Results of the Geo Toolkit Poll 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012
Many thanks to everyone who participated in this survey of the geospatial industry. I tried to get a platform-agnostic look at the tools that are most-frequently used in our community, and after 250 responses I think we have a useful glimpse of the scene.

My reason for running this survey: I'm tired of speculating. As a multi-platform user I don't know where I stand with my clients and competitors, let alone in this sprawling industry, and I've heard lots of similar curiosity from colleagues. I call this an independent survey in that no vendor funded it (nobody funded it, actually) and it isn't for marketing use. This is a community poll, nothing more. Onward . . .


This is worth a cursory glance, since the results are inevitably colored by the collection routine. I relied almost entirely on social media to get the word out, specifically:
  • Numerous twitter solicitations to my ~500 followers, retweeted to a combined audience of over 11,000 utilizing hashtags for both the ESRI User Conference and OSCon - probably annoying the crap out of everyone in the process
  • Google+ and Facebook posts
  • Listserv posts to ESRI, OSGeo, OSM and Google user groups
  • Posts on the three largest geospatial groups on LinkedIn
Given the warren-like distribution network, I do not know how many people saw this poll. Thus the sample size is 250 out of an unknown population, and no big-picture conclusions should be drawn. Also let it be known that the balance - even if measured properly - changes from month-to-month.


Question 1: Which of the following geospatial technologies have you used on at least one project in the past year? [Note - I Included pre-purchase GeoCommons on its own out of morbid curiosity; I otherwise would have included it with FOSS4G Web Tools]

Some of the technologies that went into the "Other" column include FME, MicroStation, ENVI/IDL, GIS Cloud, AutoDesk, Maptitude, Idrisi, ERDAS, MapProxy, R-Spatial, Garmin Basecamp, Oracle XE, Ushahidi and Geocortex. Sorry to have ignored those, but it's a big ecosystem out there.

Question 2: Which of the above technologies did you use most frequently in the past year?

Platform Gregariousness: Do you cross over from your primary platform? e.g. ESRI is your main platform but you've also used Google Maps/Earth at least once in the past year. [A venn diagram would be cooler but the chart API was inscrutable]

Use by Business Sector:

Use by Country: (Click here for fullscreen glory - we're all cartographers here)

There's a lot to see in these distributions - an ESRI lean among U.S. respondents, a FOSS4G lean among Europeans. Also interesting to see how the sectors use these tools. See anything of note? Anything obviously-spurious? Do tell - I think there's a good discussion to be had here.

I'll say it again: this was not a scientific, controlled survey. It's a snapshot or an anectodal collection; take your pick. But it is nonetheless interesting to see what this group of mappers uses to get the job done. Thanks again to you all for pitching in, and maybe we'll try an expanded version next year.

If you're interested in the raw, messy results (stripped of unique identifiers of course), hit this link for an XLS download, and happy parsing!

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GeoTools 2012 Poll - Round 2

Monday, July 23, 2012
Expanding the search around the Geo Community:

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Results of the Geospatial Technology Users' Poll 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012
Update 7/23/12:  The poll is now reopened and live results are appearing at a new post. The figures and discussion below should be considered preliminary

Thanks to all those who hit yesterday's poll of technologies at work in the geospatial field. I've got some interesting results below.

First a note on experimental design: This crap is not scientific. First I tweeted, facebook-posted and Google+'d, so I got in contact with the core community of geogeeks with whom I regularly interact. Then I sent it out via the Vermont GIS listserv, the ESRI user conference hashtag and the O'Reilly open-source conference hashtag, hoping for balance. There is surely a geographic skew toward the U.S. Northeast, but I'm pleased with the general distribution of respondents. n = 117, which seems pretty good to me. Hit me on Twitter or on the GeoSprocket contact page if you'd like a copy of the raw survey results.

Here's a look at the participants using the generalized locations of reported companies/institutions (lots were left blank, so who knows):

The results of question 1:

Note: Some of the technologies that went into the "Other" column include FME, MicroStation, ENVI/IDL, GIS Cloud, AutoDesk, Maptitude, Idrisi, Mapserver and Geocortex. Sorry to have ignored those, but it's a big ecosystem out there.

And the results of question 2:
Ayup, ESRI Desktop is the big winner in this circle. But a surprising number of Google Maps folks there too. Also intriguing is the even split among the open-source toolset types, contrasting with the topheavy ESRI lean toward desktop.

