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?


  1. It seems that more and more people are looking to get things done, and budgets permitting, will use the tool that works.

  2. Cost isn't the only factor determining what people use: "Ease of use" (at least perceived ease of use), demand in the marketplace (ESRI skills vs OS skills), established skill sets, using what others use (peer-to-peer sharing), etc. There are plenty of reasons why "GIS Professionals" should embrace technologies beyond the ESRI realm (we can toss Google into the same bag), but apparently those reasons aren't enough (kinda like Windows continued dominance on the Desktop). Folks just want things they are familiar with and things that work.

    1. Agreed, Steve. It is really hard to break out of that fully-contained box, and the box manufacturer doesn't have much interest in helping you with that. Momentum is tough to quantify and tough to beat.