SpatialTau is my weekly newsletter that goes out every Wednesday. Archive shows up in my blog a month after the newsletter is published. If you’d like to subscribe, please do so here.

Why a Newsletter?

Earlier this month I turned off Planet Geospatial. It had been in operation for almost 10 years but honestly it peaked about 4 years ago and has been in a very slow decline. Blogs, while still critically important to our communicating with others, have taken a back seat to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. Heck, even I have made my blog dormant and moved my posting to Tumblr.

But Tumblr has taught me one thing, a need for longer form writing. Tumblr, much like Twitter and Facebook is really meant for short quick thoughts that you want to get out fast. I originally thought I could move back to my old blog but the whole format seems limiting for me. Clearly what I really need is a format where I can write and get a bit deeper into my thoughts. Oddly enough the format I kept coming back to was a weekly newsletter. It’s a more relaxed format where I can take time to formulate my thoughts on a subject or subjects without that need to hit the publish button on a blog post.

So this is SpatialTau, my weekly Spatial IT newsletter. It goes out every Wednesday and will be more in line with my older blog posts where I had more time to write and share my thoughts. I hope you enjoy it and share them with friends and colleagues.

“What do you do?”

Remember this question? I used to get it all the time and it was so hard to explain. I’d go into maps, databases and then the Internet. People sort of nod and seem to agree they understand just so you’ll stop talking about intersecting polygons and buffering the result. Then when Google Earth exploded on the scene, I’d used to just always say, “You know, like Google Earth…” and the other person would get all excited and say they looked up their hometown and saw their elementary school and how awesome it was that Google could find it.

My fiancée’s mother asked me last week what I did. I started to go in with #opendata, #opengovernment (explaining hashtags along the way of course) and visualization. Unlike that Google Earth moment, lots of what we do is still very difficult for most people to really get their heads around. Sure they understand what it means to share data and make it open, but the process is still so difficult. I mean geospatial data is still locked up in that crazy File Geodatabase format which my fiancée’s mother would never begin to grasp. I was lucky enough to have some data I was working with in Google Drive so I showed her a spreadsheet view of it and she sort of got the idea. But going through the workflow of how I got it there is very foreign to everyone.

I’m not pretending to say that spatial is special again, just that I think we’ve let the technology get ahead of the story. Even sharing a great blog post by the Sunlight Foundation about government data still gets that look that we used to get explaining an intersection of polygons. What really gets me is when you back into what we do from an open government perspective, allowing them to grasp the point of data being free and open, they start getting excited. But the tools we use are still very niche, very technical and very difficult to share. Rather than sharing how we do something, we need to be sharing why we do something. It’s the why that get’s peoples attention. It’s the reason why we do what we do that interests people. Then you can gage how much “what” they can take and decide if sharing the OpenLayers vs Leaflet.js debate is worth it. It’s hard for technologists to “break things down” because the excitement they feel is the touch and feel of the how we accomplish things. But the why is really the sexy part of our jobs.

I really think we’re so lucky that Spatial IT has moved from the backrooms of GIS and into the front and center of the open data and open government movement. But we can’t lose sight that the world could care less about that great NPM module you wrote to massage spatial data. My soon to be mother-in-law gets the picture now and understands why what we do is so important. One person at a time.

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