Here is primary toolset use by overarching category:

Things get interesting when we parse out some conditional results:
  • 40% of users whose primary tool is an ESRI product have also used an open-source geo platform in the past year.
  • But a whopping 80% of users whose primary tool is open-source (desktop, web or DB) have also used an ESRI product in the past year.
  • Same with Google - 80% of respondents who primarily use Google Maps have also used an ESRI product in the past year.
  • That favor is largely returned - 75% of primary-ESRI users have used Google Maps.
  • OpenStreetmap and GeoCommons had plenty of casual users, but very few used them/built them as their primary tool (1% each).
      There's a venn diagram to be had in there somewhere, but I'm not up to it.

Without leaping to conclusions, I would say that it's still an ESRI world. Even the folks whose day-to-day revolves around open-source or Google tools still fire up an Arc license every now and then. The converse is not equivalent; fewer than half of ArcJockeys use any of the open-source tools, though they are partial to Google Maps.

There are a lot of potential reasons for that, but it seems safe to say that open-source geo is still developers' territory, and Google mapmaking tools are more comfortable ground for ESRI's users. I recall that specific path when I was making my own way from ArcGIS to GDAL and Javascript.

There's a lot to read here; what are your thoughts? Anything surprising?

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Geo Users and Developers Poll, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Thanks for your round 1 responses! Round 2 is live now at this page.

It seems like the right time to get a community pulse on the use of various geospatial technologies. Please choose items whether you've worked to develop the tools themselves or used them on the client end. There is some inevitable overlap between categories, but use your best judgement.

I'll put the results up in the next blog post. Thanks for participating.

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Open Source, Open Data, Open For Business.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
GeoIQ and an Origin Tale

In 2009 I was a "GIS Technician". Heaven help me, I was auto-completing polygons on good days and schema locking on bad ones, at a well-meaning but projection-free engineering firm with 300 AutoDesk licenses and 5 ArcEditor seats. It was the worst of times.

Early on that year I took a week off to go to Las Vegas with my wife, who was presenting at the AAG conference there (she's the brains of the outfit). Benefiting from the super-low "Spouse" attendance fee (academic geographers take note), I wandered from one cool session to another, my brain stimulated in new and exciting ways. I watched in a standing-room only crowd as Jack Dangermond explained how mashups (remember those?) were going to solve Africa's problems, and I saw my first demonstrations of Object-Oriented Image Analysis and Hyperspectral wetlands detection. Cool enough, but there was something disheartening about the fact that 95% of the map crunching I saw was being done by ESRI products.

On a whim, I went to a panel session called "Open Source GIS". Probably for the damn novelty of it, but also maybe due to some lingering frustration from being license-bound while trying to do mapping work in my peace corps years. The little room was about 3/4 full and the panel consisted of some folks from USGS who used GRASS and PostGIS, and also an animated fellow named Andrew Turner from FortiusOne, who had a few things to say.

The Open Source GIS Panel at AAG 2009. Note the overdressed gentleman about to drop some science on us. (Photo courtesy of  Shriram  Ilavajhala)
It was no great conversion moment. The session covered some pretty wonky stuff from the perspective of a button-clicking non-coder, though the enthusiasm was palpable in the audience. The real "Glitch in the Matrix" hit when I talked with Andrew after the session. In an information stream that challenged the human limits of spoken words per minute, he told me it might be helpful if I downloaded Quantum GIS (1.3, yo.) and took a look at Back at my computer, the world opened up to me; this was the starting event that would lead to the creation of Geosprocket a year later, and for that I am eternally grateful.

An early, misguided attempt to use GeoCommons in mapping global coffee production. Things have gotten better.
In that session and in subsequent interactions, Andrew conveyed two motivations for his work with FortiusOne-thence-GeoIQ.
  1. Open Source: OS software is just the tip of the iceberg. It fosters a culture of innovation and robustly supports the tools that people want most.
  2. Open Data: Geographic information should be a public good (Geo"Commons" - Get it?), and we can all benefit from driving maps into the public sphere.
These drivers were not unique to GeoIQ; they are dear to many in our community. Over time I have adopted these and included them in the core of Geosprocket's mission. As such it was something of a body blow this morning to read the news that GeoIQ had been purchased by ESRI. The pundits have already weighed in eloquently on this deal, and I can't add any new market analysis. I've even run out of snark. I can only mourn a bit to see GeoIQ forced to choose between open source and open data, for they have surely chosen the latter.

