were writers before word processors, and there still are, and always will be, writers.
  • There were geospatial analysts before GIS, and there still are, and always will be, geospatial analysts.
  • Word Processing is no longer a profession, but word processors are still being used as a tool in many other professions.
  • GIS is on it’s way out as a profession, but GIS will continue to be used as a tool in many other professions.

My advice to someone that wants to get into the GIS field is – don’t, because it’s not going to be around much longer. What you should do is – get into a profession you really enjoy, and learn how to apply the various GIS tools to your work.

ArcGIS 9.4 beta1 – Do Not Discuss

On September 30th, I was invited to participate in ESRI’s ArcGIS 9.4 beta program. I’ve never been involved with a beta program before, so I was (and still am) quite excited to be participating in testing the next version of the one program I use more often than any other. Since I am a total noob to the beta scene, I had no idea what to expect. When I posted a few notes on Twitter after I got the invite, and then when the beta download was available, a few of my followers expressed some interest in hearing about my experiences with the new software. I’m eager to share those experiences with you all, as well. However, this being beta software that has not been officially released to the public yet, there are some restrictions on what I can say. Essentially, those restrictions are -> say nothing.

Specifically, in the invitation email it says:

If you choose to participate, you will be expected to:

  • Actively participate in discussion forums
  • Report bugs if you discover them
  • Respond to surveys
  • Be willing to add others in your organization to the ArcGIS 9.4 beta program if they are interested
  • Not discuss the ArcGIS 9.4 beta software outside of the beta program

And, just to make sure, I asked a question about this in the beta program forum. The official answer from ESRI was:

As things change between beta to final, we’d prefer you keep discussions about beta limited to people in the beta program. However, if something comes up you feel is a venue you should talk about 9.4 in, please drop me an email and we can talk about it.

So, it appears I will have to disappoint a few people, and keep any insights I have about the next version of ArcGIS to myself. However, I did not find any restrictions about posting my thoughts about the overall beta program experience (as long as I don’t reveal anything about the software being tested). Most of the beta program site has only been active since October 22, but there is already a lot of interesting discussion going on. I really like the videos posted in the beta resource center, showing all the new functionality being built into 9.4.

One response to my forum question stated the obvious:

“If people want to know about 9.4 they should join the beta program. That’s the best way to learn about and use 9.4 for themselves.”

If you would like to become a beta tester, you can find out more on the ESRI Beta Program Eligibility web page. My email invitation mentioned the following “perks” (along with the requirements mentioned earlier):

  • Access to ArcGIS 9.4 beta software at least six months prior to the final release
  • Entrance into private beta communities to discuss the beta with other testers and ESRI staff
  • The ability to contact technical support via phone or e-mail regarding beta software
  • Tools to report bugs and track their status
  • The opportunity to win prizes given to the top contributors

My own plans are, to wait for delivery of my recently ordered Dell m2400 64bit Win7 laptop before installing the beta in a virtual machine for testing purposes. That means I won’t be playing around with all the new bells and whistles for at least another week. For those of you who are anxious to find out more, you can get an idea of what’s to come by checking out the ArcWatch magazine article Nine Innovations in ArcGIS 9.4. And the following Question & Answer pages from the 2009 ESRI International User Conference Questionnaire:

One final note about ArcGIS 9.4 (that I hope doesn’t violate the beta program agreement):

What I’ve seen so far… is awesome!