I have no doubt that ESRI's resources will supercharge GeoIQ's pursuit of open data. If Jack and co. have the wisdom to scrap ArcGIS Online and replace it with "ArcIQ" the world will be a better-informed place. But I'm going to miss the code contributions of some talented individuals. I raise a glass to them for getting me started in this business.

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American Agriculture on the Ground

Monday, July 2, 2012
The day following my cousin's wedding in Geneva Illinois, I climbed into my rental car and cruised West a few miles. I had some time before my flight back East and realized I didn't know what a real cornfield looked like. Not from the ground, anyway. Though I'm working on a PhD in agricultural remote sensing, I spend my days analyzing crops from a vertical perspective of several hundred miles up - from high-resolution satellite instruments that can tell me a lot about cultivation patterns, vegetation health and potential crop yields. I can do this without leaving my office, and the Vermont landscape where I've lived most of my life is a hilly mosaic of field and forest. The largest corn plot in my neck of the woods is about 50 acres.

Where I was in Illinois, on the other had - seen from the air - could be plausibly called the start of the cornbelt. It's where the Chicago exurbs come to a surprisingly-abrupt halt and are replaced by a gradient of endless agriculture heading to the rockies - first the large grains, then wheat and hay, then rangeland, and not a lot of people. So I went to have a look. It only took a few minutes' drive to get beyond the housing developments and among some of the broadest agricultural expanses I'd ever seen live. I pulled off the road at one spot that looked fallow - like I could walk freely there - and got out of the car.

The line is drawn outside of Geneva, IL
10AM and already over 90 degrees, it was not a hospitable environment for a northern desk jockey. But shimmering just beyond the fallow was an easy 500 acres of cultivated land, split evenly between recognizable corn and alien-to-me soy. Flat as the griddle before the pancake batter hits it. I broke a sweat and trudged out into the fields.

A few things were noticeable. First that the fringes of the field had smaller plants; this is nothing unique to the midwest, and usually due to some tricks of drainage and fertilizer-scattering angles. But the corn plants suffering on the edges here were still twice as tall as the healthiest of those I'd seen the week before in Massachusetts, burdened by draught upon heatwave upon hail upon late frost. The soy plants here I at first mistook for some monstrous cover crop, with leaves like clover growing a foot up out of the ground. 

There were distinct drill-planting scars in their rows, cracked wider in the heat and the dry. The two crops ran into each other in a perfect line, like allied brigades marching in formation rather than opposing armies that have crashed together. In most of the country outside of the Northeast, corn and soy are planted in an annual rotation. They both serve as cattle feed and compliment each other - soy brings nitrogen to the top soil horizon for the corn to thrive on the following year. The scattered cornstalks serve as fertilizer and mulch for the soy sprouts the year after that. On and on, with fallow making its way into the lineup less and less frequently.

I stooped to take some pictures of the rows, and I held a soy plant in my hand. The heat was impossible. I felt myself wilting, desiccating with no shade in sight. The leaves of the plant, however, were thick and healthy, bouncing a bit in the breeze. The robust copse of the stalk was covered thickly with a soft, spiny fuzz, and a few flowers were just peeking out of their exploratory growth. The corn as well seemed to be taunting the sun, suggesting it could do worse.

These were genetically-modified plants. There were no tags and no one to ask, but I could say it with 97% certainty. Most likely from a family of seeds that Monsanto brands "Roundup Ready" for their ability to convert sunlight and soil to biomass at a ferocious rate while being regularly doused with a proprietary insect-and-weed-killing cocktail that could plausibly be used to kill humans with the right concentrations.

I walked across to the other side and touched a corn broadleaf. It was already wider than my hand, and the whole plant came to the height of my nose, with two months yet to go. One ladybug reclined on the leaf, which was otherwise completely devoid of noticeable insect life. What seemed like translucent hairs covered the green surface, projecting the picture of vegetative health. In working with farmers in Central America and the caribbean, I had learned that the interesting stuff was always underneath - turn over a corn leaf and you find a merry band of aphids or a spider with a nest to escape the sun and prey on the rest of the locals. But here the bottom of the leaf was as clean as the top - more of a matte finish than the gloss of the upper surface. Empty as a new house with the plaster still drying.
 I shot some more photos before the sun bested me and I trudged back to the car.  

Corn and soy grown are grown in the Midwest at a scale that matters, in a way that draws the attention and support of the drafters of a five-year farm bill. Grown toward a subsidized ideal that is more efficient than many steel machines. Extending from where I stood West into Nebraska, North into Canada and South to the Gulf.

Awesome to behold.
Looking West

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